A new shelter specifically for Muslim women and children is being built in Winnipeg, the first of its kind in the city.
Zena Chaudhry, CEO of Sakeenah Homes, said the organization’s shelters aim to close the gap in services available to Muslim women.
“We heard stories about Islamophobia, the lack of halal meat, where women had their head scarves taken off, where they weren’t able to pray, they weren’t able to fast and then also the [language barrier],” said Chaudhry.
Sakeenah Homes also offers training in skills such as taking public transit for the first time, using credit cards and applying for cell phone plans.
In addition to these services, Sakeenah Homes offers clothing, toiletries and sports equipment for kids, and school essentials such as backpacks.
“For people who have been born and raised in Canada, these are things that are very basic,” said Chaudhry.
“If you’re new to a country and you have never experienced these things before, it’s a very different learning curve and especially if you’re already in a very uncomfortable position where you’ve left your home and you’re living in a place [where] you don’t know the people living with you, [so] we try to minimize that discomfort that they may feel.”
Sakeenah Homes also offers free reconciliation services for situations where there is no physical abuse in a relationship, but a mediator or family counsellor is needed.
“We [also] provide safe spaces if they want to pray,” Chaudhry said.
“No one is ever forced to pray or told that they have to pray.”
Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association, explained some non-denominational shelters struggled to accommodate specific Muslim needs, such as not serving halal food alongside pork.
“The simple thing is being able to observe your privacy,” said Siddiqui, “to be in a space where there is no alcohol, things like no pork.”
In addition, Sakeenah Homes provides financial assistance for small debts such as cell phone plans and provides access to education by helping individuals process degree equivalencies from overseas.
“We have our mental health program, which is available to those in our home and those outside of our home as well, free of cost,” said Chaudhry.
“What we want to do with a woman is to empower them, to educate them, to [heal] them, so that they can stand on their own two feet,” said Siddiqui.
Sakeenah Homes already has shelters in Toronto, Brampton, Ottawa and London in Ontario and Montreal, Que. Remote casework is available across the country.
“If we can’t find you a safe space to go to we will put you up in a hotel or motel, get you hot food, get you whatever you need, and then our caseworkers and mental help counsellors will work with you until we can find you long-term stable housing,” explained Chaudhry.
In addition to the new Winnipeg location, a Muslim shelter is being opened in Halifax this year as well.
While opening new shelters in some cities is an effective strategy, Chaudhry said in other circumstances it’s more effective to work with other organizations to ensure services are provided to the Muslim community.
Zahrah Tariq, a member of the University of Manitoba’s Muslim Students’ Association, said in an email to the Manitoban they were excited about the shelter opening.
“The shelter will benefit the U of M Muslim community in multiple ways,” Tariq said.
“This will give female students an option if they are helpless, homeless or stuck in abusive situations. The presence of a shelter will provide our student community with volunteer opportunities and make us more self-aware of the struggles of the most vulnerable in our community.”
While the shelter was created to accommodate the needs of Muslim women, Siddiqui said non-Muslims could access the shelters as long as they agree to abide by its rules.