Inspired by her own experiences, local gender activist opens a shelter for survivors of domestic violence

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"Safe Space Hideout will ensure that when these women and children leave the shelter, they are self-sustainable and empowered." Photo: Getty Images
"Safe Space Hideout will ensure that when these women and children leave the shelter, they are self-sustainable and empowered." Photo: Getty Images

Over 120 000 people contacted the Gender-Based-Violence (GBV) and Femicide command centre in the first weeks of the 2020 lockdown in South Africa, revealed Rose Gawaya, a gender adviser at the Social Policy Network.

By the beginning of 2021, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa named the crisis of GBV the 'second pandemic' in SA, after revealing more alarming statistics.

An unfortunate fact of GBV is that it often happens at home, while children are watching. When older, some of those children perpetuate that kind of behaviour, creating a generation of toxic relationships, before transferring it to the next generation again.

Many abused women have thought about leaving their toxic relationships with their partner at some point.

However, the difficulty in acting on that thought is that they sometimes wonder how they will survive in the real world with their children, without income, food, and shelter.

To find out more about what women in desperate situations can do to save themselves, Parent24 spoke with Nomhle Sibiya, the founder of Safe Space Hideout, a shelter aimed at helping homeless mothers and children in need of a shelter after escaping a violent home.

Read: 52% of South African women feel nervous around their partners, report reveals 

Inspired by her own experiences 

Sibiya tells us that Safe Space Hideout was inspired by her own experiences, her upbringing, psychological and emotional challenges she experienced growing up, leading to her relationship with her parents being strained.

All those challenges led to her having toxic relationships later in life, both romantic and otherwise, and she ended up in an abusive relationship, but did not realise how toxic it was for her.

Despite the challenges that the relationship presented, she always wanted to change her life for the better. She tells us how she worked on her mental health, even though it was difficult for her as she worked two jobs, and completed her postgraduate studies at that time.

"Realising how much the relationship is taking away from you is very important when in toxic situations. Until you realise how bad things are, you will not be inspired to leave," she says.

Luckily, Sibiya left before it was too late.

Also read: Am I co-parenting with someone with narcissistic personality disorder?

A fresh start 

Starting afresh meant cutting all communication channels with her narcissistic ex-boyfriend. Because she was lucky enough to get good opportunities, she left the country and started afresh in Vietnam, where she became a Life Coach and a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist (CBT).

She focused on herself and her goals. Sibiya also started a short program that she ran for free at a women's shelter in Vietnam.

She realised that the women who came through the shelter were hiding while their abusive spouses were hunting for them.

She worked with orphans who wanted to learn English, and she saw how much these women and children were going through, and she thought about the situation we face in South Africa. 

"I thought to myself; I have the experience and the knowledge, so if I do not do something except complaints about the state of things, who am I waiting for? I want to use the skills to empower people via coaching to survivors of domestic abuse," she says. 

An uphill battle

Sibiya believes that the reason why there are only a few shelters that house women with children because of the lack of resources.

She notes that the legalities around policies and practices required to house/shelter children have proven to be an uphill battle to get a hold of or get right in terms of paperwork.

Nevertheless, she is determined to get the necessary resources for Safe Space Hideout even though she has knocked on the doors of many departments asking for funding, with no success.

A brighter and hopeful future

Sibiya tells Parent24 that the women and children who come to the shelter can stay as long as they need to. 

However, "the goal is to empower them to get back on their feet, have good mental health, have a higher probability of a brighter and hopeful future and not end up where they would have had they remained in their abusive relationships."

She aims to educate them about abuse and help them through their healing process so that they do not repeat the behaviour, she says. 

Must read: Gender-based violence does not have a vaccine, but technology can help break the silence

Being able to stand up on their own

"Independence plays a big role in ensuring these cycles are not repeated, so skills development and increasing earning potential is one of the main factors of this project," she tells us. 

Safe Space Hideout will ensure that when these women and children leave the shelter, they are self-sustainable and empowered.

Sibiya says, "our vision is to teach and to empower. Awareness is the first step on the road to any healing, growing and being a contributing member to society."

She adds that gender-based violence is increasing at an alarming rate in South Africa; "if we want to see a change in those numbers, we need to equip and support the women and children who find themselves in these unfortunate circumstances."

She believes that domestic violence has a cycle which she says we should deal with from the core socioeconomic and cultural factors that play a huge role. "By creating programs that aid in dealing with this issue, we can break the cycle," she says. 

Sibiya is also involved in a four-part series on being raised by narcissistic parents and a podcast which deals with the effects of narcissism and violence, and how to take back your power.

If you are interested in offering assistance at Safe Space Hideout, see here.

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