Safe haven: rebuilding lives after trauma in Ethiopia

Hannah Little | Aug 01, 2019
AWSAD safe house resident Sirgut aged 15 came to the safe house almost 4 years ago after being raped by her aunts husband

In Ethiopia, violence against women and girls is widespread and pervasive. In 2016, the Central Statistical Agency reported that 1 in 5 women in Ethiopia had experienced domestic or sexual violence from a partner in the last 12 months. After years of exposure to aggressive behaviour, survivors of violence often have feelings of low self-worth and see violence as ‘normal’, as something not to be challenged.

It was against this backdrop that Womankind supported a three-year project with the Association for Women’s Sanctuary and Development (AWSAD) in 2016. The aim was to support survivors to overcome trauma and increase self-confidence through holistic care. Services for survivors of violence such as shelter, counselling, legal support, and vocational skills were in scarce supply.

Currently, there are only 12 shelters for women and girls who have experienced violence across Ethiopia, a country with a population of 105 million. While most state funded shelters do not provide services to pregnant women or women with disabilities, AWSAD welcomes all women.

Over the next three years, supported by Comic Relief, the project was launched in one of AWSAD’s safe houses (shelters) for women and children in Ethiopia’s capital city Addis Ababa.

We explore some of the project’s key achievements below:

Achieving economic independence

Securing job opportunities for survivors who are ready to leave the shelter is critical for their reintegration into society. It also helps to create space in the safe house for new arrivals fleeing violence. In 2018 AWSAD, with government support, secured 69 employment placements for ex-residents. 


“I stayed for seven months until I felt strong. Then they helped me find a good job, inan office. I clean and run errands and have a safe place to live.”
- Amara, ex-safe house resident (pictured right)

Supporting women’s access to justice

AWSAD worked with the Police Commission and the Attorney General to train police and legal professionals in handling cases of violence against women. During the project, it trained 335 police and 75 legal professionals who work across the entire city of Addis Ababa.

“AWSAD has educated us on how to handle victims of violence and to listen to their complaints. It has also given us training so that we could better understand victims’ concerns.” – Commander Atsede, Addis Ababa Police Commission

Peer to peer support

A mother and child at the AWSAD safe house in EthiopiaThe introduction of monthly meetings for current and ex-residents at the shelter has proved vital in building confidence and solidarity amongst women. It’s a safe and supportive space where women can share skills, save money together and speak freely about their challenges. Meetings take place on a Sunday morning and are always well-attended.

“AWSAD helped us a lot and we are intimately connected to the safe house; we like to support newly arrived survivors, and we regularly attend the monthly meetings. These meetings encourage us when we are feeling hopeless, we support one another.” 
– Mehret, ex-resident with four children who left the shelter in 2014 (pictured left)

Over the course of the three year project, AWSAD has grown to meet the practical and immediate needs of women and girls fleeing violence. They have also laid the groundwork for long-lasting change by empowering survivors and communities to take the steps to both prevent and address violence against women in the future. AWSAD and Womankind are keen to build on progress made in the last three years and plans are already underway for the development of a new project in 2020.

Watch this space!

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