Under-funding rape and domestic violence services: Neglecting women’s well-being, neglecting women’s work?

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Bulletin 1:

Domestic violence is the most common form of violence experienced by South African women and causes the greatest number of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) cases in women, according to the South African Stress and Health Survey conducted by the University of Cape Town and Johns Hopkins University. The same study found that rape, another crime overwhelmingly experienced by women and girls, was the form of violence most likely to result in PTSD, in addition to causing the most severe and long-term forms of PTSD.[1] But this is not all: depression, anxiety, suicidality, substance abuse, repeated victimisation, disability, HIV-infection and chronic physical health problems may also arise following an experience of rape or domestic violence. Good services to victims and their families are therefore crucial, both in ameliorating post-traumatic stress, as well as preventing some of these other health consequences from developing.

However, where these two crimes are concerned, no service is better than a bad service. A very substantial body of research shows that services do more harm than good when provided by people who have not been adequately trained to respond to rape and domestic violence, who also hold victim-blaming beliefs and do not receive debriefing and supervision. In other words, some degree of specialisation is required to provide quality services. Yet, in the context of funding cuts which began in 2010 and shifts in Department of Social Development (DSD) policy around funding to non-governmental organisations (NGO), it seems that fewer services of deteriorating quality are precisely what is being provided to survivors of rape and domestic violence.

This short bulletin, which draws on 17 case studies from seven of South Africa’s nine provinces, provides a snapshot of the effect of funding cuts on services. It is the first in a number of briefs and research reports around good services to rape and domestic violence survivors which the Shukumisa Campaign will release over the coming months.

The impact of funding cuts on services:

Between these 17 organisations 100 positions were lost in the four-year period between 2010 and 2013. While some organisations have been able to reinstate a few posts, this has not been on a full-time basis. In other organisations the work is either now performed by temporary staff or volunteers, or one person is doing the work of two. It is also the case that some staff continue working even though they are not always paid regularly or in full. However, because they cannot afford to cover their transport costs, their work attendance is often erratic. A few organisations, even in the face of diminished funding, nonetheless still attempt to provide their full range of service. Thus Sisters’ Incorporated (a shelter in the Western Cape) ran at a loss of R105 747 in 2011 and by 2012 had embarked on a ‘Save Sisters Campaign’ to prevent the fifty-year old shelter from closing. By 2013 they had no more than two months’ worth of running costs in reserve at any one time.

In addition to job cuts, a number of programmes have either been reduced or terminated altogether, while some services have been closed down: eight station-based services in Mpumalanga no longer exist; a Family Resource Centre has shut in the Eastern Cape and a paralegal and family law service in Pietermaritzburg also no longer functions. These services have not been replaced and the need merely shifted elsewhere. 

These problems have been further exacerbated by the release in 2011 of DSD’s new policy on financial awards to service providers. This stated that the Department would pay only 75% of organisations’ salary costs, who were now responsible for raising the remaining 25%. (The DSD seldom contributes to the running costs of organisations.) Very few are able to raise this balance and the salaries they offer are well below the market standard. As a result posts remain empty for months while organisations struggle to find staff willing to work for meagre salaries. This policy also contributes to a high turnover of staff who migrate constantly in search of the higher salaries and benefits paid by government and the private sector. Yet even where staff are willing to work for lower salaries, the stressful nature of trauma work, undertaken in settings where staff do not have all the equipment and resources required to perform optimally, also drive people to seek employment elsewhere. NGOs are thus reduced to fragile, highly stressed workplaces which function like revolving doors, rather than stable, quality services.

Relying on volunteers is not necessarily a solution either. The majority of those who volunteer are unemployed and offer their services in the hope that this may eventually result in a job. When employment is not forthcoming, resentment and disappointment may set in, contributing further to the tensions within organisations, or leading volunteers to leave. Still other volunteers leave because the skills and experience gained at the NGO has indeed enabled them to find work elsewhere.

Many organisations are thus subject to ongoing processes of deskilling and deprofessionalisation. Institutional memory and experience are also being constantly eroded and the effectiveness of programmes diminished by their closure and reinstatement, as well as changes to their management. The decrease in funding towards research and advocacy, coupled with the loss of staff, also ensures that fewer organisations are able to play an activist role in holding government to account.  

