FOR 10 years, Maadwoa (not her real name) was sexually assaulted by her own older brother who threatened her not to tell anyone.
When she finally got the courage to report to the police, one of the questions she was asked was: “Why did it take you so long to report?” Her family, including her mother and sisters, rejected her for daring to go to the police because her brother was the breadwinner.
The case was never prosecuted.
At 24, she started feeling suicidal and was referred to the Ark Foundation for counselling and shelter.
She stayed at the shelter for almost two years where she learnt fashion designing.
She was healed from the trauma and got resettled in a community to ply her trade.
Another story is told of Lydia, (not her real name) who was impregnated by her step-father at the age of 15. She was taken to the Ark Shelter by the police where she was cared for until she had her baby.
Lydia stayed at the shelter for two years during which period she was integrated back to school.
Lydia’s biological father later accepted her after he had been persuaded to care for his daughter and grandchild. Lydia is currently learning a trade.
The Ark Shelter to the rescue
These are just two examples of harrowing stories of abuse and the life-changing opportunities the Ark Foundation’s shelter offered to these women, children and sexually assaulted females in Ghana.
The shelter was the first of its kind to be operated in Ghana and it played a major role in the lives of abused women and children for 17 years (from 1999 – 2016).
In the late 1990s, when there was a lot of activation on sexual abuse and violence, the Ark Foundation was one of the organisations and women’s rights advocates that led awareness and education; and its shelter was the only one in Ghana taking care of abused women and children.
The Ark Foundation’s anti-violence programme, which includes the operation of the shelter, has supported more than 3,000 people since its inception.
“The shelter became a necessity for providing safety to abused women and children who had started reporting cases at then Women and Juvenile Unit (WAJU) of the Ghana Police Service, (now Domestic Violence and Victims’ Support Unit), and other non-state organisations and media houses,” said the Executive Director of the Ark Foundation, Dr Angela Dwamena-Aboagye.
The shelter started operating in 1999 from the home of the Executive Director and was later relocated to a community in the Eastern Region.
The specific location of the shelter has been kept confidential to protect the inmates.
A 2015 study by the Institute of Development Studies, Ghana Statistic Service and Associates, showed that 27.7 per cent of Ghanaian women had experienced at least one form of domestic violence in the 12 months prior to the survey, and young women (aged 15-19) were four times more likely to have experienced domestic violence than women aged 30-39 years.
Again, DOVVSU’s statistical data indicates that assault (physical abuse), increased from 4,152 in 2016 to 4,900 in 2017.
Within the same period, there were 790 defilement cases in 2017 as against 719 in 2016. Sexual harassment recorded 35 in 2017 and 14 in 2016; incest increased from eight in 2016 to 20 in 2017.
One of the reasons why most abused persons failed to report their ordeal was the fact that they had nowhere to go for counselling and shelter and so, continued to live with the perpetrators of abuse.
The Ark shelter provided a safe haven for such victims and also helped to reintegrate them into society.
Sad to say, the shelter closed down at the end of 2016 due to financial reasons, according to Dr Dwamena-Aboagye.
But the good news is that a campaign has been launched this year to reopen the shelter
“Currently it appears there is no operational shelter facility of this kind anywhere in the country and there are still many survivors of sexual and gender-based violence who need comprehensive shelter services,” she explained on the need to reopen the shelter.
Additionally, the current legal provision regarding the running of shelters under the Domestic Violence Act, 2007 (Act 732) and its Legislative Instrument, (L.I 2237 of 2016) demand certain minimum standards and requirements for operating shelters in Ghana, which have to be fully satisfied.
She, therefore, appealed for support to reopen the shelter which she has specially named ‘Pretty Flowers.’
“We need the support to feed, clothe, train, educate and provide other psycho-social services to the women and children and girls who are there.
This also includes meeting medical needs, court accompaniment, resettlement and re-integration costs” Dr Dwamena-Aboagye appealed.
The Ark Foundation
The Ark Foundation is a non-governmental, not-for-profit organisation which was established by Dr Dwamena-Aboagye. The foundation started operating in 1999 to respond to the need to protect the human rights of women and children, particularly from abuse and violence.
It was founded on the biblical Christian principles of love, mercy and justice.
Until 2017, it ran three broad programmes and special projects - Anti-Violence, the Women’s Law and Human Rights Institute, and the Capacity-Building and Advocacy programmes.
More than 3,000 people, primarily women and children, have been supported through The Ark’s Anti-Violence programme and over 1,000 young women between ages 18-40 benefited from the Women’s Law and Human Rights Institute.
Furthermore, about two million people have been reached with anti-violence education and sensitisation through outreaches, campaigns, training, media and community education activities across the country.