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Develop or improve national or sub-national action plans or policies

Last edited: September 14, 2012

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Alongside efforts to establish and reform legislation, shelter advocates should promote state efforts to develop policies which support the effective implementation of laws, for instance, through creating national action plans and related policy initiatives.

While shelters and related services usually fall under provisions that guide the development/ implementation of domestic violence response systems, policy-advocacy should focus on shelters as a key component to ensuring the safety of women, including the integration of shelter services within comprehensive policies on violence against women and linked with all response areas (e.g. effective police practices, communication and collaboration between health, judicial and other stakeholders, accountability measures for perpetrators of violence) (UN Women, 2011 and UN, 2010).

In line with commitments made at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 and the resulting Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, national action plans should outline a list of shelters activities and survivor services to which the state is committed to supporting, a framework for implementation (including a dedicated budget), and indicators of success.

In 1995 (updated in 2004), the province of Quebec, Canada established a Policy of Intervention in Domestic Violence (in French) that called for stable, on-going funding for shelters that cannot be altered when a new government takes power. This policy also mandates making available support and resources for the training of shelter workers. The stability of this funding provides shelter workers in Quebec a unique sense of security and the ability to advocate and lobby government without fear of retribution in the form of funding cutbacks.

To provide accessible, immediate and secure emergency and short-term accommodation for victims/survivors and their accompanying children, including supporting women to remain at home if safe to do so, action plans and policies should entail:

  • the provision of safe accommodation and emergency shelter for women and girls who are at risk of all forms of violence.
  • support for a range of accommodation options accounting for different geographical areas (e.g. rural, urban). For example, in addition to formal shelter facilities, models may cover:
    • informal shelter services;
    • community-run safe houses;
    • subsidized temporary hotel accommodation;
    • temporary shelter with trained and supported community or religious leaders;
    • accommodation with neighbors or community volunteers in confidential sites; and
    • designated private housing with specific security safeguards (including the survivor’s own home, where feasible).
  • Albania’s National Strategy on Gender Equality and Domestic Violence 2007-2010 (Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities) recommends that social policies focus on providing greater assistance to victims to stay in their homes if possible, as well as shelters and re-accommodation services. The action plan recommends expanding supportive services for accommodating victims into shelters. It commits to earmarking a budget for services (shelters, legal assistance) and providing financial facilities to the local government to borrow loans for establishing shelters.
  • measures to ensure activities will be accessible to diverse groups of women and girls who need these services (e.g. women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds; immigrant, migrant, refugee or undocumented women; indigenous women; lesbian, bisexual and transgender women; women with children, disabilities, substance addictions, mental health concerns, living with HIV/AIDS; elderly women, adolescents, etc.) This may involve:
    • Ensuring all services are accessible for women with disabilities.
    • Training disability and community workers in responding to violence, the needs of women with disabilities and the needs of women caring for children with disabilities who have experienced or are at risk of family violence.
    • Introducing diversity training for workers.
    • Recruiting indigenous and ethnically diverse staff.
    • Ensuring the availability of interpreters and translators.
    • Training interpreters on issues surrounding violence against women (Amnesty International, 2007, Setting the Standard: International Good Practice to Inform an Australian National Plan of Action to Eliminate Violence Against Women)
    • Providing more resources in community languages.
  • Ecuador’s National Plan for the Eradication of Gender Violence to Children, Adolescents and Women (2007) details resource allocations for strengthened staffing in six shelters for women and children across the country and support toward the operation of specialized shelters for survivors of sexual exploitation in Guayaquil and Machala.
  • Norway’s Action Plan on Domestic Violence (2008-2011) includes a provision that states domestic violence victims will be ensured necessary assistance and protection (including counseling and other support) and aims to build the role of municipalities in supporting survivors. It also includes specific measures related to improving shelter capacity to support women from ethnic minority backgrounds, with disabilities, substance abuse and mental health issues, as well as children accompanying their mothers.
  • Protection and funding for women and their children to retrieve their possessions and support for their daily needs.
  • Survivor access to immediate and longer-term high-quality counseling and support services.
Morocco‟s National Strategy to Eliminate Violence against Women (2005) mandated the establishment of specialized medical units attached to temporary shelters providing support and counselling for survivors.
  • A national toll-free 24-hour, 7-days a week telephone hotline and/or online service providing information, advocacy, support and counseling.
  • Free legal assistance, advice, advocacy and court support for survivors, as well as accessible information on their rights and entitlements.
  • Free access to a qualified and impartial interpreter and translation of legal documents, upon request or as needed.
  • Measures to ensure appropriate services are available for children accompanying their mothers to the shelter.
Sweden’s Action Plan for Combatting Men’s Violence against Women, Violence and Oppression in the Name of Honor and Violence in Same Sex Relationships (2007) allocated funding directly to municipalities to develop and strengthen housing services for women and their children who have experienced domestic violence.
  • Comprehensive strategies to facilitate the professional and social reintegration of survivors, ensuring their capacity to make decisions about their lives from a socially, economically, and emotionally empowered position. This may include:
    • measures to ensure the economic independence of survivors
    • linking shelters to skills development
    • income generating initiatives
    • professional training opportunities
    • employment services
  • Supporting women to access long-term stable housing and employment, by facilitating access to social housing or promoting measures which prioritize housing access for survivors of violence.  Such policies should promote secure land tenure for survivors, and account for the diversity of women’s experiences, particularly from marginalized groups (e.g. women living in informal settlements or displaced).
  • France’s Third Three-Year Inter-ministerial Plan Combating Violence against Women (2011-2013) ensures practical support to victims/survivors who leave their homes, including post office boxes, storage and assistance with daily needs such as toiletries. It also mandates the broadening of a programme offering vulnerable people temporary housing with supportive families (familles d’acceuil) so that women survivors of domestic violence could take up this option.
  • South Africa’s 365 Day National Action Plan to End Gender Violence, 2007 called for the establishment of a consortium for affordable secondary housing for survivors of domestic violence, with a dedicated budget for 3 years and institutional responsibilities identified for the action.

