Data collection
Our Partners
Related Tools

Community and family supports

Last edited: July 03, 2013

This content is available in

  • Conflict-affected communities experience significant disruptions of family and community networks due to death, family separation and displacement, as well as general feelings of fear and distrust amongst communities. Even when family and community networks remain intact, communities affected by conflict can and will benefit from strengthening access to community and family support (IASC, 2007).
    • Target Population: All populations affected
    • Suggested Actions and Activities:
      • Implement community support mechanisms and activate social networks such as women’s and men’s support groups, dialogue groups and community education and advocacy.
      • Conduct awareness raising and advocacy campaigns. These should promote constructive coping methods, help reduce stigma attached to violence against women and girls and promote the acceptance of survivors.
      • Consider specific challenges faced by LBT women and girls who are rejected by their families and communities for their sexual orientation or gender identity (OHCHR, 2011). Additional research is needed to determine how best to support these women and girls in societies that criminalize people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, and care must be taken in highly politicized areas.
      • Ensure that community self-help and resilience strategies to support survivors and those vulnerable to violence against women and girls are in place.
      • Support survivor-centered traditional healing and cleansing ceremonies.
      • Support survivor-centered restorative justice processes.
      • Develop supportive parenting programmes.
      • Implement formal and non-formal educational activities.
      • Implement livelihood and socioeconomic-empowerment initiatives.
      • Ensure that all interventions are socially inclusive and engage local leadership (women, men and young people) (adapted from UNFPA, 2012; IASC, 2007; and WHO, 2012).
  • Experiences in the field have identified the following community-based interventions as highly relevant:

a. Safe spaces (adapted from IRC, 2012 and WHO, 2012)

  • Safes spaces are places where women and girls can go to receive compassionate, appropriate and confidential services while also providing a safe place to gather and socialize. Safe spaces can be established within a physical space such as a community centre or a women’s centre, or can be an ad hoc social space. Examples include women’s activity groups, wellness centres, support groups, drop-in centres, and child-friendly spaces. Safe spaces can be used for a number of activities and services such as: 
    • Individual counseling and emotional support for survivors of violence against women and girls.
    • Open dialogue and information-sharing sessions on specific topics relevant to women and girls, such as health and sanitation, violence or childcare;
    • Skill- and knowledge-building activities, including literacy and numeracy, health education, or sewing classes; and
    • Recreational activities such as sports, dancing, drama, arts and crafts, or story-telling.
  • While in some cases existing centers or structures may exist, in many humanitarian settings they do not.  However, at the onset of an emergency it may be challenging to establish permanent or temporary structures to host safe spaces. When implementing psychosocial response programs there should be a focus on the establishment of temporary safe spaces during the onset of an emergency with a focus on transitioning these spaces into sustainable structures once the humanitarian setting stabilizes (IRC, 2012).

Example: The International Rescue Committee (IRC) Women’s Centres in Darfur.  The International Rescue Committee (IRC) operates ten Women’s Centres in Darfur to try to meet their needs. These Centres – in South, North and West Darfur – allow women to access the resources, support and referral processes vital for survivors of sexual violence. In situations where rape is used as a weapon of war, the actual experience of rape and other forms of sexual violence is one that is shared collectively. Women are often attacked in groups. Yet without recognised and accessible safe spaces – environments where disclosure and sharing are encouraged and facilitated – survivors will often not talk about their collective experience of violation. The Women’s Centres try to create an environment where survivors feel welcome and safe. As women share their individual stories, the barriers to seeking assistance – shame, fear of being ostracised, fear of being singled out – break down as women realise that they are not alone in their experience. Each Centre has a team of facilitators to explain the services available and provide immediate counselling if necessary. Trained case workers are available to listen to a survivor’s story and concerns, map out her choices and help her access the resources and services she needs. The Women’s Centres also provide activities to help build skills and foster greater self-reliance. Each centre offers a range of activities such as literacy classes, skills-building classes, emotional support activities and opportunities for social interaction such as dancing, drumming and singing.  The Women’s Centres regularly offer information sessions on topics – requested by the women – such as reproductive health, legal rights, childcare, camp management and education.  Women’s Centres play a vital role in facilitating information exchange, providing women with access to resources and promoting direct linkages between the women and other actors who have the power to influence the physical environment and quality of life for IDP women and their families. 

Source: excerpted from: Lowry C. 2007. Women’s centres: spaces of empowerment in Darfur. In: Sexual violence: Weapon of war, impediment to peace. Forced Migration Review. 27: pp. 43 (UNFPA)


Example: MSF Safe Space in Burundi

In response to rape and conflict-related violence against women and girls, MSF opened Seruka health centre for women in Bujumbura, Burundi, in 2004. Starting such a project was not easy in a country where the term ‘rape’ itself does not exist in the local language. To avoid stigmatisation, the centre offers a range of women’s health services, including family planning, care for sexually transmitted infections and care for victims of violence against women and girls. Patients receive medical follow-up for six months, as well as psychosocial support. MSF’s social workers refer patients to other NGOs and local community groups who can provide ongoing assistance and guide victims through legal proceedings and contacts with the authorities. Every month more than 100 women overcome the taboos surrounding sexual violence to make their way to the clinic. MSF found that these types of centres and programs addressing violence against women and girls seem to work best in post-conflict or non-conflict contexts. For example, the above project in Burundi gained significant momentum once the civil war began to subside. MSF found that during a conflict, victims of violence agains women and girls have additional concerns about security or repercussions in a chaotic environment characterized by violence and impunity.

