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Ensuring holistic multisectoral policies and national plans of actions

Last edited: October 31, 2010

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States have an obligation to prevent violence against women and girls, provide comprehensive responses to survivors, and bring perpetrators to justice, to the best of their ability given their resources and capacities. This obligation is known as the ‘due diligence’ standard. (United Nations, 2006) The due diligence standard was established by General Recommendation No. 19 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and recognizes that States should address the structural gender inequality and discrimination that causes and perpetuates violence against women and girls as well as ensure that measures are put in place to prevent and respond to individual cases of violence.

In order for States to meet the due diligence standard and strengthen their accountability on ending violence against women and girls, a holistic multisectoral approach is needed to ensure that the range of inter-related needs and rights of women survivors are addressed, and that both responses to and prevention of violence against women is covered by policies and programmes.

Multisectoral approaches entail the coordination of resources and initiatives across sectors, involving both government institutions and civil society (AusAID, 2008; Commonwealth Secretariat, 2003; Morrison, et al., 2004; UN General Assembly, 2006).

They can be applied through policy frameworks to:

  • Promote effective implementation of national legislation.
  • Provide a mechanism for the allocation and tracking of resources.
  • Promote accountability of the institutions responsible through clear delineation of their roles and time-bound targets that can be monitored.
  • Ensure that key frontline services (health, police and legal) are well-equipped, coordinated and available to survivors, and that prevention efforts are mainstreamed throughout.
  • Involve other sectors that are not traditionally included in a multisectoral approach, but have a critical role to play in preventing and responding to violence against women and girls, such as: education, social affairs, youth affairs, the ministries of labour, urban planning, defense as well as finance and planning.

A coordinated framework provides for the delivery of a diverse range of health care, protection and justice services that survivors need which cannot be provided by a single sector or intervention. Integrated approaches strengthen advocacy efforts; establish long-term collaboration across sectors; improve the efficiency and reach of services and prevention efforts; and maximize the available technical expertise, resources and investments on the issue. Implementation of a national framework requires a strong centralized coordinating mechanism and investment in developing the capacities of the women’s machinery or responsible entity performing this role.

The following services and interventions are core elements of a national response:

  • A free national 24-hour hotline/helpline to report abuse and life-threatening situations, staffed by trained counselors who can provide the appropriate service referrals.

  • Quality ‘frontline’ services: free medical and psychosocial support, security/police responses and judicial/legal aid – which represent a basic package of support for survivors. These services, whether provided through governmental and/or non-governmental sources, should be multisectoral and coordinated (either through a coordinated community response, one-stop shop or strong referral network) and made available within a reasonable timeframe which minimizes the risks and further harm to survivors. Longer-term support is also essential to mitigate the consequences of abuse.

  • Initiatives to increase demand for services and encourage abused women to come forward. This requires reviewing the actual needs and experiences of survivors (including from specific groups and marginalized communities) and analyzing the range of economic, social and cultural barriers that they may face in reporting the abuse they have experienced and availing themselves of the medical, social and legal support that is available.

  • Investing in primary prevention efforts at the individual, relationship, community and societal level to stop abuse before it occurs. This requires interventions aimed at transforming gender norms and attitudes that accept gender-based violence and putting in place the appropriate mechanisms to end impunity that can affect behaviour change over the longer-term.

  • Shelters or safe spaces available in urban and rural areas and accessible to all women (and their children). Some experts recommend that there should be roughly one shelter for every 10,000 inhabitants, depending on local context to ensure accessible distribution across the whole population, while ensuring that all women, even in low population density areas have easy access to a safe space. (adapted from Council of Europe, 2008) In low-resource settings, safe spaces have been established using innovative approaches such as volunteer or subsidized housing through a network of community members, or safe spaces connected to village elders, hospital facilities or faith-based organizations.  In other settings (for example, some countries of Europe), more recent laws require removal of the perpetrator from the household and restraining orders (so that the woman and children or other dependents can remain safely in their homes).

  • Women’s support and self-help groups, and counseling services, with a minimum of one centre for every 50,000 women, distributed in accordance with the population, while ensuring that all women, even in low population density areas have easy access to such supports. (adapted from Council of Europe, 2008) Women’s support groups can be made available as stand alone services or through police stations, health centres and other locations where abused women seek help. These support services may provide trauma-healing, accompaniment in court and other assistance which can facilitate women’s access to safety planning, health, police and legal services, and give them confidence and support to pursue justice, as well as avoid returning to abusive partners.

