A file picture of activists in Mamelodi who marched and visited victims of gender based violence. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)
A file picture of activists in Mamelodi who marched and visited victims of gender based violence. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)

Human Rights Watch report shows challenges faced by shelters for gender-based violence victims

By Goitsemang Tlhabye Time of article published Nov 25, 2021

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Pretoria - Even with renewed commitments and plans to address the scourge of gender-based violence and femicide in the country, the Human Rights Watch has painted a dismal picture of the government's efforts to assist shelters across the country.

The international human rights watchdog released a new report on Wednesday that detailed the challenges and struggles faced by shelters for survivors of gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) in South Africa during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The organisation said while the South African government had acknowledged the high rates of gender-based violence both during and before the pandemic, even to the extent of making promises to address this scourge through its National Strategic Plan it had still failed to provide the necessary funding for shelters and other services.

The report was compiled following interviews with staff at seven shelters spread across the country and six other front-line organisations working directly with victims to prevent gender-based violence and to provide emergency support to survivors.

It also interviewed activists and other experts from 12 organisations working to end and address the violence.

According to the findings, those interviewed informed the organisation that the biggest problem was a lack of adequate government funding to help overwhelmed non-governmental organisations providing direct support to victims, including shelters coping with the pandemic.

“South Africa is facing a situation in which survivors have been locked down with abusers, and they need economic security to free themselves from their abusers, all during a very tight job market and a period of food insecurity,” said Wendy Isaack, LGBT researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“Key services such as shelters have been under huge stress for months because of pandemic-related problems, costs and long-standing difficulties like late payment of funds in some places and patchy government support.”

Refiloe Nt'sekhe, DA Social Development spokesperson previously highlighted how the Department of Social Development had failed to spend R438.1 million of its 2020/21 annual budget leaving many vulnerable people destitute.

Nt'sekhe detailed that the under-expenditure had affected crucial programmes run by the department including the social welfare services, children and family programmes, restorative services for substance abuse as well as their development and research programmes.

The Human Rights Watch added that the government support to shelters during the Covid-19 pandemic also appeared to vary enormously among provinces.

While shelters such as those in the Western Cape said the agency provided guidance, solidarity, and personal protective equipment (PPE), with funding for shelters arriving on time.

In other places, though, funding was reportedly late to the extent that some staff even had to take personal loans to pay the expenses.

“The government of South Africa has been addressing gender-based violence during the crisis over the past year, but a large-scale and fully resourced effort will be needed to ensure the Covid-19 crisis and its fallout over the following years doesn’t result in South Africa’s rates for gender-based violence worsening further.”

Pretoria News

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