The House of Women (La Maison des Femmes) in Seine-Saint-Denis just outside Paris offers help for women victims of violence. This unique and pioneering model’s influence is emphasised through its eponymous choice of name. The facility is recognised as a shelter for women in distress in the area which it covers. The House of Women has constantly grown since its creation in 2016.
It all started with one woman…
This shelter for women victims of violence was the initiative of Dr Ghada Hatem, an ob-gyn and women’s rights activist. Her extensive career of over 40 years and her experience with women in distress drove her to commit to the project.
It was no easy road sourcing support, funds, and specialists from a range of sectors. The House for Women healthcare centre was opened in 2016 and is located close to Delafontaine Hospital in Seine-Saint-Denis (department 93) to which it is attached. The facility meets the needs, and addresses the problems, of a huge number of women today.
A multi-service facility for abused women
A team of healthcare professionals from a range of sectors is available to help and support women victims of violence. The facility authorises a network approach to avoid information gaps due to fragmented communication.
A group of healthcare professionals carry out examinations, and provide care, a listening ear and support. The women are cared for by doctors, psychologists, nurses, care assistants, and psychiatrists, etc.
Self-reconstruction is also a necessary step in comprehensive care. And that is why a dozen body-psychology self-esteem workshops have been created: dance, gardening, beauty workshops, theatre, and music, etc.
Coordinating legal proceedings, with support and kindness, is vital and one of the main aspects of the support offered. Legal proceedings are often genuine obstacle courses with complex procedures, in a context which is psychologically trying for these women.
Too often torn between fear and guilt, the women are afraid to go to court even though the law now provides for clearer measures on these subjects.
Extending an extraordinary place
Given the constant rise in the number of the women victims, the facility was extended in 2021 which has enabled other specialised units to be added to the facility, in addition to the Abuse unit.
This is how the specialist female genital mutilation unit was created. Women victims of excision now have a place where they can receive support in dealing with the traumatic psychological aspects of this practice, and it also offers a course of treatment performed on the spot.
On-site abortions are managed and performed at the Family Planning unit, thus avoiding healthcare being spread out over different sites.
The CORALIS unit is the most recent service at the House of Women. It was opened in 2022 and provides a 24/7 specialist help service for women victims of sexual abuse to report their injuries and bring proof for possible legal proceedings.
The eponymous association’s goal is to help as many women as possible and spread the message about this topic which is too often taboo and difficult to talk about. Training and support for health professionals, who are still not sufficiently aware of how to identify and refer these women, is very important. But awareness must also be raised amongst young people in schools and even on-site at the House for Women.
Other projects of this kind have been launched and many requests are pouring in for inspiration about this comprehensive project dedicated to an unfortunately frequent cause. Many areas still lack coordination – the House of Women model should facilitate the spin-off and roll out of other projects, both in France and abroad.
Article updated on 21/11/22