(Find a link to relevant research at the bottom of this post.)
Women only spaces are repeatedly challenged within government and private sector frameworks despite the well-documented positive impact such services have on survivors’ lives. This fact serves to highlight how power and control mechanisms of a patriarchal order not only discriminate against and violate women, but also restrict spaces for women’s collective empowerment.
Women only spaces have a historical and political significance as women across the world have come together to resist patriarchal forces and celebrated small victories. It represents women’s spirit to fight oppression and uphold the survivor identity that is empowering for women and girls.
Women only spaces need to be nurtured because there is a need to challenge wider gender power imbalance and create empowering spaces outside the perceived male dominated ‘mainstream’. The argument for ‘mainstreaming’ of women’s services is unjust given the inequality and misogyny that controls the wider framework.
Since the 1970s feminist activists and women’s groups in England have campaigned for the creation and sustainment services for women at risk of domestic violence, sexual crimes and oppressive control on their freedom and right to choice. These acts of violence were seen as ‘private’ matters or systematically silenced within the prevailing status quo.
In 1971, the first women’s refuge was set up in London and 150 more were set up all across England in the next decade. Recognising the specific needs of BMER communities and having experienced the racism inherent within the emerging women’s movement, black women began to set up specific BMER refuges in the early 1980s.
We have come a long way from there, and today there is a range of women only services such as IDVA services (independent domestic violence advocates), counselling, Rape Crisis centres and various feminist activist organisations. Given the trauma experienced and resulting complexity of survivor women’s needs, woman only spaces are crucial to help them overcome barriers to disclosure and to develop relationships of trust. Women only spaced create a positive environment for women and their children, away from the shadows of fear of discrimination and violence.
Despite repeated demand from survivor women, service users and feminist networks, women only spaces are constantly under threat – more in the current times of government cuts and when independent organisations are finding it hard to achieve sustainability.
Women’s organisations are frustratingly required to justify our existence and politics in the face of current commissioning and funding processes that are blind to the benefits and need for services run for women by women. Funding cuts result in more pressure on managers’ time and the time available for writing funding bid is reduced and as such the Aya Project have found some references that might help you. You can see them here.