South Africa like many countries around the world, dipped its toes into uncharted waters with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 and the imposition of lockdowns worldwide have become the norm in efforts to stop the spread of the virus.
The initial stage of South Africa’s lockdown brought to halt life, as we know it, temporarily closing schools, places of worship and slowing down machinery at some places of work.
No doubt some secretly welcomed the break from the hustle and bustle of getting the children to school on time and the sometimes sleep inducing back-to-back meetings at work.
The lockdown has allowed many to spend quality time with their households.
However, on the other side of the coin, the lockdown, which is aimed at saving lives, has awakened the terror of being in the presence of one’s abuser on a 24-hour basis.
With many confined to their homes, essential services needed in daily life continued to operate.
Johannesburg’s Frida Hartley Shelter is among those who kept their doors open, offering refuge to victims of Gender Based Violence (GBV).
One cannot argue that deciding to leave an abusive relationship is a daunting move, all the more so in a time of lockdown.
“We empower women by assisting them get an education and job skills training. It’s very important for women to sustain themselves because we don’t want them to find themselves in those situations again, “says the shelter’s manager Cheryl Hlabane.
Taking note of increased calls to the GBV National Command Centre for help during the course of the lockdown, which began in March, President Cyril Ramaphosa has lamented increased reports of violence against women and children.
At a time when South Africa commemorates the annual Mandela Month, the shelter is an example of how emulating former President Nelson Mandela’s qualities of humility, compassion and dedication to the service of humanity can change lives even in bleak times.
Throughout the various levels of the lockdown, the shelter has continued its work of supporting women in their endeavours to heal and attain independence, helping them in turn to support themselves and their children.
It is no secret that South Africa’s first democratically elected President Nelson Mandela loved children.
The late Tata Madiba as he was affectionately known also spoke out against violence meted out at women describing it as “serious and escalating evil” in society.
In its own way, the shelter is taking forward Madiba’s call for all to make a difference in the lives of others.
The shelter takes in homeless women, and their children who have endured neglect, abuse, and trauma and homelessness.
The non-profit organisation (NPO) not only provides accommodation, care as well as support, but also empowers women with economic, educational and skills training opportunities.
In an interview with SAnews, Hlabane emphasised the importance of ensuring that women leave the shelter in a better position than when they came in.
The shelter also provides three meals a day, monthly toiletries, entrepreneurial skills training, psychosocial support and referrals for work placement.
“We encourage women to find a side hustle, something that they are passion about so they can get an income. We have an 89% success rate in assisting women to get skills, education and jobs,” she said in a telephonic interview.
With South Africa having passed over 100 days of lockdown, the number of women who have reached out to the shelter through phone calls, emails and messages on social media has increased.
“A lot of shelters had to shut down because they didn’t understand the pandemic, they didn’t have the resources and they were scared to accommodate people and have them die at their facilities,” she explained.
The NPO is currently full to capacity.
Hlabane, was also formed part of the #TotalShutdown march back in August 2018, has called on government to impose stringent measures to address GBV.
The #TotalShutdown movement started on social media and mobilised women and members of the LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual) to take a stand against all forms of violence.
In response to the march, government convened the first national summit against Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) in November 2018.
Last year in September at a joint sitting of Parliament, President Ramaphosa announced an Emergency Response Plan to combat GBVF and R1.6 billion in government funding that would be reprioritised to support the plan.
Addressing the nation last month, the President reaffirmed government commitment to fight the scourge of GBVF.
While government works to address GBVF, Hlabane stressed the need to change the narrative when conversations about abuse take place.
“We talk about abuse but we protect abusers within our work space, homes, government, Parliament and individuals who occupy top positions in companies. Those ones are given immunity because of their social status that is why it’s easier to sweep abuse under the carpet,” she said.
She has suggests that GBV conversations should be incorporated into the school curriculum.
“We need to address gender roles specifying that women are the ones who are supposed to be cleaning and cooking. That is giving men authority thinking that if you don’t clean you deserve to be beaten up.”
Conversations around gender roles need to be held with young boys from an early age she said.
She also spoke of the need not to place victims of abuse under secondary victimisation, calling for adequate training for police when handling cases of GBV.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about uncertainty in the world and while it remains human nature to tend to want to look out for oneself only, there is a need for collective effort to look after the vulnerable in society.
Organisations like Frida Hartley often rely on donations like clothing, blankets and sanitary products to provide services to victims of GBV.
The shelter also accepts corporate support in the form of of job training programmes, internships and employment opportunities.
In the spirit of Mandela Month, South Africans can also play their part in the fight against GBV by supporting organisations such as the Frida Hartley Shelter.
The shelter can be contacted on 011 648 6005 and information about the work of the organisation is available on: https://www.fridahartley.org/.
While South Africa continues to be under lockdown, your support can be the difference between life and death, choose to help. SAnews.gov.za