“No one deserves to be treated with aggression or violence.”
Munira Al-Shaikh is the president of Shamsaha – women’s centre; a non-profit organisation and the co-founder of Insights Therapy, both based in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Munira is a Psychotherapist by profession working with individuals and couples and adolescents.
She is passionate about working with people, helping them overcome their difficulties and supporting them through their journey in achieving emotional well-being and meaningful change.
We are delighted to meet her this month for an exclusive interview and learn more about Shamsaha and her future plans.
What exactly is Shamsaha and when was it formed?
Shamsaha women’s centre is a non-profit organisation founded in the Kingdom of Bahrain in 2016, focusing on women’s empowerment and protection. Shamsaha is the only existing women’s crisis advocacy response program in the Middle East, providing 24/7 free and confidential crisis care for victims of domestic and sexual abuse.
Shamsaha, which is Arabic for “Her Sun” (from where she derives her power and potential), has three primary mandates which are 24/7 crisis advocacy for women, women’s goal-based empowerment case work support, and community education and awareness, including mirco-finance programs. Shamsaha also engages in conversations about women’s empowerment and well-being to amplify voices of women that are struggling everywhere, supporting them to realize their full potential.
When and how did you join Shamsaha?
I joined Shamsaha when Mary-Justine Todd, who is the founder of Shamsaha, first proposed the idea of a women’s crisis care program in the region. I was part of the initial group of therapists who were trained and certified as advocates to volunteer for the program. As the program grew, my interest and dedication for the cause increased and over time I became more involved in supporting the program from a management and strategy angle. I was later appointed as President of the board.
What does your role as the President at Shamsaha entail?
As president of Shamsaha, most of my duties are behind the scenes to ensure the smooth sailing of the program and its growth. In addition to advocating for its mission and importance, I strive towards cultivating continuous awareness within the community as well as establishing relationships and collaborations with various entities both locally and internationally.
What makes Shamsaha unique from other similar organizations? And what are some of the services offered?
Shamsaha offers the only program in the entire Middle East that focuses on crisis advocacy. What we mean when we say ‘crisis advocacy’ is our 24/7 helpline, in both the English language and the Arabic language, is operated by trained advocates who provide informational support, logistical support, and emotional support to women who are going through an immediate crisis such as domestic violence or any type of gender-based abuse or harassment. In Bahrain, we also provide long-term casework such as therapy, medical and legal referrals, along with training in areas of micro-finance, business skills, and job placement. We also conduct community awareness campaigns and workshops in order to break the silence around domestic violence and educate our future generations about women empowerment and safety. All our services, which also include food drives for women, are free and confidential for victims of abuse. Apart from our services, what sets Shamsaha apart are our dedicated volunteers. We have more than 100 women trained and certified as crisis advocates, who volunteer their time with us and often take long shifts on the helpline to ensure there is 24-hour support available for women in crisis. We would not be as effective and successful as we are today without our incredibly competent volunteers.
What are the different kinds of abuses Shamsaha addresses?
At Shamsaha, we have come across different types of violence against women including physical abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse, and family abuse. In the last 12 months Shamsaha has served 1000+ women in crisis situations.
Do you have any plans for expansion of Shamsaha in other parts of the GCC and the Middle-East?
After launching in Bahrain in 2016, and learning many lessons along the way, we feel ready to take what we have learned and share it with the rest of the region. Shamsaha plans to expand its services across the GCC countries; initially with a virtual expansion via our upcoming mobile application, followed by on-ground operations expansion. Shamsaha will work to forge partnerships with key resource providers to offer victims medical, therapeutic, and legal support as well as food, supplies and transportation.
Who are some of the partners you work with in Bahrain?
We work with many different partners and sponsors in Bahrain ranging from local businesses, banking corporations, non-governmental organisations, hospitals, government shelters, law firms, and therapy clinics among others. The partnerships we have built over the years in Bahrain are key to our sustainability and growth.
What are some of the challenges that you face with Shamsaha?
Starting a crisis advocacy program comes with its own set of challenges from program design to logistics. We have been lucky, however, in that we have overcome every challenge we faced due to our incredibly talented team and partners.
Did the pandemic affect the situation in any way?
The pandemic has contributed to a significant increase in the number of domestic violence cases around the world, and the reasons for this are constraints in movement of people, loss of jobs, and the difficulty of escaping from the abuser due to the quarantine restrictions imposed. Thus has had an immense effect on women that live in circumstances of violence and abuse increasing their suffering all over the world. At Shamsaha we have noticed an increase in the rates of physical, psychological and financial violence against women, in addition to a significant increase in the number of calls received via our helpline – estimated at a 41%since the beginning of the pandemic.
Can you share some of your success stories?
Highlighting success stories, especially when it comes to domestic abuse can be hard to measure. Each case differs and each may require a distinct set of support and action. At Shamsaha, we believe that we succeed when we are able to provide support and relief for any woman who requires assistance during her time of crisis. We exist to ensure that every woman has access to what she needs in order to overcome the situation she faces the way she feels is best for her.
Your message for us at CP magazine.
My message for your readers is: Violence and abuse can exist in many forms. If you or anyone you know is going through a crisis, please know that you are not alone, no one deserves to be treated with aggression or violence – it is not your fault. Shamsaha is here for you.