Shelter tackles gender-based violence head-on

Women belonging to the National, and Western Cape Womens Shelter movements, protesting outside Parliament.

The state gives a woman in a shelter for survivors of domestic abuse R27 a day. A prisoner gets R300.

This glaring disparity is just one of the issues the Western Cape Women’s Shelter Movement (WCWSM) is fighting. The WCWSM is part of the National Shelter Movement (NSM).

President Cyril Ramaphosa held an emergency sitting of Parliament on Wednesday September 18 to focus on gender-based violence, while outside the WCWSM and NSM held a peaceful protest, urging government to prioritise shelters for abused women and children.

Kathy Cronje, director at The Safe House and deputy chair of WCWSM, told the Sub-council 19 meeting last week they would look at what came out of the session in Parliament then discuss with the state how shelters could fit into its action plan to fight gender-based violence.

“We need a commitment from the president and his government that they will stand up and fight for the human rights of the women of this country, even after the outcry from the past few weeks has died down.”

In July, the shelter movements handed a memorandum to Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu calling for shelters to be better resourced.

Bernadine Bachar, chair of the WCWSM and director of the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children, said state funding to some shelters was delayed by up to four months, and there was seldom money for maintenance.

“As a result, shelters are often unable to provide all the services required of them to adequately address the needs of survivors and their children, and help them fully recover from their ordeals.”

Statistics from a three-year research project by the Heinrich Boll Foundation (HBF) and the NSM, show shelters have a 75% success rate where women permanently leave their abusers.

The WCWSM says SAPS is ill-equipped to respond to domestic violence and this is often a source of secondary trauma for survivors wanting to press charges.

“It is important that no victim of domestic violence, sexual violence and other forms of abuse should be turned away because police failed to comply with what is expected of them,” Delene Roberts, manager at Sisters Incorporated, said.

WCWSM recommends that all police stations be immediately supplied with the contact details of shelters and social welfare organisations and that training for police officers be improved.

Ms Cronje said abused women statistically left their abusers eight times before making the final break. In many cases they stayed because the abuser was the breadwinner.

Many women and children at shelters often had post-traumatic stress disorder and shelters were not equipped to deal with those psychiatric demands, Ms Cronje said.

“Women are supposed to be able to stay in a shelter for three months. But, on average, it takes four months to get to see a state psychiatrist.”

While the state gave shelters R27 a day for each woman, the woman’s children were not included in that and it cost shelters on average R40 a day to just get a woman to a rehabilitation centre, because many of them had developed drug addictions.

She said South African women and children suffered five times the global average risk of abuse.

Access to safe and affordable housing for women and children leaving shelters was another key issue, as was literacy and future employment, Ms Cronje said.

Joy Lange, executive member of NSM and director of St Anne’s Home for Women and Children, said improved inter-departmental cooperation at all government levels was key. “We also hope that the president calls on businesses to play a more active role in tackling gender-based violence in the country, including a show of support from the companies they work for,” she said.

Ms Cronje noted that gang violence and human trafficking posed additional threats to women and children.