The state of women’s shelters: Govt called to account at hearing


Commissioner for the Commission of Gender Equality, Mbuyiselo Botha, says they have embarked on an investigative hearing which would bring government departments to account for the state of women’s shelters in South Africa.

Following a nationwide investigation into the state of shelters for survivors of abuse by the commission, the Department of Social Development as well as Botha, say they are doing progressive work.

Speaking to News24 after an event to end the silence around gender-based violence, Botha said these hearings had already kicked off.

"There are continuous discussions with the justice ministry to say how do we improve those services. The Commission has called hearings to [call people to account] and they are ongoing.

"The main reason is to make sure that in those hearings there are commitments with time frames that say as the department of social development this is what you commit to do but by when, it's not an unending [situation]. So that is one good thing that is happening - continuous engagement with the departments," he explained.

The investigation came about in a bid to curb gender-based violence and provide protection to women.

As a result, the commission called for a public investigative hearing which would hear from all nine provincial departments and their officials.

It found a host of issues within shelters, including a lack of funding for shelters, a lack of compliance to policies and practices regarding counselling, skills development, maximum and minimum periods of stay and transition once survivors decide to leave.

Botha said the hearing should be completed by the end of the year and an action plan created.

"I think it's going to come to a close when we are done with those departments - justice, social development, SAPS - when they have made commitments,” he said.

He added: "Before the end of the year we will be able to know what those commitments were and who needs to do what to ensure that there is access to justice for women in shelters but also for social development to come to the party to ensure that these shelter are supported, there are resources made available to them."

News24 previously spoke to women who had to flee their abusive relationships and find refuge in a shelter.

However, they were met with toxic environments and a host of issues, including a lack of counselling, bullying by staff members, no skills development and donations being sold for profit at the shelters.

Deputy minister of social development, Henrietta Ipeleng Bogopane-Zulu, told News24 that she was aware of these issues facing the shelters.

"The shelters could be funded better, so we are already working on that long before the investigation… we are developing a different funding model," she said.

"What we also found in our own investigation prior to the [Commission for Gender Equality investigation] is that we only have one shelter for men, so we need to also begin to make sure that men, before they commit a crime, can get a service. When they feel that they are at that level, where do they go?

"Right now, we have more shelters that only accommodate women and children. So we also, as a department, are beginning to open shelters for men and they will be run for men, by men."

She explained that the department are also in the process of addressing staffing issues in shelters.

"In a way we had started responding to their findings before they did their report," she said.

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