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By Chisom Jenniffer Okoye


State of shelters for women raises Commission for Gender Equality’s concern

Gender activist and researcher Lisa Vetten says although demand for shelters is growing, the funding allocated to shelters yearly is not.

The Commission for Gender Equality’s call for the departments of social development and human settlements to appear before it and account for the state of shelters for women is long overdue, according to a gender researcher.

This comes after the commission released its report on the state of shelters for victims of gender-based violence and those for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and intersex people across the country.

Regarding budget allocations for shelters, the commission found shelters were underfunded across the board. This included those fully funded by government.

It also found that the department of social development paid the tranches for which it was responsible late, which severely undermined the work of shelters.

This newspaper previously reported on the Thuthuzela Care Centre’s tribulations with minimum finances.

With 54 branches across the country, the organisation meant to help survivors of sexual and domestic abuse did not have counselling services and had two or fewer social workers.

The National community and mobilisation manager of Sonke Gender Justice, Nonhlanhla Skosana, said for the people taken in by the centre to not have sufficient access to methods that would assist them to recover from their appalling experience was a huge problem.

Gender activist and researcher Lisa Vetten said the call for the departments to account for the state of shelters was long overdue. More departments from other provinces also needed to be called in to account, she added.

She noted that although the demand for shelters was growing, the funding allocated to shelters yearly was not. In fact, the opposite was happening, with shelters across the country receiving less funding and being unable cater for demand.

She said the health department specifically needed to get on board because the women who sought refuge in shelters also faced psychological, physical or mental distress, but could not access the help they needed from nearby hospitals.

The report also found “shelters lacked standardised salaries among staff in the same occupation category”.

Vetten added: “Workers within the shelters are being paid lower than the minimum wage. Workers are also officially recorded as volunteers and not their proper occupations, so they are paid very little.”

A “volunteer” working full-time at a shelter could earn as little as R600 a month.

She said she hoped the Commission for Gender Equality’s public hearing would help, but the department of social development had a bad track record of not fulfilling its obligations to the public.

After a court ruling, it took the department four years to produce a policy that was in line with the Constitution, she said. However, after it was accepted by the courts, the department still did not act on it.

Some hard questions needed to be asked in the light of this, including whether a hearing would actually help after the department had, in the past, failed to adhere to a court ruling.


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