  • Carefully monitored perpetrator programmes where appropriate. For guidance see the perpetrator section of the Men and Boys Module.

Additional Resources:


Handbook for National Action Plans on Violence against Women (UN Women, 2011). Available in English.

The Commitment of the States: Plans and policies to erradicate violence against women in Latin America and the Caribbean (UN Women, UNiTE, MDG-F and UNDP).  Available in English and Spanish.

The Secretary-General’s In-depth Study on Violence against Women (United Nations General Assembly, 2006). Available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

Combating Violence against Women: Minimum Standards for Support Services (Council of Europe, 2008).  Available in English.


Field Guide: Setting Up a Hotline (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Communication Programs, 2003). Available in English.


Away from Violence: Guidelines for Setting Up and Running a Women's Refuge (Women Against Violence Europe, 2004). Available in English.

Thinking Shelter Online Training Course (Washington State Coalition against Domestic Violence). Available in English.

Model Policy on Shelter Rules (Washington State Coalition against Domestic Violence).  Available in English.

World Conference on Shelters 2008 Presentations:

Survivor groups and safety planning

The Power to Change: How to set up and run support groups for victims and survivors of domestic violence (Women’s Aid, 2008). Available in English.

Safety Plan (North Carolina Coalition against Domestic Violence). Available in English.

Model Protocol On Safety Planning for Domestic Violence Victims with Disabilities (Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 2003). Available in English.


Though planning and funding mechanisms vary by country, some of the more common include:

  • Dedicated national action plans which are comprehensive multisectoral mechanisms that cover legislation; services, (provided by both government and civil society organizations); prevention initiatives; capacity development needs and strategies across sectors; coordinating mechanisms (e.g. between government and civil society, inter-sectoral and inter-ministerial); resource allocations; and data collection, monitoring and evaluation plans and mechanisms.
  • Lead policy and funding frameworks related to poverty reduction (such as poverty reduction strategies); national development plans or action plans related to the Millennium Development Goals, HIV and AIDS, or maternal mortality; and other policy entry points (such as on employment, migration, youth, etc.), which may also be effective mechanisms in ensuring commitments are operationalized—in addition to sector-specific plans and budgets.
  • Sector-wide approaches in health, education, justice, security and other sectors can either complement national action plans dedicated to addressing violence against women (by ensuring they include interventions that correspond to the multisectoral framework) or provide an alternative mechanism for implementing legislation and policy commitments (even where national action plans do not exist). Integrating key actions and resources to address violence against women and girls into sector-wide plans and sector reforms (in health, security and education) makes it easier to track allocations, expenditures and service delivery.
  • Humanitarian action plans and early recovery frameworks (including national action plans on Security Council Resolution 1325) are influential mechanisms in the planning, coordination and funding of services provided in emergency and post-conflict situations, and can be developed with a view to bolstering national capacities to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls. The multisectoral coordination of institutions engaged in humanitarian operations offer an important opportunity to direct funding in support of those institutions and in strengthening civil society.  Technical assistance during the post-conflict recovery and development process can help develop capacities and can promote implementation of state commitments to end violence during crises as well as through the post-conflict recovery and development periods.


Setting the Standard: International Good Practice to Inform an Australian National Plan of Action to Eliminate Violence against Women (Amnesty International, 2008). Available in English; and The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women (Government of Australia, 2009). Available in English.

Assistance for the Implementation of the ECOWAS Plan of Action against Trafficking in Persons Training Manual (UNODC, 2006). Available in English.

Plans and Budgets for Gender Equality in Rural Municipalities: Methodology and Technical Instruments (ACOBOL, UNIFEM, UNDP and GTZ, 2006). Available in Spanish.

Making the grade: A model national policy for the prevention, management and elimination of violence against girls in school (ActionAid, 2009).  Available in English.

Sector Wide Approaches: A Resource Document for UNFPA Staff (HLSP Institute, 2005). Available in English.

Gender in Local Government A Sourcebook for Trainers (United Nations Human Settlements Programme, 2008). Available in English and Portuguese.

Qué son y cómo se emplean los enfoques sectoriales: Una Vía para la Armonización de la Ayuda Oficial al Desarrollo (HLSP, 2005).  Available in Spanish.

See also the UN Women Global Database on Violence against Women for illustrative national action plans (go to advanced search and filter by country).