Muslim shelter for women, children will be first of its kind in Winnipeg

Sakeenah Homes announced plans for the first Muslim shelter in Winnipeg on Monday.

Shelter, currently in fundraising stage, will be created through partnership between ISSA and Sakeenah Homes

Advocates say Muslim women often leave mainstream shelters due to Islamophobia. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Sakeenah Homes announced plans for the first Muslim shelter in Winnipeg on Monday.

The project was created through a partnership between the Islamic Social Services Association in Winnipeg and Sakeenah Homes, which offers transitional housing services for women and children in Brampton, London, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.

In 2019, Statistics Canada found that Manitoba and Saskatchewan had the highest provincial rates of police-reported family violence.

Zena Chaudhry, CEO of Sakeenah Homes, said violence has worsened during the pandemic. Over the last two years, her organization has received an increasing amount of phone calls from Muslim women in Manitoba.

"The Muslim community is not immune to that [violence] either," Chaudhry said in a phone interview with CBC News.

While the shelter is intended to address a lack of services for Muslim women and children, Chaudhry said the doors at the new facility will be open to all who need it, whether or not they identify as Muslim. The project is currently in the fundraising stage.

The new shelter will help women and children get back on their feet once they've left abusive or traumatic situations, according to Chaudhry. It will also provide assistance with housing, education, employment, legal support, casework, mental health services and referrals.

"The most important thing is giving these women and children a safe and secure place to stay so that they're able to recover from their trauma and then move on with their own lives and be completely self-sufficient," she said.

Zena Chaudhry, founder and CEO of Sakeenah Homes, says her organization has received an increasing number of phone calls from Muslim women in Manitoba over the last two years. (Submitted by Zena Chaudhry)

Chaudhry said her organization has listened to "shocking" stories from Muslim women who left other shelters. She heard from Muslim women who had their headscarves pulled off and who faced Islamophobic comments from staff and residents in those shelters.

Chaudhry said she also heard of women not being given a place to pray during Ramadan, and who were not able to eat because the kitchen was closed during the hours that they could.

Shahina Siddiqui, Executive Director of the Islamic Social Services Association, said she has encountered similar stories.

"The women were choosing to stay in abusive relationships rather than go to a shelter where they did not feel comfortable or undisturbed, or their dietary and other needs were not being met," Siddiqui said in a phone interview with CBC News.

"And of course, Islamophobia added another layer of distrust."

Islamic Social Services Association executive director Shahina Siddiqui says she is hopeful that more women will leave abusive situations now that plans for the first Muslim shelter in Winnipeg are underway. (Sam Samson/CBC News)

Siddiqui said she wishes a shelter for Muslim women and children could have made its way to Winnipeg sooner, but that the new project is a "start."

"I'm excited and I am hopeful and I'm hoping now more women will come forward because they know they have a place to go, which would be culturally and spiritually compatible to their needs," she said.

The next steps for the project will be to seek funding from charitable donations and the provincial government, Siddiqui said.