Shelters taking strain as domestic violence rises during Covid-19 lockdown
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Cape Town - With gender-based violence on the increase during the Covid-19 lockdown, there have been warnings that domestic shelters for women are reaching their full capacity.
Tina Thiart, the founding member for 1000 Women Trust, said the surge in Covid-19 cases was straining even the most advanced and best-resourced health systems to the breaking point, including those at the front line in violence response.
“Domestic violence shelters in South Africa are reaching capacity or are unable to take new victims due to lockdown and social distancing measures. In other cases, they are being re-purposed to serve as health centres,” said Thiart.
Claudia Lopes, a project manager at the Heinrich Böll Foundation specialising in women's rights activism, said support services like shelters, Thuthuzela Care Centres and NGOs delivering any form of psycho-social and practical support services to victims needed to be supported.
“In the case of shelters, the government must release funding grants as soon as possible. We cannot have a situation where a shelter is waiting three or four months to receive its first tranche. This has never been acceptable but now, especially, you cannot have this happening,” she said.
Lopes said no funding meant no support or reduced support to victims.
The Western Cape Women’s Shelter Movement’s chairperson, Bernadine Bacha, said that in the province the movement had, together with the Social Development Department, implemented a two-tiered referral system for admission to shelters during lockdown. However, Bacha said in the Western Cape there hadn’t yet been a significant increase in requests for shelter services. “There is presently ample space available Contingency plans have also been considered should shelters become full,” she said.
Social Development MEC Sharna Fernandez said the department and civil society organisations would continue to provide services to victims of crime and violence through shelter services and psycho-social support.
“Four shelters have been identified as Stage 1 shelters to admit at-risk victims of crime and violence. Only referrals from a social worker with a safety risk assessment and the SAPS will be accepted. After 14 days, clients will be transferred from Stage 1 shelter to a Stage 2 shelter,” she said.