More Than a Roof: our new report on women’s shelter services

Lee Webster | Jul 27, 2016
A mother and child at the AWSAD safe house in Ethiopia
An estimated 1 in 3 women globally have experienced some form of violence in our lifetimes. Gender-based violence violates the human rights of women and girls and yet the essential services that support survivors are increasingly under threat from funding cuts, closures and the pressure to provide so-called gender-neutral approaches.

Our partners, Association for Women’s Sanctuary and Development (AWSAD) in Ethiopia and Musasa in Zimbabwe, provide holistic shelter services for women and girls who have survived extreme violence. As in all countries in the world, violence against women and girls is a significant problem. In Ethiopia, intimate partner violence is highly prevalent and widely socially condoned, with nearly half of all women experiencing physical violence in their lifetime and 59% report sexual violence. Similarly, in Zimbabwe, at least 30% of women have experienced physical violence, with the most common perpetrator being a current husband or partner .

Following a successful launch event in Ethiopia earlier in the month, our new report More than a roof: Documenting the work of specialist women’s organisations providing holistic shelter services in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe adds to the growing body of evidence on women’s services. The report highlights the high quality, critical work being carried out by AWSAD and Musasa, and some of the pressing challenges they face.

Holistic shelter services

AWSAD runs four shelters, two in Addis Ababa and two in Adama. Right now, the main safe house in Addis has more than 80 women and 35 children, with a capacity of just 50 people. AWSAD believe in providing holistic and empowering services to women so they can rebuild their lives after violence. This starts with meeting their basic needs - safe accommodation in a secret location, adequate food, 24 hour medical care and a counselling service for both adults and children. Once these immediate needs are addressed, the residents take part in a range of other activities, including life skills and empowerment workshops, education and literacy classes, income generating activities, legal follow up to their cases, self defense classes and social activities. The safe houses are not just a safe haven, they are life-changing. 

Maria Munir, Directoress of AWSAD, explains: “We see our services as empowering. The basic services are there, so women have time to think about what they want in the future. And then services like counselling are there to support her to decide what she wants to do. The different components of the safe house allow women to become economically and socially empowered.

Like AWSAD, Musasa focuses on providing holistic and empowering services to women and, in 2015, Musasa supported 25,880 women and girls across its services. Musasa’s support includes two urban shelters, seven community shelters, a One Stop Centre in Harare and a national toll-free counselling line. Musasa is the only organisation providing specialist shelter provision in Zimbabwe.

A former client, Chikomba, explains how the service changed her life: “I thought I was going to commit suicide, I thought my life had ended at some point. But I realised I have a life to go on because I became empowered [at Musasa’s shelter].”

Women-only, women-led

From looking at shelters in two different contexts, we found some clear, common themes. First, providing holistic services to meet both the immediate practical needs, and the longer term strategic needs of women, is essential. As the report shows, providing ‘more than a roof’ means women can gain the confidence and support to rebuild their lives. Second, we found that again and again clients valued the fact that the shelters were women-only and women-led spaces, creating a safe and empowering environment for recovery. And third, both AWSAD and Musasa face the  common challenge of a lack of core, flexible and long-term funding.

In Ethiopia, AWSAD is turning away between ten and 20 women a day from one of its safe houses in Addis Ababa. It is also forced to rent property, which is expensive and challenging to find landlords who are happy to rent to a women’s shelter. And this is the tip of the iceberg.

Limited funding means that Musasa cannot recruit more staff which places pressure on existing staff. Both organisations are delivering services that are over capacity and in some cases double capacity. A lack of long-term funding risks creating demand and leaving the organisations to support women and girls with minimum support. We hope that More Than a Roof will drive awareness of the challenges our partners, and shelter services all over the world, are facing.

A successful launch with AWSAD

Speaking at the Ethiopia report launch in Addis Ababa, Directoress of AWSAD, Maria Munir, said: “We have the safe house as women-only as this is very important for the women and girls to have a safe space.” The report found that Maria and her team were strong role models for the residents, providing inspiration and positive examples of women in leadership roles. 

Guest speaker at the event, Robert Stansfield, Team Leader for Human Development for the UK Government's Department for International Development in Ethiopia said: “Organisations such as AWSAD, which are pioneers in the provision of holistic rehabilitation and reintegration services for survivors of gender based violence in Ethiopia, are effective in what they do and are bringing about social change primarily because of their connection with the affected communities.”

Shared learning

We need to work together, in our varying roles, to increase access to services for violence against women and girls. We need to work with specialist women’s organisations like AWSAD and Musasa, to understand gaps in service provision and seek to address them.

The More Than a Roof report contributes to a strong body of evidence which shows that active and well-funded women’s rights organisations are fundamental in achieving gender equality and eliminating violence. 

Find out how you can support our partners to deliver essential services for women. 


Leave a comment
  1. Ann Reynard | Aug 02, 2016
    Thank you. Excellent. I have downloaded the full report. I hope you will send it to Theresa May and the new Ministers and suggest strongly that some of the UK's International Aid is directed to AWSAD and Musasa.  Also, you could start a petition to help persuade them! As a survivor myself, I cannot begin to imagine how women cope without infrastructure and support.
  2. anthony christopher thorrington UK | Jul 29, 2016
    A splendid initiative....deserves wide support from everyone......emphasises the urgency of having a safe environment where women can feel truly protected....
  3. Roger Penney | Jul 29, 2016

    God less you all. You are swimming against the current as the world gets more cruel and more violent.


  4. Christina Corser | Jul 29, 2016
    Women everywhere need control of their lives - and gender respect. Any organisation that helps with this gives the world a better chance.

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