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Last edited: September 14, 2012

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Women’s experiences with violence are shaped by the intersectionality of their gender with other identities such as race, sexual orientation and class, as well as their circumstances related to age, legal status, physical and cognitive capacities, among other factors.

Women are part of more than one community and identity group, and experience aspects of both oppression and privilege within those communities. Recognizing each woman’s unique circumstances and position will help provide the best support within a shelter.

Accessibility is a critical aspect of safety and protection, and shelters should work together with women from various backgrounds and communities (including survivors), to analyze the intersections of these identities, and understand how they come together to influence women’s experience with discrimination and abuse.

Accessibility of shelters and their services can be promoted by:

  • Consulting with women about barriers that prevent or discourage them from accessing services (e.g. fear of discrimination and being turned away; geographic isolation; transportation issues; disability; lack of information; and other factors). This is critical for building flexibility into programming to ensure services can be reached by all women (and where possible, girls).
  • Providing services 24-hours, 7-days a week, so that women can access protection and support during a crisis at any time.
  • Allowing women to stay at the shelter and receive protection and assistance for the period of time needed for them to make important decisions, cope with the effects of violence, and if they choose, move to a new home or community. As this may not be feasible in many settings due to resource restrictions and demand for emergency shelter services, various models of complementary shelter may be provided (e.g. transitional shelters and other accommodation) to ensure sufficient protection is available for longer periods of time.
  • Providing services free of charge, so that women experiencing economic barriers are not disadvantaged in their access to protection and assistance.
  • Designing facilities and services to welcome diverse groups of women, with particular attention to their distinct circumstances and needs, related to:
    • The form of violence – physical, psychological, sexual assault/rape, trafficking, intimate partner violence, economic, female genital mutilation, crimes of 'honour', among others
    • The consequences – physical harm, psychological distress, economic issues, child custody concerns, and isolation from family and friends among others
    • Settings of abuse - household, public space, conflict, humanitarian, institutional (including schools)
    • Relationship to the perpetrator(s) -  family, spouse, authority figure, employer
    • Multiple experiences of violence - single or repeated events, number of perpetrators, various forms of violence
    • Timing - recent abuse, imminent risk of future violence
    • Intersectional issues/ marginalization related to - disability, class, race, ethnicity, legal status, age or sexual orientation
    • Support networks - family, community and other protective factors (WAVE, 2004a,b).