Women and girls are more vulnerable to various forms of violence in conflict, humanitarian and emergency or crisis settings (including during and in the aftermath of natural disasters and situations of armed conflict), with incidents of sexual assault and rape, exploitation, abuse and trafficking, as well as domestic violence often increasing in these contexts. In addition to the increased risk of violence, the disruption to basic security, health, justice and social services during crisis and in humanitarian settings reinforce the importance of safe shelter options for women and girls. This is essential for both those who remain in their home communities as well as those displaced to another location.
Establishing women’s shelters in humanitarian settings is significantly different than setting up shelters elsewhere, and programmes may focus on preventing sexual violence against women as well as protecting survivors of abuse.
Shelter services in humanitarian and emergency settings generally include:
To provide maximum safety and protection against violence (including but not limited to sexual violence and exploitation) for women living in private transitional or permanent housing structures, organizations should:
Specific location and physical infrastructure and layout considerations for the shelter space include:
Multisectoral coordinated action and collaboration in resource distribution and service provision is central for protection in emergency settings due to the need to quickly establish and implement diverse specialized services (e.g. sanitation and water, health and education, safe shelter). The aim of coordination in these settings is to provide accessible, prompt, confidential and appropriate services, including health, social services, legal, human rights and security to survivors and to establish mechanisms to prevent incidents of sexual violence.
Service providers supporting survivors should be engaged in regular meetings with the shelter coordinating group as well as gender-based violence working groups, promoting the establishment of such a group if it does not exist. Shelter providers should inform the coordinating groups of achievements and challenges in providing safe shelter to women and girls, and contribute to efforts led by agencies coordinating gender-based violence work. This should include the establishment of information-sharing processes to facilitate communication among organizations and registering women and girls arriving at the site. For example, results from coordinated rapid situation analysis can be used to plan safe shelter and programmes. When registering women and girls at the site, those in particular need of safe shelter and assistance should be identified and provided with safe accommodation (i.e. those most vulnerable to sexual violence)
(UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 2003; Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Task Force on Gender and Humanitarian Assistance, 2005. IASC, 2006; Norwegian Refugee Council, 2008; and Ward/GBV Area of Responsibility, 2010)
Responding to the growing need for support for survivors of gender-based violence, six safe houses were established across five regions in Haiti in 2011, with support from UN Women, the Ministry for Women’s Condition and Rights (MCFDF), and the organizations V-Day and Zonta International.
The houses include Myriam Merlet Safe House in Cape Haitian, and two others run by the Association Femmes Soleil d’Haiti, which provide services in the North, North West and North East regions. Two houses in the West, run by the Ministry and the organization Kay Fanm, has been under reconstruction following the January 2010 earthquake. A sixth house of the network in the South East region will be completed in 2012, operated by the Haitian organization Fanm Deside. The safe houses provide training to practitioners and counselors, as well as mentoring and clinical supervision. The Ministry for Women’s Condition and Rights has also provided support by establishing standard operating procedures and a manual of norms for safe houses. The collaboration with the Ministry is critical, as it regulates services provided to women and girls in safe houses at the national level. Targeting safe houses, practitioners, counselors and managers, the guidelines will be published by the Ministry to support their systematic implementation, through certification for safe houses, and quality control of services. The Ministry-operated safe house has been transformed into a training center to support capacity development of future practitioners, strengthening the links and the partnership between the government and women’s organizations. These trainings are essential to ensure that every woman, no matter where she lives, has equal access to quality services, including counselling, medical services, the police and the judiciary.
(Adapted from: UN Women. 2012. Safe Houses Provide Critical Support to Survivors of Violence in Haiti.)
Shelter: Gender Market Tip Sheet: Gender Equality in the Project Sheet (Inter-Agency Standing Committee - IASC, 2010). This tool provides examples and suggestions for programmers to ensure gender is appropriately considered throughout the planning, implementation and monitoring of a shelter initiative, which can be adapted further to focus on issues of gender-based violence. Available in English.
Collective Centre Guidelines (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and International Organization for Migration, 2010). These guidelines provide suggestions for programme planning around collective centres, including risk factors for gender-based violence and strategies to address them. Available in English.
Camp Management Toolkit, Chapter 10: Prevention of and Response to Gender-Based Violence (Norwegian Refugee Council, 2008). Available in English.
Guidelines for Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings. Shelter and Site Planning in Emergency Settings (IASC, 2005). This tool provides detailed guidance on how to coordinate, design and establish shelters and services in emergency settings such as armed conflict. This includes steps required to Assess Security and Define Protection Strategy; Provide Security in Accordance with Needs as well as sections on Coordination and Shelter and Site Planning. Available in English.
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Against Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons. Guidelines for Prevention and Response (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2003). This guide is for UN agency staff, inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations, refugees and host government agencies who provide protection and assistance to refugees and other persons of concern. The guidelines examine the root causes and factors contributing to sexual and gender-based violence and provide a framework with practical actions for developing effective prevention and response strategies. Available in Arabic, English, French, Romanian, Russian, Spanish and Swahili.
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