SHARJAH // Emirati women who have suffered domestic violence and abuse now have a place to go for help in Sharjah.
A shelter in the heart of the city is the first of its kind in the emirate and provides vulnerable women with a safe place to stay, emotional support, and legal and social aid.
Mariam Ahmed Al Hamadi, the shelter's director general, says it offers much-needed help to women who would otherwise be trapped in abusive relationships.
"For about two years we have been planning this social project after cases of domestic violence have increased among Emiratis," Ms Al Hamadi said.
"The purpose of the centre is not to encourage women to rise up against their families. We know we are a conservative society and are proud of it.
"We want to let women know their rights and build stable families free from violence."
Named Qawarir after the Quranic word used to urge men to treat their wives, sisters and mothers with love, the centre has received eight women since November and helped many more through its social programmes, Ms Al Hamadi said.
Once a woman enters the centre, which was established after a decree by the Sharjah Executive Council, social workers try to mediate between her and her abuser - be it a husband, father or brother - to get to the root of the family's problems.
Staff will only allow a woman to go home if they are sure that incidents of violence will not be repeated. They follow up with visits after a woman returns home to ensure she is safe and comfortable.
With a capacity to house only 14 women, the centre has to be selective when offering its services. Only Emiratis aged between 19 and 59 can be admitted.
But Ms Al Hamadi stressed staff will not turn away a victim of abuse because of her nationality. Any woman can be accommodated once the police or the courts consider her home too dangerous, or if she has nowhere else to go.
Abuse towards women does not come only from men, as Hessah Salim Al Kindi, a legal consultant who has handled women's cases for the past 25 years, has discovered.
"I have handled several cases of women in my life and understand that not all abuses come from the husband, as often misconceived," Ms Al Kindi said.
"It could be sisters of the husband or even the husband's mother - women abusing a fellow woman."
Not all of the Emirati women who contact the centre for help have been victims of physical abuse.
Often those who call have been neglected by their husbands or in need of financial assistance.
Ms Al Kindi has seen an increase in the number of women who have been cut off financially by their husbands and struggle to care for their children and families.
When this happens, staff are able to take up a legal case for them.
The social worker Fatma Hassan Al Shehhi said it was important that the centre offered more than just refuge.
"Our team spans different fields that can all help women, from a social worker to a legal consultant to help any woman with a case," Ms Al Shehhi said.
Residents' privacy and security is taken very seriously. They are not allowed to take photos or to leave the premises, except when absolutely necessary. Those who have jobs are taken to and from their place of work in a bus driven by a company driver.
"These women are very sensitive and since they have trusted us to stay here we have to ensure that we keep this trust," said Ms Al Hamadi.
Victims of domestic violence, or any one witnessing violence against a women, can contact the centre 24 hours a day on 800800700.