Since opening between 2 and 5 women have been housed at the shelter each night, ranging in age from teenagers to women in their 70s. The shelter is smaller than originally planned, catering for a maximum of 5 women (and their children). We decided on this smaller property so that the shelter services became available, rather than a potentially long wait to locate and prepare the desired larger premises.
The most common reason to seek aid remains as domestic violence, however the education program is creating a change in circumstances for individuals. Case-workers have successfully facilitated change in the behaviors of both men and women to create more balanced relationships. The need for education of both the men and women has been very evident in many cases. For example, educating the women on how to participate in family decision making and at the same time educating the man on respecting the woman’s input can bring the promise of less conflict and more understanding.
During these last 2 busy months, 17 cases of sexual abuse also came to the attention of our case workers, with 10 of these girls being under 18. One murder case was also filed by the case-workers when a woman did not survive burns to 85% of her body, inflicted by men who had been sexually harassing her. In this instance the Sai Maa Women’s Empowerment Center case-workers not only filed a case with the police, but petitioned for better medical care, were the caretakers for the women during her hospital stay and then initiated legal proceedings to continue the case. This case also generated significant attention from other NGOs involved in women’s rights and violence against women, including a candlelight vigil to bring attention to the lack of structure and processes in Varanasi to support for women’s rights.