RESEARCH, Uncategorized


— Media Release —

Today (Thursday, 6 December), marks the final event the National Shelter Movement of South Africa (NSM) and the Heinrich Boell Foundation’s (HBF) 3-year project, “Enhancing State Responsiveness to GBV: Paying the True Costs”. The project – which seeks to support State accountability for adequate and effective provision of domestic violence survivor support programmes, specifically those associated with the provision of shelter for abused women – makes a number of policy recommendations relating to funding of shelters, as well as on the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act (DVA).

The event will include the release of findings undertaken in shelters in 6 provinces. Extensive research went into understanding how the State funds shelters, versus the funds needed. Further research was also done on the South African Police Service (SAPS) – which is often victims’ first point of contact – to understand how police officers deal with domestic violence situations.

Zubeda Dangor, Head of the Executive of the NSM, says that the project has helped a great deal to uncover the host of challenges that shelters face in the provision of services to women. She says, “It is important that decision-makers fully understand the pressures placed on these very important facilities, which exist to help fulfil their mandate to the women of this country.”

“Our research reveals that shelters are chronically under-funded and subsidies by government vary widely from province to province, and at times, even within the province. And, since the Department of Social Development’s (DSD) current policy does not fully fund the shelter services, shelters either end up providing inadequate services or spending a great deal of effort in raising funds elsewhere,” adds Dangor.

According to Shelter Manager, Delene Roberts, “It is very difficult to be responsible for ensuring the safety of our clients and provide the services they need to help their long-term rehabilitation and healing, while seeing to the daily running of the shelter, as well as all the work entailed to secure additional funding.”

Funding is also at times delayed, sometimes for up to three months in some provinces. This places shelters in precarious positions where some have even had to borrow money to buy food for clients while they await their tranche.

The research on police – which considered things like the extent to which police could refer women to shelters, as required by the DVA – found that responses by the police to those seeking shelter were often misinformed and apathetic. In some instances officials were unable (or unwilling) to assist abused women.”

Says HBF Project Manager, Claudia Lopes, “These studies have provided empirical evidence of the gaps in government’s approach to helping vulnerable, at-risk women who seek refuge at a shelter. By having an in-depth understanding of the funding and the resulting service delivery issues, we are better able to address them. We also now, have a better understanding of various other pitfalls that survivors have to contend with in the system.”

“Each year in South Africa, the 16 Days of Activism initiative drives home the reality that we still have a very long way to go to guarantee the safety and protection of the women of this country. For a country that still has among the highest instances of femicide, globally – we need the decision-makers to realise the significant, disruptive role shelters play in stemming ongoing domestic abuse,” adds Lopes.

“We hope the evidence will convince government of the undeniable value that shelters have for abuse survivors, and that it uses the findings from this project, to ensure the sustainability of sheltering facilities – with a view of making long-term impact, not only for those who have managed to escape the abuse, but for our society as a whole,” adds Dangor.

Reports resulting from the research, will be available on


Toilet outage and its deadly effects

Comfort Mussa
Comfort Mussa

By Comfort Mussa

The Bamenda Main Market (in the city where I live) has approximately 5000 traders occupying about one thousand shops. The traders in the market and the thousands of people who shop there have access to just four toilets provided by the local council.

Some inner city apartments don’t have toilets and the tenants have to defecate in plastic bags, in nearby bushes or share pit toilets with their neighbors. Tenants who live in apartments furnished with water toilet facilities occasional have to resort to open defecation or going out of the security of their homes to look for toilets when their water supply fails. Officials at the Bamenda City Council admit that there are not enough toilet facilities for the city’s population.

According to the WHO, about 40 percent of the world’s population will be without access to basic sanitation by 2015 if current trends continue. Less than half of Cameroon’s population has access to improved sanitation facilities, according to UNICEF statistics .The lack of toilets forces people to defecate openly. Open defecation increases the risk of cholera, amongst other health challenges. It also poses a threat to the safety of women who for obvious reasons, need to go further afield to look for possible “toilets”.

The shortage or lack of toilets at home, offices and public places like markets has made life difficult for women and has resulted in increased incidents of harassment and assault against women. This lack of toilets compels women to go into dark street corners and isolated places to find some privacy to ease themselves. These places are often perfect hideouts for some men who wait to attack women.

