Women's Shelter Protest

Shelters provide critical services for survivors of gender-based violence

Women activists who have been conducting countrywide protests since the peak in femicide and violence against women in September have released an appeal to the government to use a portion of the additional funding set aside by President Cyril Ramaphosa to increase and strengthen shelters for abused women and children.

The president announced that the government had committed an additional allocation of R1.1billion to address the gender-based war on women in South Africa. This move has been welcomed by civil society organisation working in this field, but they have appealed to Ramaphosa to provide details of how the funding is intended to be used. They are hoping that money will be targeted at providing safe spaces for vulnerable women and children as research has shown this to be critical intervention.

The Heinrich Böll Foundation and the National Shelter Movement of South Africa completed a three-year research study in June that showed the central role that the provision of shelters can play in breaking the cycle of domestic violence.

‘Shelters literally make the difference between life and death, providing women and children with invaluable services.’

Bernadine Bachar, Chair of the Western Cape Women’s Shelter Movement (WCWSM) and Director of the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children said, “As people working on the frontlines of this revolution, we know first-hand that shelters for abused women and children play an absolutely-critical role in breaking the cycle of abuse. These services do not only enhance women’s safety in the long-term, but provide immediate safe spaces for women at risk from their dangerous partners.”

These comments were made after an urgent joint sitting of both Houses of parliament was held to debate the dramatic increase in violence against women, which has made South Africa one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women and children.

The WCWSM held a placard demonstration outside parliament to highlight the need for shelters for survivors of gender-based and domestic violence prior to the emergency joint sitting and there was disappointment that Ramaphosa did not specifically single out the need for shelters as a key intervention. However, the point was made that the president had made mention specifically of the need to improve funding for shelters in his March 2019 State of the Nation Address where he had declared himself committed to this.

“We are hopeful that, as a matter of urgency, the Departments of Social Development (DSD) and Treasury address the current gaps within the shelter funding structure and ensure that this is implemented uniformly across all provinces,” said Delene Roberts, Manager at Sisters Incorporated.

The Heinrich Böll Foundation and the National Shelter Movement of South Africa showed in their research that “shelters literally make the difference between life and death, providing women and children with invaluable services.”

However, their report raised their concern that “shelters are often undervalued. Understanding women’s experience of the variety of services offered by shelters and the factors that aid or hinder their long-term recovery from abuse is crucial to improving government and non-profit sector policy and practice.”

This study was based on the experiences of women who had made use of shelter services, and aims to show the extent to which shelters meet survivors’ immediate and well as their long-term needs.

Joy Lange, Executive Member of NSM and Director of St Anne’s Home for Women and Children said, “There were a number of key positive commitments that we will definitely keep an eye on. Foremost of these, is Minister Patricia de Lille’s commitment to make housing available to GBV [gender-based violence] survivors.”

Lange added in a statement released after the march that, “This has long been an issue and an additional stress for women once their shelter stay has come to an end. If a woman has not been able to find employment, and does not have family or friends with who she can live with, she may have no alternative but to return to the abusive home. We cannot have situations like these as it is likely that the abuse will flare-up again and probably intensify if she returns.”

Kathy Cronje, Director at The Safe House and Deputy Chair of WCWSM, appealed to the president and government to actively engage with the many civil organisations and NGOs that have been established over the years to defend women’s basic human rights.

“We believe that it is imperative that the President and government actively engage these organisations, if we hope to work toward meaningful and lasting solutions to the GBV problem. But, most importantly, women must be at the forefront, leading the discussions and actions to address the war being waged against us.”

Cronje said: “We do not expect or want government to work in isolation. GBV is a societal problem and civil society and organisations on the ground must be included in government’s plans to address GBV.”

Cronje added that the commitment to prioritise women’s access to employment – in government and in the private sector – as well as the plan to involve business in this effort are steps in the right direction.

She also welcomed the pledge to increase the number of Thuthuzela Care Centres, and to strengthen rehabilitation programmes for offenders, as well as the president’s promise to clear the backlog in the Department of Justice for rape and other GBV cases.

Roberts added, “The call to provide gender sensitivity training to magistrates, law officials and policy makers go hand-in-hand with the Shelter Movements’ call for increased and improved training for officials of the South African Police Services. We hope that equal emphasis will be placed on training for all frontline service personnel such as domestic violence clerks, nurses, and so on.”

Businesses and individuals who want to find out more about ways to contribute services, skills, and/or funds toward shelters for abused women and their children, please contact the Women’s Shelter Movement via www.wcwsm.org.za.

This article was originally published by Notes from the House.

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