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Getting started

Last edited: September 14, 2012

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Conducting formative research, using methods such as a situational analysis of violence against women and the availability of shelters and related services, is a critical first step for advocates and service providers involved in policy-development or programming. Such analyses should be used to inform all initiatives and contextualize the problem of gender-based violence in the focus area (i.e. national, regional or local level), including the existing legal and policy environment related to state support for shelter provision. This can help identify the most appropriate services needed and refine advocates’ efforts to reform legislation and inform related policies. For example, through a needs assessment of survivors in a particular community, advocates may identify a shortage of services for young mothers and seek to expand specific services or increase the number of beds and other supports available to pregnant adolescents. Other needs may relate to improving the accessibility of shelters (e.g. hiring staff who speak different languages, establishing a transportation service); ensuring there is adequate coverage and a certain number of shelter spaces available based on the number of women in the geographic area; and promoting sustainable funding structures (e.g. by establishing benchmarks for service provision). For example, in the European context, the Council of Europe recommends that one space in a women’s shelter be provided for every 7,500 people in the population and that at a minimum, there should be one place per 10,000 of the population (Council of Europe, 2006; Advocates for Human Rights, 2010).  However, these numbers will vary according to population and context, in order to ensure that all women and girls who have experienced abuse have access to shelter or safe accommodation.

A situational analysis involves conducting an inventory or mapping of what services exist for survivors or those at risk, in partnership with key stakeholders in the community (e.g. women who have experienced violence, community service providers, non-governmental organizations supporting survivors, researchers at local colleges and universities, etc.). Advocates should review existing data on the issue, drawing from surveys and qualitative research which cover:

  • The incidence and prevalence of violence (see available country-level data on prevalence of from population-based surveys; based upon the leading sources of data on domestic and sexual violence).
  • Qualitative local data is also useful because it highlights the specific types of violence women experience, which can inform the types of services women might require in order to be safe, as well as barriers to accessing existing services and gaps in services that remain to be filled. This may also include risk and protective factors within the community. For example, although all women and girls who have been subjected to violence may not require shelter services, it is useful to identify those who are more likely to use the available assistance, such as survivors of psychological and physical abuse; those unable to find affordable housing, at-risk of being trafficked, among other characteristics associated with shelter usage (Fugate,, 2005; Goodkind, Sullivan, & Bybee, 2004; Krishna, Hilbert, Van Leeuwen, 2001; Sauvé & Burns, 2009).
  • Women’s help-seeking behaviour, including demographic and other characteristics of survivors who have used shelters and those who have not (i.e. length of stay, services needed, services provided, etc.) and any barriers to accessing or providing services that are related to the demographic, social and family characteristics of different women (Barrett & St. Pierre, 2011; Lievore, 2005). This information may be available from prevalence surveys, shelter records or dedicated qualitative research with women.
  • The laws and policies in place, at the regional, national and sub-national levels keeping in mind which levels of government or specific state bodies have jurisdictional responsibility for supporting shelters and their services (see: Understanding the Government Structure, Legal Obligations and Legislative Process). Policy shortcomings can be identified by reviewing national or sub-national legislation against recommendations for legislation pertaining to women’s shelters and emerging practices modeled in other jurisdictions (i.e. between different provinces, states or territories within a country or comparisons between countries), as well as reviewing existing state responses with an analysis of women and girls’ needs.

For guidance on legislation related to shelters, see the legislation module.

For guidance on shelters in policy, see the Handbook for National Action Plans on Violence against Women.

  • Mappings of services available in the area.

Illustrative Examples of Service Mappings at Regional and National Level

Europe: Annual mapping of services for survivors by Women against Violence Europe – WAVE (Country Reports) and Protect - Identifying and Protecting High Risk Victims of Gender-Based Violence (WAVE, 2011).  

Latin America: Technical note: Violence against Women in Latin America (Organization of American States Mechanism to Follow Up on Implementation of the Convention- MESECVI, 2010)

Pacific Islands: Ending Violence against Women and Girls Evidence, Data and Knowledge in Pacific Island Countries (UN Women, 2011).

Southern Africa: SADC Gender Protocol Barometer (Southern Africa Gender Protocol Alliance, 2011).

Bangladesh: Survey Mapping on Gender Based Violence against Women (Ministry of Women’s and Children’s Affairs, 2009).

Canada: Shelters for Abused Women in Canada 2010 (Statistics Canada, 2010)

Italy, Belgium and Spain: The Daphne III Programme, 2007-2013 (Plessi, 2010; Dobash & Dobash, 1992; Safenetwork, 1999)

Kenya: What's Being Done About Violence Against Women And Girls: Mapping Kenya's Civil-Society Organizations (2007)

Nepal: Priority Areas for Addressing Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Nepal (UNFPA, 2007)

United Kingdom: Map of Gaps 2: The postcode lottery of Violence against Women support services in Britain (End Violence against Women and Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2009) Map of shelters across the United Kingdom.

United States: Domestic Violence Counts 2011. A 24-hour census of domestic violence shelters and services (NNEDV, 2012). 

  • Global and country-specific shelter counts, which collect a “snapshot” of data for a specific period of time. Often, shelter counts include data collected by shelter workers on the types of services provided and number of women and children served on a particular day during the year. The number of women and children turned away from shelters and individuals on waiting lists are indicators of insufficient shelter spaces for a population.
The Global Network of Women’s Shelters Global Shelter Data Count Project (see 2012 Data Count) is an example of this type of data collection at the international level, while national counts include Statistics Canada’s Transition Home Survey, conducted every two years and the National Network against Domestic Violence’s annual Domestic Violence Counts in the United States.


Mapping Violence against Women: A Tool to Map the Prevalence of the Various Forms of Violence against Women and the Interventions Addressing It (Rights4Change and Margreet de Boer, 2011). Available in English.