Source: adapted from Lebrun, C. and Derderian, K., 2007, pgs. 50-51.


Example: The Al-Bureij Women's Health Centre- Al-Bureij Refugee Camp, Gaza Strip, Occupied Palestinian Territory.

The UNFPA supported Al-Bureij Women's Health Centre was established in 1995 by the Culture and Free Thought Association, with technical assistance from AIDOS - the Italian Association for Women in Development. It provides a wide array of services including ante- and post-natal care, family planning, legal and psychosocial counselling, health education, physiotherapy, exercise classes and lab services. The centre also has a Male Intervention Unit which conducts a “man to man” programme and group counseling which address domestic violence. The centre offers specialized services for nominal fees, and organizes health fairs to provide free services for impoverished or marginalized families and individuals

Source: adapted from UNFPA, 2005.


b. Skill-building and Social Activities & Socioeconomic-Empowerment

  • Once the onset of an emergency humanitarian setting has passed, service providers addressing violence against women and girls can begin to work with local women’s and girl’s groups to initiate skill-building (e.g. literacy and numeracy classes) and culturally appropriate social activities for women and girls (IRC, 2012). Such activities serve to:
    • Reduce stigma attached to survivor-only services or interventions;
    • Increase access to skill-building and support activities for survivors to promote self-sufficiency and empowerment to survivors;
    • Provide an additional entry point for survivors to receive services and information at their own pace.
    • Provide an outlet for group emotional and healing activities for survivors that may not require more individualized or intensive support (excerpted from IRC, 2012, pg. 66).
  • While skill-building and social activities are sometimes referred to as socioeconomic or income generating activities, in emergency settings the priority of such activities is psychosocial and not economic. Despite the proof that economic disadvantage is a key contributor to vulnerability, establishing income-generating activities during the onset of an emergency can be a challenge. The priority in an emergency should be ensuring that survivors of violence against women and girls (and those vulnerable to violence) have access to lifesaving support. Once the security situation stabilizes, opportunities to establish longer-term income generating activities, such as village savings and loans activities (VSLA), may arise (adapted from IRC, 2012). Experience has shown that such socioeconomic-empowerment initiatives can support the mental health and psychosocial well-being of survivors of violence against women and girls and potentially reduce stigma (IRC, 2012 & WHO, 2012). Furthermore, when the humanitarian setting allows, elements from skill-building and social activities and socio-economic-empowerment initiatives can be combined for maximum support. (See a case study on women’s social and economic empowerment in Burundi, see IRC, n.d.,. Also, see the Livelihoods section.)


Example: Measuring Impact: Survivors’ Social, Psychological and Economic Wellbeing in DRC

In the DRC, the IRC has been training and supporting case managers from local NGOs to provide psychosocial services to survivors. This has been successful; however, case managers report the need for more skills to address the large number of clients, their multiple needs and to provide viable options for referring clients in need of more specialized care. In addition, the IRC has identified increased access to economic resources as a need for survivors because of their frequent alienation from friends and family.  To address the economic and psychosocial needs of  survivors  in DRC, the IRC has introduced two new and innovative programs in South Kivu, Eastern DRC:  one economic programme centered on Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) and one mental health programme centered on a type of group therapy called Group Cognitive Processing Therapy (GCPT). The programs are targeted at survivors who have difficulty completing day-to-day activities and have high symptoms of distress. Ultimately, the IRC aims to identify cost-effective, scalable interventions that improve the psychological, social, and economic well-being of survivors of sexual violence living in Eastern DRC.

Economic Programme: The Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) model was developed to provide a system of community savings for people who cannot access banks or microfinance institutions. Self-selected groups of 15-25 members form independent associations where each member saves and contributes to a common pool of money.  Members can apply for loans from the pool and pay back with interest. At the end of a cycle (usually about 1 year), group members cash out and receive their savings plus interest earned. IRC has implemented VSLAs in several programs and have found the results promising. A model based on trust among the members, IRC sees VSLAs as an important tool with which to promote solidarity and social cohesion amongst women and contribute to the social reintegration of survivors.

Mental Health Programme: Group Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), a structured group therapy that research has shown to be effective used to assist trauma survivors and can improve a variety of symptoms related to depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder, was adapted to fit the cultural context. Local Psychosocial Assistants (PSAs) were trained by expert US-based CPT trainers and provide the therapy to groups of 6-8 women.  The PSAs are provided with direct supervision and assistance with problem solving as issues arise, with remote supervision and quality assurance provided by the US-based CPT trainers.

See the Programme Evaluation available in English.