On Wednesday and Thursday (10-11 November), in the run-up to this year’s 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign, the National Shelter Movement of South Africa (NSMSA) hosts its 2021 Shelter Indaba. According to the NSMSA, an umbrella body representing nearly one hundred (100) shelters for victims of abuse, throughout the country, “With more than a decade of working with shelters across the country, coupled with extensive research (in collaboration with various partners), we know that shelters are critical in effectively addressing gender-based violence (GBV).”

“However, it is also our experience, corroborated by the evidence, that there are not enough shelters for victims of GBV, and that those that are available are severely under-funded and under-supported. This is especially disturbing when one considers that violence against women and children remains one of the most pervasive human rights abuses in South Africa. Yet, not enough emphasis is given to supporting these shelters that survivors escape to,” says the organisation.

Head of the Executive for NSMSA Dr Zubeda Dangor says, “We believe that this is because most people (including government decision-makers) do not fully appreciate what shelters do, how they operate and what they require to fulfil their mandates. The Shelter Indaba is, therefore, a great opportunity to get many sheltering stakeholders in the same space where we can have these discussions and share information to bridge these gaps. Making these connections are especially important, since NGO-run shelters ultimately fill gaps for government that are much-needed in our society.”

Dangor says, “We expect members of government to provide much-needed clarity on the role of the various relevant State departments and about their partnerships with shelters. We also hope to get clarity on the role of the criminal justice system, which has been particularly challenging to navigate when women apply for protection orders. And we also look forward to unpacking the new Intersectoral Shelter Policy for Victims of Crime and Violence, to better understand the State’s responsibilities towards victims of crime and violence.”

Nevertheless, even with funding and support deficits, the NSMSA has managed to make significant strides in its work. Dangor says, “We are particularly grateful that the 24-Hour Shelter Helpline initiative is finally off the ground and has been assisting victims of GBV for nearly a year now. However, we still need more help creating widespread public awareness that shelters for victims of abuse do exist and provide details of how to access these services.”

“There is still so much to do, if we have any hope of stemming the tide of the intensifying GBV pandemic in this country. Another key area that is often overlooked is the critical role of economic empowerment and skills development opportunities for women. These should be available to shelters, to empower survivors to break the cycle of abuse. However, we have found that this is not adequately included in GBV intervention plans. We look forward to a spirited panel discussion on these aspects.”

According to NSMSA, the overall lack of support for sheltering services, leaves many gaps in service delivery. For example, shelters are often not equipped to deal with mental health issues. And since the primary beneficiaries (as recognised by the State) are the women who enter shelters, providing services and supporting their children may also be a challenge. The lack of services for members of the LGBTQIA+ community is another important consideration to be addressed, especially since most shelters were specifically established as safe spaces for women.

“Finally, we are also incredibly concerned about the wellbeing of shelter employees who provide these services, especially when one considers the overall lack of support received. The Shelter Indaba will therefore also delve into the need for increased staff wellness, particularly as it relates to compassion fatigue and burnout,” concludes Dangor.

The public are invited to join the National Shelter Movement of SA’s Shelter Indaba for a better understanding of sheltering services for victims of gender-based violence, in SA. The 2-day event will be live-streamed on Facebook (10-11 November).

The NSMSA’s National Shelter Helpline assists victims and survivors’ access to all GBV-related services, including shelter placements, accessing counselling services, referrals to legal-related queries, and assisting with navigating SAPS. Contact the Helpline, free from a landline or Telkom mobile on 0800 001 005 or dial 112 from a cell phone. The National Shelter Helpline can also be contacted by sending a PleaseCallMe or WhatsApp message to 082 057 8600, 082 058 2215 or 072 230 7147, and via email at