The Duchess of Cornwall has said women fleeing domestic abuse “have nothing to be ashamed of” as she visited a refuge in Canada.
Camilla was visiting a YWCA transitional housing centre in Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories, which can house up to 18 victims of violence and their children.
The duchess told staff at the facility: “How lucky they are to have you here for them. It has been hidden for so long, people never talked about it. But now it is alright to talk about it. There is nothing to be ashamed of.”
The refuge is classed as a transitional safe housing centre for women in need of a stable environment to call home.
Sitting around a table with some of the women who have used its services, as well as counsellors, the duchess listened intently as a woman named only as Susie recounted her story.
“I am so glad that life is being mended again,” the duchess said.
“Thank you for telling me about it. I feel privileged to hear your story.”
The centre was set up by Lyda, surname withheld, in 2014, who has worked in the anti-domestic violence sector for 35 years and whose dream it was to set up a refuge.
“You must be very proud of what you achieved now,” Camilla told Lyda.
“You do an incredible job here.
“It is just so important to have places like this. There (were) so very few places available to vulnerable women previously.”
One of the counsellors told her: “You need places of refuge and somewhere to sit down and have coffee and tea and make things. It’s part of the healing process.”
The duchess asked whether the counsellor had herself been a victim of abuse, which the woman confirmed.
“There is no better person to understand,” the duchess said.
“I meet many women who have at one time sought help and then go back into the system to use their knowledge to help others.”
The counsellor added: “The sharing is so important. I treat them with the respect that they deserve, someone should be there for them.”
After her chat the duchess was encouraged to try her hand at making bannock – a staple in Northern Canadian cuisine for centuries.
It is a form of bread using water, flour, baking soda, lard, and sugar or salt depending on whether cooked as a meal or a dessert.
The duchess was given salt to add and an egg along with oil mixture to mix in.
The YWCA contains 18 suites on 3 floors and offers a variety of layouts depending on the individual’s needs.
Applicants are assessed for need and willingness to engage in the programming offered at the centre, rent is affordable, in accordance with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) affordability guidelines, and tenants can stay for up to 3 years either by themselves or with their children.
During their stay at the centre, women are provided with support and guidance as well as advice on career development to help integrate them into the workforce so that they can lead self-sufficient lives.
Basic life skills are also taught, such as cooking, literacy and budgeting.
The Duchess has highlighted the work of domestic abuse charities and the work they do to support victims and survivors, both in the UK and overseas, for more than seven years, with the aim of breaking the stigma around the subject.