Women’s shelters won’t be locking down

Organisations dealing with GBV victims say shelters that house women and children that have been victims of GBV and abuse are grossly underfunded and there is a lack of empowerment financially after they leave the shelter.

The National Shelter Movement of South Africa (NSM) says that victims of gender-based violence were some of the most at risk – not only from the coronavirus during the nationwide lockdown but may be forced to endure isolation with their abuser.

The umbrella body representing 78 shelters for abused women and children across the country said in a statement that while South Africans are confined to their homes for 21 days, to curb the spread of the coronavirus, for some isolating at home presented additional risks.

Dr Zubeda Dangor, head of the executive of NSM and director of the Nisaa Institute for Women’s Development, said: “An unfortunate consequence of the severe Covid-19 measures being implemented from Friday March 27 is an anticipated increase of gender-based violence rates during this time.

“While the lockdown is a much-needed and proven intervention, it is important that the most vulnerable of our society are not left to fend for themselves.”

She said they could not ignore the increased risks, especially for the victims of domestic violence and abuse, who would now not only feel, but would actually be more isolated than ever.

Shelters are an essential service, these facilities would remain fully operational during the lockdown.

“Victims and survivors of domestic violence can be assured that there are resources available to assist during this high-risk period,” she said.

Bernadine Bachar, chairwoman of the Western Cape Women’s Shelter Movement and director of the largest shelter in the province, Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children, said that shelters have put measures in place to ensure shelter residents’ safety as far as possible.

To avoid risking infection and transmission to women in existing shelters, the provincial Department of Social Development’s Covid-19 implementation measures has also designed one shelter to take in new clients for a period of two weeks.

Following this isolation period, clients will be referred to other shelters.

The Department of Social Development, SAPS or shelter social workers will deal with these referrals, which is dependent on provincial protocols.

Ms Bachar said: “All shelter staff in the Western Cape will also be required to follow the Covid-19 measures, as laid out by the Department of Health, as strictly as possible.”

Staff are required to wear protective gear, perform ongoing health monitoring; and refer to the Department of Health for health assessment of residents, among other measures.

But, there are challenges in procuring protective gear.

“We appeal to the public and corporate sector to please assist their local shelters. Shelters will require collaborative partnerships to ensure victim support services continue during lockdown so any donations are welcome,” Ms Bachar said.

Although no victim will be left without support, NSM cautions that specific protective lock-down measures may differ at provincial and local level.

NSM implores all provincial departments of Social Development to assist shelters in implementing safety measures for both clients and shelter staff.

All shelters must refer to their outlined regulations to issue travel permits for their staff.

There are a number of contact centres available to support any woman who experiences any domestic abuse issues during the coronavirus lockdown.

The LifeLine SA Stop Gender Violence National Helpline is available on 080 015 0150.

Women in danger can also contact the national Department of Social Development’s Gender-Based Violence Command Centre on 080 042 8428. The call centre operates 24/7 and is operated by qualified social workers who are responsible for taking calls and making call referrals.

Should you be unable to make a call, dial *120*7867# to contact the centre via a USSD, “Please Call Me” service.

The centre can also be reached via a Skype line, by adding ‘Helpme GBV’ to your Skype contacts. This is particularly useful for members of the deaf community.

Social workers in the command centre can also be reached by sending an SMS with the word ‘Help’ to 31531.

The centre will be particularly useful during this period of isolation, since they are able to refer calls directly to SAPS 10111 and field social workers, who will respond to victims of gender-based violence. For more details visit http://gbv.org.za/about-us/.

For anyone wanting more information about shelter services for abused women and children, to request assistance with referrals, or to offer support in any way, you can call Bernadine Bachar on 082 903 8739, for Saartjie Baartman Centre, in Surrey Estate; and Western Cape executive member Joy Lange on 071 906 3949, for St Anne’s Homes, in Woodstock