Recently, two female cousins in the Indian village of Katra, in Uttar Pradesh were gang-raped and murdered while looking for a toilet. It shows how vulnerable Indian women are to sexual abuse when they do not have toilets in their homes. This however is not only an Indian problem.

According to UN statistics, around 1 billion people worldwide practice open defecation, using rivers, fields or other places to relieve themselves due to a lack of toilets. The practice contributes in the rise of sexual violence and harassment of women and girls, and increases health risks through the spread of diseases including diarrhea.

According to Nicholas Alipui, Director of Programmes at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “Ending open defecation is a human right and a matter of equity.”

Indeed access to sanitation and water are fundamental human rights. The abuse of these rights and the lack of these services endangers the lives of women

More on open defecation in Cameroon




Beauty pageants with our taxes in eThekwini

By Nicole Graham

Women in eThekwini, much like any South African society, get a pretty raw deal. Women, especially young ones, are more likely to be unemployed, earn less and be undermined by colleagues and society than their male counterparts because of their physicality and gender. As a young female councilor, I have had to regularly take on colleagues who though that making comments about my looks, weight and body was acceptable. I don’t mean one or two isolated incidents- I mean weekly occurrences across the spectrum of race and age. Very few political office bearers in eThekwini are young women.

Young women in eThekwini regularly face abuse, violence, rape and murder. I am told that in the past month, three women have been found raped and murdered in Lindelani, north of Durban. They were found dead on fields and in open spaces, one with her bloodied underwear stuffed in her mouth. These brutal and horrifying incidents are sadly not isolated, and there is little media attention or public outrage. The response from government at various levels is generally slow and insufficient. Our cities are still not safe for women.

The eThekwini Municipality’s Parks, Recreation and Culture Unit have formulated a proposal to spend over a million rand of tax payers’ money (R 1 023 278, 05) on a beauty pageant. The proposed pageant, dubbed ‘Miss eThekwini’, is only open to women who wear a size 28- 34. It makes no bones about the fact that the contestants must be ‘physically beautiful’, occasionally referring to ‘smart women’ for good measure. The winner, by virtue of her physique and dazzling smile, will become an ambassador for our city. It is apparently vital to make us seem like a ‘lifestyle destination’. The proposal makes little mention of tourism or tangible benefits to our city, and offers nothing in terms of Durban’s diverse and fascinating cultures.

There is an undeniable link between creating structures that praise physicality above all else and treating women as though their value is derived from their body. It is these exact attitudes that continue to decrease women’s agency. The idea that this pageant would advance women is laughable. Women will be advanced through education, opportunity, safety and equality.

It is unreal that the municipal unit tasked with managing public spaces, in which many attacks on women take place, would decide to use their money on a pageant as opposed to making these places safer. In Umbilo Park alone, which falls in my ward, a number of young women and school girls have been mugged, attacked and raped in the past year. When I ask for increased security, I am told that there is insufficient funding available. There is now a million rand available for a beauty pageant.

Across political divides, eThekwini Municipality should its money to create safe and livable spaces for residents, particularly vulnerable women. Projects that contribute to inequality cannot be allowed. Let us spend that R 1 023 278, 05 on additional security for public spaces in Lindelani, Kwamashu, Phoenix, Glenwood and other parts of the city in which women are routinely attacked. It is time this city treated the safety of women seriously, and rejected the idea of women’s value being represented through their looks.

(This item was referred back to political caucuses for discussion at committee level. The Democratic Alliance will not support this item if/when it is brought back to committee.)

Benedicta Van Minnen

Women’s Day not real until institutions change

Benedicta Van Minnen
Benedicta Van Minnen

By Benedicta Van Minnen

Womens Day, which has just passed, is not just another public holiday, giving the moneyed classes carte blanche to spend a day in the countryside or the mall, and for disadvantaged women a chance to put their feet up in honor of some ubiquitous national “day of rest”.

