The world’s very first refuge for women and their children escaping domestic abuse, known then as Chiswick Women’s Aid, opened in 1971. The sheer courage and determination of those pioneer women, organising to support themselves in the face of society-wide silence about domestic abuse, is almost impossible to grasp.
Domestic abuse is complex, and can be difficult to recognise – and as technology facilitates new ways to control, harass and intimidate women, it’s becoming even more challenging. Over the past 50 years, we’ve developed both expertise and practical experience, and our services now range from refuges, to community support, to specialist guidance. We’ve continued to invest in the National Domestic Abuse Helpline with a focus on improving access, responding with more languages, and launching British Sign Language interpretation. And we are proud to have a team of almost 100 volunteers supporting the Helpline service, bringing a diversity of insight and experience that strengthens the whole of Refuge.
The epidemic of violence against women and girls may be more visible since the pandemic, but society hasn’t yet collectively decided that it’s something we will not tolerate. We’ve raised awareness, challenged attitudes and campaigned for changes in law and policy. And we continue to collaborate across our sector. Though it’s still nowhere near where it needs to be, government funding and support is growing. Our partnerships with other agencies are more solid than ever. We’re lobbying with one voice, collaborating on best practices, and signposting our services to survivors.
Equality and inclusion are at the heart of all our activities and discrimination is challenged. We advocate fairness, consistency, and transparency in our organisational decision-making and have established fair policies and procedures that are consistently applied. We respect and value people’s differences and we proactively seek to create a culture where people feel comfortable to be themselves and have a sense of belonging. Seven equality network groups (ENGs) provide staff and volunteers with a supportive and safe environment to share lived experiences. The chairs of these groups are members of our Equality, Inclusion and Diversity steering group, ensuring staff from marginalised and minoritised groups contribute to holding us accountable for our commitment to equality, diversity, and inclusion.