Safe women’s spaces were formed by and for women, with the recognition by advocates and survivors themselves that women and girls are the experts on their own lives. Shelter providers and advocates must be accountable to the women escaping or seeking to overcome the impacts of violence and support their decisions to recognize and claim their rights, which is an imperative part of women’s empowerment.
Shelters and alternative accommodation initiatives must be designed and informed by the visions and experiences of survivors in collaboration with women’s advocates (who may also have survived abuse themselves). This can ensure programmes are based on the best interests and needs directly expressed by the affected woman (e.g. whether to stay at the shelter, what other assistance is needed; and decisions made after departure from the shelter and beyond).
Ensuring shelter services are empowering to women is critical and can contribute to shifting broader gender inequality and discrimination which occurs in society and perpetuates their experiences of violence. This means that shelters should be available to all women, and provide services without conditions, such as mandatory work or financial support for the shelter, cooperation with police or provision of testimonies (especially, for example, in cases of trafficking). They should promote women’s personal autonomy and avoid restrictions or controls over women’s decision-making and access to socio-economic opportunities (e.g. external employment, mobility, and mail services), which may mirror methods of control placed on women by their abusers (Advocates for Human Rights, Women’s Rights Center, & International Women’s Human Rights Clinic, 2002; United Nations Development Fund for Women).