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Establishing the legal basis

Last edited: September 14, 2012

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Although the state has legal obligations to respond to the needs of women victims of violence and plays an essential role in ensuring those responses are accessible, non-governmental specialized women’s organizations and support groups often implement shelter services and are often best placed to provide women access to immediate support to escape abuse given their expertise and accumulated experience working with a range of women survivors.

To ensure their ability to operate effectively and collaborate with government agencies to secure support/funding from the state, civil society organizations must often establish a legal basis in the community (for example, by incorporating as a non-profit), according to relevant laws governing non-governmental organizations and related policies on shelter operations (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), 2009). This may be required prior to providing services or setting up a facility.

The legal basis and requirements for establishing non-governmental organizations varies across countries, and may involve different levels of government (i.e. organizations may be registered at the federal, regional or provincial level). In countries where laws determine the establishment of non-governmental organizations, legal status is necessary for the shelter to apply for funding. While a non-governmental shelter is often the preferred modality of service provision, organizations should determine the legal options for forming a shelter and the most appropriate status for the shelter. This may involve identifying the relevant regulatory laws in their jurisdiction and ensure that required responsibilities and duties of the organization are defined. 

Steps to establish the shelter as a legal entity may involve:

  • Seeking advice regarding the implications and responsibilities associated with legal registration (as well as the potential benefits, such as where legal status is a criteria for state funding- even though it does not guarantee financial support).
  • Determining the individual(s) willing and able to assume responsibility for compliance with legal requirements and fulfilling the responsibilities set out for the legal entity.
  • Establishing a formal governance structure, or where legal status may not be possible or preferred, creating a leadership structure to liaise with state and other authorities.
  • Determining the eligibility criteria for representation on the governing body and identifying interested and eligible individuals with expertise on the issue and/or recognition and influence in the community. This should also include individuals who are available to give their time to the establishment and ongoing governance of the shelter and willing to participate in conflict resolution processes as needed.

Beyond registration as a legal organization, shelters should be familiar with relevant laws and policies that affect their operations and their ability to advocate for change (WAVE, 2004a).