(UN Women’s Handbook for National Action Plans on Violence Against Women, 2011; Women Against Violence Europe, 2004, Away from Violence: Guidelines for Setting Up and Running a Women's Refuge; see also: Developing a national action plan)

Examples: Additional shelter specific policies or frameworks with shelter-related components

  • Policy framework and strategy for shelters for victims of domestic violence in South Africa (Ministry of Social Development, 2003), which sets out a framework for the establishment of shelters for survivors of domestic violence and outlines the governments approach to the issue.
  • Five Year Strategic Plan 2009 – 2013Neary Rattanak III” for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women in Cambodia which includes an indicator on access to psychosocial and health-related services to victims of gender-based violence, including: trafficking, rape, sexual harassment and exploitation.

See additional examples of relevant policies in the Secretary-General’s Database on Violence against Women (filter for Policies, strategies and programmes and Keyword shelter).

  • Policies should include clear goals and objectives, with indicators, institutional responsibilities and timeframes for achieving results.

Illustrative example from Belize's National Gender-Based Violence Plan of Action 2010-2013.

Goal 2: Survivors of gender-based violence in both urban and rural areas are provided with adequate services and support.


Responsible/ Others involved

Time Frame

Resources Required

Output Indicators


Short Term

Objective 2-2: All survivors of gender-based violence have access to adequate support and advocacy services.

Indicators (effect): Number of women accessing community-based shelters and crisis services by district (other indicators omitted from example)

2-2-2 Assess the need for community based services for survivors of gender-based violence and support the expansion of existing services and the establishment of new services where they do not exist.



(through the Sub-Network)


Assess and

develop plan

by January




Officer (GBV)



Resources for


services – TBD


Travel and




Consultant to

support the

development of the plan


Number of districts with community based services for survivors of gender-based violence


Number of shelter spaces


Objective 2-3: All victims of domestic violence in crisis have access to adequate shelter and financial support.

Indicators (effect): Number of women and children accessing shelters. (other indicators omitted from example)

2-3-2: All victims of domestic violence in crisis have access to adequate shelter and financial support (through Activity 2.2.2.)


(through the

proposed Sub-

Network on

Violence Against





Budgets to be


regular government




Number of shelter spaces

available, by district

Excerpt: Debra J. Lewis for the Women’s Department Ministry of Human Development and Social Transformation. National Gender-Based Violence Plan of Action 2010-2013. Women’s Department Ministry of Human Development and Social Transformation, Belize.