57 years ago on the 9 August 1956 in one of the largest demonstrations staged in this country’s history, thousands of women of all races marched to Pretoria’s Union Buildings, to present a petition against the carrying of passes by black women. This march against the pass laws was organized by the Federation of South African Women  who challenged the idea that ‘a woman’s place is in the kitchen’, declaring it instead to be “everywhere”.

This was to be the start of a tradition of strong women’s voices being raised against efforts to silence them, and to “keep them in their place”. Voices like that of Helen Suzman, the anti-apartheid activist who would not be silenced by the government of the day despite being the sole liberal voice in Parliament for many years. Rhoda Kadalie, who has just written a powerful piece on efforts to create chaos in the Western Cape ahead of the 2014 elections, Patricia De Lille, who would not be silenced by the current government in exposing the arms deal, and of course, Helen Zille who exposed the murder of Steve Biko and who heads up the opposition, the Democratic Alliance. Let us also remember those strong women within the ANC, like Albertina Sisulu and Adelaide Tambo, who raised their voices against oppression and abuse, a voice which in recent years seems to have fallen silent in the face of overwhelming male patriarchy in government circles.

These are all women who have made their voices heard in this country and who refused to be silenced and to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. And yes, the last 20 years of parliamentary democracy have brought about many legislative changes aimed at improving the lives of women. I wish we could celebrate women’s day in the spirit of joy and moonbeams so beloved of Facebook postings and jolly pictures of women enjoying themselves on this historic day. But the truth is that we cannot.

South Africa is not a safe place for women; domestic violence, rape, and murder are every day events in many womens lives. Unemployment, poverty, substance abuse and exploitation are the realities in many communities, and family members that abuse women financially, emotionally and economically are the norm for many, many women.

Women like Anene Booysen get murdered every day across the country, small children such as the siblings from Ceres lie broken and mutilated in hospitals across the country, and elderly women are raped in rural villages by youths high on drugs and liquor.

Look at the Cape Flats mother who saw what drugs were doing to her son and to her family and desperately tried to get help to no avail. Eventually she was forced into a terrible act before people took notice. And she is not the only one. We all know women like her. Women who are trying to keep their families together in the face of terrible challenges and abuse and who cannot find succor from the very agencies and organizations meant to help and assist.

Everyday women get turned away from courts because they claim they are too busy to give the very assistance they are mandated to give, women face months of delays and postponements when requesting help in getting maintenance, shelters are full, thus not giving women a safe place to go to, yet in a particularly South African flavored irony, many are facing closure due to lack of funding. Police are uninterested and sheriffs could not be bothered to serve the summonses and interdicts that a lucky few women do manage to squeeze out of the system.

And it is not just this that threatens our hard won democratic rights.

The very government which has been instrumental in introducing many women friendly Acts, is systematically rolling back women’s gains in an attempt to gain votes from men in rural areas by removing the threat empowered women present to traditional structures: If the Traditional Courts Bill goes through Parliament it will silence the voices of women who will henceforth be represented by, wait for it, the men in their families and the presiding officer will be a male traditional leader! Given the high rate of abuse faced by women in rural settings, often from the men in their families, this will devastate the voices of rural women. This essentially negates constitutional rights which are guaranteed to all South Africans.

In essence, women are being sent back to the kitchen, and can no longer go “everywhere” as there are very clear attempts to develop spaces where women may not tread. This is not good enough, Women deserve more.

It is clear that it is only when women have successfully become part of the established structure of governance from schools, to courts, from police stations to government, as magistrates, as police, as politicians, as doctors and as strong community leaders, that women’s freedoms will be truly protected. Anything less than that and any gains will always be vulnerable to attempts to erode hard won rights in order to prop up increasingly centralized political elites who only view women voters as a means to an end, and who are, presumably, seen as happy with the current crumbs to salvage an increasingly patriarchal conscience.

It is only when we have truly women friendly state institutions that women can be truly free to go “everywhere” as dreamt of by those strong and brave women who would not be silenced 57 years ago.


