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Why shelters are important

Last edited: September 14, 2012

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  • Shelters provide secure accommodation for women and girls who are at risk of or have been subjected to violence, although they contribute far more than just a safe place to stay. Shelters provide essential aspects of protection, services and resources which enable women who have experienced abuse and their children to recover from the violence, to rebuild self-esteem, and to take steps to regain a self-determined and independent life.
  • With proper resources, shelters have the capacity to provide the range of protection and support services necessary to help survivors and those at risk of violence to avoid future abuse. Shelters can also contribute to awareness-raising and social change as part of broader efforts to prevent violence against women and girls altogether.
  • Survivors of violence do not report abuse and often do not seek help from formal service providers and authorities for many reasons (Barrett & Pierre, 2011). The presence of and supports offered by shelters can address some of these barriers by encouraging women and girls to seek assistance. Shelters also have a role in strengthening the quality of responses provided by other service providers who are in contact with abused women and girls. Specifically, shelters may:
    • increase awareness and understanding among women and girls of what constitutes gender-based violence and violations of their human rights;
    • assist women leaving situations of violence to manoeuvre the judicial, police and social service systems in order to access the critical protection and support provided by these institutions (e.g. facilitating orders of protection, access to housing, and other health, financial and family resources); and
    • educate health and judicial providers, social service and security personnel, among other professionals, to recognize violence against women, understand their obligations on the issue, and provide safe, appropriate referrals and responses (Seftaoui, 2009; United Nations, 2006).
  • As advocates for women, the unique voice of shelters is essential in local and global efforts to end violence against them. While shelters are part of the social service sector, they have emerged from the broader women’s movement. In particular, efforts to address violence against women are closely linked to the work of survivors and advocates who established women’s shelters, rape crisis centres, telephone hotlines and neighbourhood support groups.
  • Shelters promote women’s equality and often have a role in speaking out on systemic issues of discrimination, drawing links between individual women’s experiences and the conditions of women within society that give rise to violence against them.
  • The influence on system responses and advocacy by shelters to promote access to various services is important in assisting women to cope with the extensive range of challenges (from physical and emotional consequences, to financial, legal and social impacts) resulting from the violence committed against them. This can:
    • empower women to access and receive the range of institutional services and responses to which they are entitled and often require to overcome their experiences of abuse;
    • promote women’s right to make informed decisions for herself; and
    • increase the availability of adequate government resources for addressing the issue and strengthen the provision of appropriate survivor-centred services which respect women’s confidentiality, decisions and needs.
  • Shelters are a critical component of a holistic response to survivors, as established in various international agreements, such as the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which called on States to “[p]rovide well-funded shelters and relief support for girls and women subjected to violence, as well as medical, psychological and other counseling services and free or low-cost legal aid, where it is needed, as well as appropriate assistance to enable them to find a means of subsistence.”