White Zone offers domestic violence victims refuge

– needs full-time staff, coordinator says

Domestic violence survivors in Berbice are finding temporary refuge at the White Zone which was set up last year on the Corentyne, but coordinators in the region are pointing to a need for more full-time staff to advance the work.

White Zone Coordinator Nalini Katryan said the domestic violence initiative has encouraged more women to speak out on abuse and also served as a deterrent to some men. “Women see us as offering them protection and our goal is to provide a temporary shelter,” she explained.
The Ministry of Human Services and Social Security launched this country’s first White Zone back in November last year with the aim of setting up comfort zones in communities where victims of violence can go for help. But the ministry is yet to clearly define what the initiative entails, and/or articulate in full what kind of services would be available at the White Zones.

Head of the Domestic Violence Policy Unit Abass Mancey told Stabroek News when contacted that the ministry is not in a position to speak on the initiative “at this time.” He was also unable to say when more details on the White Zone would be forthcoming.

Stabroek News then contacted Katryan, who is the Coordinator of the initiative in Berbice. She is also the Chief Executive Officer of the Roadside Baptist Skills Training Centre and she readily agreed to speak on the impact the Zone has had to date, in addition to the challenges faced.

“We’re working; very many women have gotten help since the launch,” Katryan declared but while women have walked in and sought assistance, the majority have called in seeking help.

When Stabroek News turned up at the White Zone unannounced last week the staff assumed the female reporter was a victim in need of help and started preparing for a ‘sit-down’ discussion session followed by counselling.

Katryan said women show up regularly, but during the time this newspaper visited the White Zone had no other visits. She explained that the Zone offers counselling to women who are abused and it also provides a space where they can walk in and share any problems.

The Zone is a place to “come and talk, spend some time,” she said, noting that the community-oriented aspect of it lends to a more friendly atmosphere. She said that some women would visit and after a session they would use the library. She said some would read books, others would relax and enjoy some “alone time” before they go back home.

The Zone is distinguished by a white flag flying outside the building and according to Katryan, that symbol has had a strange effect on men in the area. She said many appear afraid of the Zone, particularly when women say, “I’m calling the White Zone today.”

“Some men back off then whey hear that we are going to get involved,” she said, adding that their work also includes home visits. She observed that 95 per cent of the violence in the area is related to alcohol and drug abuse, but mostly to alcohol.

But Katryan believes more work can be done if more trained staff were on board at the Zone, particularly full-time staff. Currently they are surviving because of a small complement of dedicated volunteers. She said too that the region needs more probation officers, noting that often there are many women who are in need of their guidance, among other things.

When asked what kind of support the Zone is receiving from the Ministry of Human Services, Katryan said mostly technical support. She noted that some referrals are made to the ministry, and probation officers would assist in taking victims to the hospital and in contacting the police.

The Zone is receiving funding from USAID through the governance enhancement project. When the ministry launched the White Zone last year it announced that the initiative was part of a year-long campaign against domestic violence which will see similar Zones being set up in communities across the country.

Stabroek News was also interested in finding out how the campaign is going; what sort of impact it has had, and additionally, when the other White Zones would be rolled out and in which communities. But this newspaper received a similar response from Mancey at the ministry’s Domestic Violence Policy Unit – he said they are not ready to speak about it.

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