Even during women’s month, gender-based violence (GBV) does not stop. For survivors, especially intimate partner violence (IPV), battered women’s shelters offer a safe space with resources and services to help them leave their abusive relationships and rebuild their lives.

However, the quality and quantity of resources and services available to them depends largely on whether these shelters receive sufficient funding.

That’s according to Cape Town-based Leandre Meaney, who recently completed an MA in political science at the University of Stellenbosch.

As part of her research, Minnie compared the provision of resources and services in a government-funded shelter with a privately-funded shelter in Cape Town to understand the tangible difference between the two in terms of empowering survivors of GBV. She interviewed the managers and social workers of the two shelters and asked the women who live there to fill out a questionnaire about how they perceive the services they offer.

Eloise Nolte, MD Optimi College

Instructions on length of stay

Meaney says the manager and social worker at the state-funded shelter said that to be eligible for state funding, they had to meet established guidelines for how long abused women stayed and how many leave the shelter each year.

“Women are usually allowed to stay for three to four months unless a social worker can make an exception to this rule. Because they don’t stay long, many women leave the shelter without a life strategy that could potentially help them improve their lives and keep them from re-victimization.

“The manager also mentioned that most women end up living in shacks in someone else’s yard when they leave because there is no government-funded program to help them find suitable housing or work.

Leandra Mini

Leandra Mini

“Due to insufficient funding and limitations on the amount of time women can stay, these shelters find it difficult to empower women both psychologically and financially.”

Meany notes that the nonprofit shelter’s board of directors has established flexible guidelines that allow women to stay longer.

“Usually, women stay in the shelter until they find suitable housing and stable employment. It can be from three to six months. However, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent unpredictability of the labor market, they were allowed to stay for eight months to a year.

“Women in the shelter also receive financial support to pay a deposit for an apartment or house they want to rent.”

Food, accommodation and various services

Meany adds that both shelters provided accommodation, food, toiletries and hygiene products, as well as counselling, parent training, skills development, employment, legal and medical services.

“A public shelter usually refers women to public hospitals, counseling centers, and legal aid clinics, while a private shelter uses private doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and lawyers who mostly offer their time and services for free.

“While the former provides women with access to computers to search for employment opportunities, help them create or update their CVs and prepare them for interviews, the latter uses a staffing agency to help women find work.

“These shelters help women regain self-esteem and independence, empowering them to not return to an abusive partner. They help women reconnect with their friends and family through counselling, giving them a support system that can ease their transition to a new life.”

Advocacy on behalf of women

Meaney says staff at both shelters talked about the need to consistently advocate for the women and come up with individualized intervention strategies that meet the needs of each survivor.

“They try to support all women as much as they can, whether it’s accompanying them to the police station to apply for a protection order or helping them get their children off school fees as their circumstances change.”

She adds that women at both shelters have found the resources and services helpful.

Mini is calling on the government to change the limit on the length of time battered women can stay in state shelters. “The government should also implement a more diverse victim empowerment program that can help these women become financially independent and have adequate housing to fully escape abusive relationships.”

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