The Western Cape Women’s Shelter Movement (WCWSM) and the National Shelter Movement of South Africa (NSM) braved the storm to protest outside Parliament on Tuesday July 23, demanding that government releases funding to improve the state of shelters for abused women in the country.
The call is supported by research findings and recommendations set out in the Commission for Gender Equality’s (CGE) Investigative Report on the State of Shelters in South Africa.
Bernadine Bachar, chairperson of the WCWSM and director of the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children, said the Department of Social Development and National Treasury urgently needed to address the gaps within the shelter funding structure, and it should be done uniformly, across all provinces.
Ms Bachar said: “It does not make sense that in one province, shelters get as little as R9 per person per day to meet the needs of women residing at shelters, while in another province shelters get up to R71. And, of course, without enough funds, shelters are unable to offer the programmes that survivors of abuse need, to heal and move forward.”
Director at the Safe House and deputy chairperson of the WCWSM, Kathy Cronje said the lack of subsidies and other funding – for shelter infrastructure and maintenance, towards the employment of key shelter personnel, among others – affected their ability to provide food and other essentials to those seeking to escape abuse.
Social Development Minister, Lindiwe Zulu, received the memorandum from the protesters.
Ms Bachar said she was encouraged that the minister had personally received their memorandum, despite the inclement weather.
“Hopefully our engagement will be the start of a process that will ensure the protection of the most vulnerable members of our society,” she added.
After signing receipt of the memorandum, Ms Zulu committed to pay attention to the concerns and suggestions raised in the memorandum and also encouraged protesters to continue raising their issues “as strongly as you possibly can, so that we [the government] can listen to you”.
Ms Cronje said she was “optimistic about Minister Zulu”, adding: “She says that she wants to learn from the mistakes of the past, while building on the successes. And, it is clear that there have been many mistakes, because while Women’s Month (August) should be a celebration of the feminine strength in this country, the statistics clearly show that keeping the country’s women safe, is still our biggest challenge.”
The CGE report, which echoes the issues uncovered in a three-year research project undertaken by the NSM and the Heinrich Boell Foundation (HBF), with funding from the European Union, confirms that shelters provide absolutely critical services to abused women. However, the ability of shelters to render comprehensive services to women and their children is severely hampered as a result of chronic under-funding and highly-variable subsidies provided by provincial departments of Social Development for shelters across the country. Other challenges faced, such as bureaucratic funding processes and late funding subsidy payments, make even delivering basic shelter services untenable for many shelters.