As the world heads into its thirtieth (30) year of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign, the National Shelter Movement of South Africa’s (NSMSA) urges government and corporate decision-makers to recognise the valuable role shelters play in disrupting the intensifying GBV pandemic. Following the release of a Composite Report Raising Women’s Voices in South African Shelters – made public at the NSMSA’s first-ever Shelter Indaba, last week, and made possible with the support of the National Department of Social Development (DSD) – which found that while shelters do provide spaces for victims of abuse to rebuild their lives, these facilities are insufficiently resourced.

According to NSMSA Executive Chair Dr Zubeda Dangor, “It is hard to believe that it has already been 30 years since the 16 Days Against GBV campaign started and that for nearly half of that time the NSMSA has been shouting, begging for more support for shelters (a proven GBV intervention) without it coming. In the meantime, South Africa has become one of the world’s femicide capitals, with some of the highest gender-based violence statistics. Without sufficient funding and support to help the many victims of gender-based violence, our shelter teams were feeling very despondent and burnt out. This was one of the main reasons that the #ShelterIndaba2021 was so important. Now, our teams have a renewed sense of optimism about the work they do.”

The Shelter Indaba has helped the gender justice organisation identify and confirm some of its key priorities and opportunities for the upcoming year. Dangor says, “Since the report revealed that many women do not know about these places of safety, our main concern is to ensure widespread public awareness of shelter services in the country. The NSMSA has also committed to take a lead role, with DSD, to develop a one-stop repository, to ensure that GBV-related information is more widely available and accessible (pillar 6 of the National Strategic Plan). The Indaba also made it clear that it is imperative that we ramp-up our advocacy for improved services and facilities for children. And in the wake of the Life Esidimeni disaster – which we never want to see repeated – NSMSA’s shelter teams also endeavour to ensure that there is more accountability from the Department of Health on mental health issues.”

NSMSA is also aims to get involved in improving the South African Police Services’ (SAPS) ability to deliver the required GBV services when women need it. In addition to the findings in a 2018 research paper on policing responses to gender-based violence in the country, the Composite Report revealed that ‘there were instances where SAPS failed to help women who called on them for help,’ while ‘pockets of excellent service do exist’ in the police and its responsibility to apply the Domestic Violence Act. According to the NSMSA’s latest National Shelter Helpline progress report, it is quite challenging to receive adequate and timeous assistance from SAPS officials, to move clients to shelters, after 8pm. Inadequate policing of gender-based violence has long been an issue that women in South Africa have had to deal with. Unfortunately, the NSMSA says all attempts (since 2020) to arrange a meeting with the Minister of Police, have been unsuccessful.

“Furthermore, in the wake of Universal Children’s Day (20 November), we are particularly concerned about how the lack of funding and support is sabotaging efforts to break the cycle of violence, when shelters cannot provide the full bouquet of services that children need to heal from the traumas they faced, living in an abusive household. We were, therefore, quite disappointed that the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) unit did not respond to our invitation to participate in the Shelter Indaba.”

But all was not lost. A surprisingly collaborative presentation from DSD’s Director for the Victim-Empowerment Programme S’busiso Malope on the Intersectoral Shelter Policy, was particularly well-received by shelters and other stakeholders in attendance. Malope committed, on record, to forge an improved relationship with the NSMSA and to support its work and the work of shelters, going forward.

Dangor says, “Finally, there seems to be hope for the future of shelters, with constructive and workable plans to address the GBV pandemic. This intersectoral approach, which we have long been calling for, is exactly what is needed to ensure that all relevant stakeholders, including government departments, are bound by law to play a constructive role in putting an end to the GBV pandemic ravaging our country. Not only would this be a boost to current shelter services but, should more government departments have a stake in addressing GBV, then this would be a great help for survivors who would need the support once they leave the shelter. This could include support with economic empowerment and housing, which are critical for women to lead lives free of violence.

She says she hopes that this intersectoral approach would also mean more resources to help GBV victims from LGBTIQ+ community, an area that shelters acknowledge need more awareness efforts and sensitivity training and which is also listed as a priority, going forward.

“And to end on a bit of a high note, up until 31 October 2021, the National Shelter Helpline has safely executed more than 1300 shelter placements and has assisted nearly 2000 further callers on other GBV related matters. In terms of call volume, the National Shelter Helpline, which turns 1 next month, is on par with the GBV Command Centre,” concludes Dangor.

Contact the 24-hour National Shelter Helpline toll-free on 0800 001 005 or send a Please Call Me or WhatsApp message to 082 057 8600. Social workers are standing by to assist.

The Composite Reports:
The Composite Report presents the experiences of 101 women (from all 9 provinces) who were former residents of 31 shelters affiliated to the NSMSA. Between 2019 and 2021, thirteen interviewers looked at the reasons women took shelter in the first place, their experiences in shelters and what their lives looked like, after leaving the shelters.

Links to Reports:

Social Media Links:
NSMSA Facebook:
NSMSA Twitter:
NSMSA Website:

Issued by Maria Welcome on behalf of the National Shelter Movement of South Africa.