Liza van Soelen

Victim blaming vs common sense

Liza van Soelen
Liza van Soelen

By Liza van Soelen

Jacques Rousseau wrote an article for The Daily Maverick attempting to raise the concern that in our attempts to limit stranger rape we should be able to talk about ways to lessen the chance of that rape; that discussing ways to avoid dangerous situations should not be viewed as simply victim blaming, but as a means to increase the protection of the at risk population. Rousseau is well aware that stranger rape is a very small percentage and of course discusses the useless of giving advice to avoid rape when girls or women might live with their rapist. Rather he moves to ask whether, to avoid this stranger rape, however small the percentage, if we shouldn’t be allowed to talk about ways to minimize the risk without being lambasted as “victim blamers”. It’s an interesting read and you can read the full article here.

Of course, there is a very fine line to walk when we consider victim blaming vs common sense precautions, but I think the point that is missed out on is that, to a large extent, it seems to me to be superfluous to want to talk about ways to minimize the risk of stranger rape. As girls and women that conversation is already happening and has been happening for some time. If we can take a moment to relive my whiny teenage years the conversation goes like this:

Me: “So, can I go there/do that?

Parents: “No, you’re too young.”

Me: “But my brother did it when he was the same age as I am now.”

Parents: “Yes, but he’s a boy.”

First as young girls, and then as women, we are already raised to be wary and alert for dangerous situations and possible attack. We’re brought up with his dose of “common sense” if you like, to avoid rape or attack. To put it in context for a male reader I suppose I would ask him if any of these situations feel familiar to him:

  • If as a young boy of ten his grandmother showed him where to attack a women if she tried to attack him
  • If his mother took him aside and told him when he orders drinks at a bar to always order from a bottle, watch it be poured and never let his drink out of his sight in case it’s drugged
  • If his sister spent time teaching him to watch his surroundings whenever he walks and then taught him how to throw a punch just in case
  • If his curfew was earlier than his sister’s had been at the same age because “he’s a boy”
  • If his father checked to hear who was going to be out with him that night and was always happier when it was with girls considered to be good and able to look after him
  • If his friend’s mother insisted that his friend’s girlfriend go with them on Matric holiday because it’s not safe for a group of young men to go on holiday alone.
  • If his women friends insist on walking him home at night, even a five minute walk, because it is not safe for him to walk home alone (and then on one occasion feels deep gratitude they did when he finds out a young man had been attacked by a group of women just outside his house a bit earlier in the evening).
  • If, as a man going for a jog, if, when he sees a large group of fit looking women, if he either runs faster to get past them or takes a turn down a different road to run in a more ‘safe’ direction because he’s been taught to be wary.
  • If he’s ever offered to let a women friend crash on his couch for the night after a few drinks when she has no way to get home and then considered whether he should lock his bedroom door because a friend let a women stay over once and she raped him. And only decide against it, because she doesn’t seem dangerous and even if she tried, she’s scrawny and he knows martial arts and could probably defend himself if he had to.
  • If, while working in Korea and going on a trip there is an option for sleeping that asks if he wants “boys only” or “boys and girls” and he must tell his Canadian friends that he wants to have “boys only” room because growing up in South Africa he doesn’t feel all that safe agreeing to share a room and spend a night with women he doesn’t know.

Of course, these are examples from my own life with the sex of the participants swapped over. There are more examples, of course, of warnings women receive (time of day, what they wear, if they’ve had a few drinks and so on) but I think I’ve made my point. We don’t really need to open a discussion about ways women can minimize their risk of stranger rape; we’ve grown up hearing, at home and from friends, of ways to stay safer. Moreover, women have a good dose of common sense about our well-being; we don’t actively look for danger.

So if you want to talk to women about ways to minimize this risk of stranger rape, please, save your breath. We already know. Use your time to tell our male sport’s stars and media stars, our politicians, the teacher’s at our schools, our country’s brothers and fathers to talk to the boys, the young men and older men in South Africa, telling them what rape is, that it is never ok, never wanted, not a way to show your manliness or strength, and provide strong role models of real masculinity for all they young boys growing up in South Africa.

I do appreciate the good intentions of saying that it’s a good idea to tell women ways to keep themselves safe and take care of themselves. But honestly, as women, we don’t need to hear it, we know it. What we need to hear are stronger voices telling men not to rape. Most especially as despite all these precautions and fears, women are more likely to be raped at home, by someone they know.