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Location and infrastructure planning

Last edited: September 14, 2012

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It is important to identify a suitable shelter location to ensure the facility can provide maximum protection for women and their children. It is generally considered best to keep the location of the shelter secret, although this may not be feasible in all settings (e.g. small or rural communities).

Securing property for a shelter may involve using or purchasing and renovating an existing building or building a new facility. New construction allows the particular security and shelter-specific features to be incorporated into the design and layout and eliminates the need for upgrades and repairs often required with older buildings. This option is not always feasible and may be more costly.

As an alternative to establishing a distinct shelter facility, organizations may share space with other housing providers. For example, the shelter could become part of a multi-use integrated facility that provides a continuum of services for women and girls fleeing violence (Woodman & McCaw, 2008).


For example, the Saartjie Bartman Centre in South Africa offers emergency and transitional shelter options within a one-stop facility. The Cape Town centre started in 1999 through a partnership with 13 NGOs and support from the government. The centre operates two shelters and provides a range of services, including counseling, legal advice, childcare and job support for approximately 30 women and 60 children. The shelters are in a known location and have 24-hour security (with on-response services). They provide accommodation for 3-6 months, with second stage housing (9 houses) available for up to 2 years. In addition to domestic violence survivors, the space supports lesbian and transgender couples who have experienced abuse as well as trafficking survivors.


The following considerations can help determine whether a particular location is appropriate for a shelter.

  • A security review and assessment of the proposed building is complete, which covers:
    • Comprehensive fire safety and evacuation options (including any risks which could prevent emergency evacuation, such as alarms or locking systems attached to doors or windows which may block interior quick release).
    • Electrical and structural standards (particularly for older buildings/houses, or structures damaged from fire, natural disasters or other events).
    • Measures to protect against unwanted access/ entry into the shelter (e.g. fencing, locks on windows, etc.).
    • The facility has reliable access to water, electricity, communication services and heating/ cooling, where needed.
    • The location is convenient and close to services that may be needed by women and girls (e.g. health, police, legal support agencies; schools, marketplaces or commercial areas; accessible public transportation; etc.).
    • The facility is integrated within the community and near opportunities for women to engage in local activities (where safe) and feel a sense of social inclusion.
    • Access to other communities and recreational opportunities is available through public or other affordable modes of transportation (e.g. between rural and urban areas to facilitate travel and mobility of women) (Kammerer, 2006, as cited in Woodman & McCaw, 2008; International Organization for Migration, 2007).

Alternative accommodation

  • In cases where a separate shelter facility is not available, emergency accommodation may exist in a variety of locations including:
    • Private houses or apartments
    • Hotels or commercial venues
    • Rooms in specialized facilities (e.g. hospitals or medical centres)
    • Places of worship (e.g. churches, mosques, temples, etc.)
    • Community-based organizations or non-governmental organizations
  • The following factors and risks should be assessed for potential alternative accommodation sites (based on considerations identified in relation to trafficked women, although relevant to all forms of violence):
    • Crime rates in the area, and whether women and girls are likely to encounter individuals or groups which might pose a risk to them.
    • Ease of entry into and exit from both the individual space (e.g. house or apartment) and collective location (e.g. building or neighbourhood) at all times, and the convenience of the location relative to the medical, psychological, legal, or other services likely to be used by women and girls.
    • Availability of basic services (e.g. water, electricity, communication and heating- where needed), especially access to a landline or mobile telephone in cases of emergency.
    • Accessibility to local police, including consideration of whether local police are regarded as reliable/competent and whether they should be informed of the survivor’s presence in the area (which is dependent on the woman’s consent to inform police of her presence).
    • Security risks posed by other individuals staying at the same accommodation or location (e.g. apartment landlords, roommates, staff in alternative spaces, who might not be able to guarantee women’s confidentiality or anonymity) (International Organization for Migration, 2007)



The Women’s Empowerment Link in Kenya has developed specific criteria for determining the feasibility of establishing emergency accommodation in the homes of community advocates within the Kibera informal settlement outside Nairobi. The temporary confidential safe space provides women and at-risk children under 18 who have experienced domestic violence or sexual assault accommodation for up to 48 hours. The organization conducts an assessment to identify whether potential host families meet specific criteria prior to establishing the space. This includes:

  • the home has adequate space to host survivor (at least 1 extra bed that could be shared by a maximum of two people);

  • the host has demonstrated commitment to the issue (validated by community recognition of their role as an advocate);

  • the host agrees to offer the safe space voluntarily and does not expect compensation in return for use of the space; and

  • the host is willing to work with and report to the Gender-based Violence Working Group, which is a multisectoral committee comprising security, health and legal representatives.

Source: Grace Mbugua. 2012. Presentation at the Second World Conference on Women’s Shelters. Washington, D.C. February 28, 2012.