Women’s Month usu­ally high­lights many in­equal­i­ties and how, of­ten, women cope with abuse, both phys­i­cal and emo­tional. Some abusers con­trol their part­ners by lim­it­ing their ac­cess to money. How­ever, it’s pos­si­ble to leave a spouse in spite of hav­ing littl

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It’s hard to un­der­stand why any­one would stay in an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship, but the re­al­ity is that many women, par­tic­u­larly in South Africa, do just that. The rea­sons vary, from want­ing to stay with their part­ners for the sake of the chil­dren and the fear of be­ing alone or pro­vok­ing more vi­o­lence, to keep­ing the fam­ily to­gether be­cause of fam­ily or com­mu­nity pres­sure. Many women also be­lieve they won’t be able to make it on their own fi­nan­cially, par­tic­u­larly if they have lit­tle or no money.

Split­ting up can be ex­pen­sive. You have to con­sider find­ing a home and if you in­tend to rent you’d need a de­posit for your ac­com­mo­da­tion, some­times two months in ad­vance, a job and a good credit score. Buy­ing is even harder as, gen­er­ally, banks won’t of­fer you a bond with­out a size­able de­posit (at least 10%), and again you’d need a favourable credit score and a sta­ble job.

Cur­rently, gov­ern­ment al­lo­cates a por­tion of the na­tional bud­get to the depart­ment of so­cial de­vel­op­ment, which as­sists in fund­ing shel­ters for abuse vic­tims, but no al­lo­ca­tion is made in the form of grants. The depart­ment gets R180 bil­lion (11% of its to­tal bud­get), but gen­der-based vi­o­lence in­ter­ven­tions and ini­tia­tives don’t get much fi­nan­cial sup­port. Ac­cord­ing to re­cent re­search by the Na­tional Shel­ter Move­ment of SA and the Hein­rich Böll Foun­da­tion, the sus­tain­abil­ity of shel­ters through­out the coun­try is se­verely com­pro­mised by gov­ern­ment’s fail­ure to ef­fec­tively fund shel­ters for abused women and chil­dren.

Of­ten, vic­tims of abuse feel trapped if they don’t have fam­ily and friends to rely on, and par­tic­u­larly if they don’t have a steady job, in­come or sav­ings to rely upon. While leav­ing your abu­sive spouse may seem scary and be­wil­der­ing, the good news is there is a sup­port struc­ture in place in spite of the fact that there is lit­tle fund­ing out there for ini­tia­tives pro­tect­ing women from abusers.


Dorothea Gertse, a so­cial worker and the shel­ter man­ager at the Saartjie Baart­man Cen­tre, ad­vises women in an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship to get to a po­lice sta­tion. Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is reg­u­lated by the Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Act, which was in­tro­duced in 1998 with the pur­pose of af­ford­ing women pro­tec­tion from abuse and cre­at­ing law en­force­ment bod­ies such as the SA Po­lice Ser­vice to pro­tect vic­tims.

“If you are stuck, you must go to your near­est po­lice sta­tion and they should take you to a place of safety. You don’t have to open a case. When they don’t take your case se­ri­ously or an of­fi­cer is not help­ful, in­sist on speak­ing to the cap­tain or some­one else higher up the chain, as it is their duty to help,” ad­vises Gertse.

Shel­ters such as the Saartjie Baart­man Cen­tre don’t ex­pect you to pay for ac­com­mo­da­tion, cloth­ing or food and of­ten have pro­grammes to re­vive your con­fi­dence back up and get you fi­nan­cial sup­port by help­ing you find em­ploy­ment.

Get­ting a pro­tec­tion or­der (also known as a re­strain­ing or­der) is free, and this should pro­tect you and pre­vent your abuser from ha­rass­ing you. Gertse says you can also ap­ply for emer­gency mon­e­tary re­lief through the courts. This means your spouse has to pro­vide you with main­te­nance or pro­vide you with money to cover rent or bond re­pay­ments. Fol­low­ing a di­vorce, you can also ap­ply for main­te­nance to sup­port you af­ter the split.

If you need le­gal as­sis­tance and can’t af­ford it, there are or­gan­i­sa­tions that can help for free (pro bono), such as the Law So­ci­ety of SA and the Women’s Le­gal Cen­tre (WLC).

The WLC has satel­lite of­fices in Khay­al­it­sha and a help desk based in the Cape Town Fam­ily Court. In 2015, at least 1 101 women were given le­gal ad­vice here. . .

Life­line SA:

Peo­ple Op­pos­ing Women Abuse:


Saartjie Baart­man Cen­tre:

Women’s Le­gal Cen­tre:



The good news is that it is pos­si­ble to achieve fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence af­ter an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship. Ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey of 100 do­mes­tic-abuse sur­vivors con­ducted by the 1st for Women Foun­da­tion, 90% of women who leave abu­sive re­la­tion­ships be­come fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent.

It doesn’t hap­pen overnight, though – 31% of the abuse sur­vivors said that it took a year to re­gain their con­fi­dence fol­low­ing an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship, whereas oth­ers took three months to two years to re­gain con­trol of their lives.

“For some women the de­ci­sion to leave an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship is in­stan­ta­neous, while for oth­ers, it is one that is reached over time,” says Robyn Far­rell, trustee of the 1st for Women Foun­da­tion.

While there are safe houses avail­able, the ma­jor­ity of the women sur­veyed found sup­port from peo­ple close to them, so it’s im­por­tant to reach out if you have a sup­port­ive net­work. “At least 78% of the women sur­veyed left an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship thanks to the sup­port of their moth­ers, friends and/or fam­ily,” adds Far­rell.


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