Shelters for women escaping violence share the same challenges all over the world

Laura Brown | Dec 12, 2015
Shelters conference

At the start of November, the third World Conference on Women’s Shelters took place in The Hague attended by representatives from around 115 countries.

The conference, organised by the Global Network of Women’s Shelters, was a unique opportunity for women’s rights activists, policy makers, thought leaders and donors  to come together to share best practice on  the provision of shelters and safe spaces for women survivors of violence all over the world.

At a time when resources and funding are decreasing for such direct services by and for women, and the sector is being increasingly privatised, the conference was an important space to reassert the priorities for shelter providers and develop strategic actions and alliances to address the barriers.

Womankind’s partners

Since starting at Womankind in July this year as a Programme Manager, I have been completely immersed in the topic of violence against women and worked closely with two partner organisations providing shelters to women affected by violence – one in Ethiopia (AWSAD)  and one in Zimbabwe (MUSASA).

Womankind is currently supporting the core operating costs of the shelters of each organisation enabling them to continue business as usual until more comprehensive funding is found. I was thrilled that Directors from both organisations were able to attend the conference to share their cutting edge work and learn from other organisations.

My purpose in attending the conference was to understand further the work of partner organisations working on shelters and identify emerging global trends in this area. I was also interested to understand how a UK based women’s rights organisation working internationally could add value to this.

Connections and shared challenges

The programme was diverse and my visit was a rather whirlwind one over two days.  I was immediately reminded of the universality of the issues facing organisations running shelters for women affected by violence from all over the world.

I met Luis Matos from the Centre for Domestic Violence running shelters for women in New York City and unhappy about US Government funding cuts to their services , so similar to the recent cuts we heard about for Eaves Housing in the UK.

I met Regina and Kgomotso from Botswana, running shelters and struggling to support survivors once they leave.   I also heard about the 2015 Australian Woman of the Year, Rosie Battie, who had been abused by her husband, lost her son to murder and gone on to champion the fight against domestic violence in Australia. An inspiring example of the role that survivors of violence take in highlighting and calling for systemic change.

Unsurprisingly perhaps there were few men at the event, yet it was great to see those that were there including Girum Aleymahou from AWSAD, a young member of staff leading the organisation’s monitoring work. Others included Dr Mukwezi, a very well known doctor supporting women affected by sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo; male representatives from the Dutch police supporting violence response in the Netherlands; and representatives from the Human Rights Council of Cameroon addressing gender-based violence.

Working with men and boys

The Crown Princess of Denmark spoke passionately about the importance of engaging with men and boys to prevent violence against women, reflecting on a recent visit she made to a project in South Africa. These comments reflect the attention this issue has received in recent years.

However Rashida Manjoo, outgoing UN Special Rapporteur (designated representative)  on violence against women and girls, spoke straight after the Princess, offering  words of  caution to policy makers and practitioners to ensure balance in their promotion of engagement with men and boys so that the hard fought attention and space given to women’s rights issues isn’t watered down.


So how best can women’s rights organisations based in the north support those in Africa, Asia and Latin America? I was asking myself this question throughout the conference and I think that the Call to Action clearly summarises the key points that Womankind and others should consider:

  • Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) – The newly established Sustainable Development Goals include targets on eliminating violence against women. Womankind partners were part of global efforts to bring about these targets and can be further supported to lobby for the targets to be met and changes to be put in place to support implementation nationally.  As the goals are also universal, I think a closer look at the UK reality on violence against women and girls may also be important, and holding the UK Government.
  • Funding – Funding for shelter work remains limited all over the world. Core funding and access to funding from Governments is hard to come by so more work is needed to lobby donors based in the north to allocate sufficient and comprehensive funds to organisations working on support for survivors.
  • Coalitions for impact at scale – a true partnership approach means supporting organisations to pursue their wider goals, in addition to delivering projects.  Whilst supporting the capacity of single organisations remains important, new coalitions are emerging that have the potential to impact on regional and continental decision and policy making underpinned by a strong legitimacy. The African Network of Shelters is one such coalition who need support to strengthen their mandate and effectiveness so they can have regional and cross -African impact on more women affected by violence.
  • Documentation and research of trends – Global organisations working across countries, regions and continents have a unique window on the changing global trends related to violence against women.  Women’s right’s organisations based in the north could therefore support in the documentation of discrimination faced by women within and across country borders to further strengthen the evidence base for action and support.

The conference was a great success and motivational boost for all participants in these challenging times. It served as a good reminder that strength and change can come from coalition and joint voices calling together to change the status quo.

See the final compilation video below and view all the presentations.

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