What are the causes of under-funding?

The factors contributing to under-funding are numerous, with some dating to the 2008 global economic crisis, which limited the availability of international donor support. In other instances, international donors have pulled out of South Africa altogether, arguing that low income countries are in greater need of donor aid than a middle income country like ours. At the same time pay outs from the National Lottery are considerably delayed, as well as reduced. The DSD also disburses its funding late and, in the case of Limpopo, problems with payment were further aggravated by the province being placed under administration.

The corporate sector is not generous in its support to rape and domestic violence services either. In 2012 for example, 15% of the R3 billion made available through CSI went to social services (R300 million), with 5% of that figure – R15 million – being distributed to victim services. That was marginally more than was distributed to animal charities and services to prisoners and homeless people.

What next?

While the women’s sector has been hit by funding cuts, so too has the broader social services sector. In mid-2010 three NGOs – the National Association of Welfare Organisations and Non-Governmental Organisations (NAWONGO), NG Social Services Free State and Free State care in Action – took both national and Free State DSD to court over the irregularities in the implementation of the provincial DSD’s funding policy to NGOs. The Free State High Court found against the DSD which was ordered to revise its funding policy (amongst other things) which eventually led the DSD to commission the costing of these various services by the audit firm KPMG.

The difficulties faced by NGOs have not gone unnoticed and in 2012 and 2013 the Minister of Finance announced a range of additions to the equitable share, some of which would have benefited NGOs. In 2012 additions were made to DSD’s victim empowerment programme (the programme which traditionally funds NGOs addressing rape and domestic violence) and in 2013, additions to enable support or funding to NGOs. Unfortunately, as a review of the 2013 provincial budget books shows, all of this money did not reach organisations, some provincial DSD offices having interpreted ‘support’ to mean monitoring of NGOs. The funds were thus allocated to internal government expenses, rather than organisations.  

We therefore recommend: 

  • That the DSD’s policy on funding to NGOs be reviewed as a matter of priority;
  • That the KPMG costing model be used to inform DSD’s budget allocation to NGOs. This model may need to be adjusted in relation to rape and domestic violence services however, the original exercise having focused most closely on the costs of old age and children’s homes, as well as facilities for people with disabilities;
  • That the private sector better contribute to women’s well-being by increasing their support to services for survivors of rape and domestic violence;
  • Government budgets are finite and DSD expenditure on programmes needs to be closely monitored to ensure that legislated or policy-based social welfare services are taking clear and obvious precedence over programmes which are not mandated by law or policy. Funds to services must also be ring-fenced to prevent their being diverted elsewhere.

Because the social services sector, like the caring professions generally, is dominated by women, it must be asked whether or not this under-funding illustrates the devaluing of women’s work. Government departments, after all, never ask those who deliver text books, or build stadiums, hospitals and roads, to work for only 75% of their fee and without profit. Yet this is demanded of those who provide social services.   

Follow the debate @Shukumisa on #Womensbudget

Dowload the details of retrenchments and funding cuts to services addressing rape and domestic violence 2010 – 2013 here -> Retrenchments and funding cuts to services addressing rape and domestic violence 2010 

The Shukumisa Campaign includes: Adapt, AIDS Legal Network, Childline SA, CINDI Network, Community Law Centre Parliamentary Participation Unit, Gender Health and Justice Research Unit (GHJRU), Greater Rape Intervention Project (GRIP), Ikhwezi Women’s Centre, Justice and Women (JAW), Legal Resources Centre, Lethabong Legal Advice Centre,  Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre, Mosaic, Nisaa Women’s Support Centre, Peddie Women’s Support Centre, People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), Project Empower, RAPCAN, Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, Sexual Assault Clinic, Sonke Gender Justice Network, Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), Teddy Bear Clinic, Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme, Thusanang Advice Centre, Tipfuxeni Community Counselling Centre, Triangle Project, Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, Western Cape Network on Violence Against Women, Women on Farms Project, Women’s Legal Centre.

[1] Kaminer, D, Grimsrud, A, Myer, L, Stein, DJ. and Williams, DR. (2008). ‘Risk for post-traumatic stress disorder associated with different forms of interpersonal violence in South Africa.’ Social Science and Medicine 67: 1589 – 1595.



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