Essential Services

Last edited: March 17, 2022

Essential Services

Essential services are those that are most typically needed to respond to the needs of women and girls who have been victims of physical and sexual violence.

These include:


health care, including post-rape care;

crisis counseling and referrals;

shelters and safe housing;

safety and police protection;

access to justice, legal and social assistance.

Whilst most Governments provide health and other basic support services for their citizens, in many cases, the staff providing such services lack the necessary knowledge and skills related to causes and consequences of violence to provide the right support and care to women and girls who experienced violence. In addition, existing services are often underfunded, not of sufficient quality and not available throughout the country.

The lack of quality essential services means that women and girls continue to suffer from the physical and mental impacts of violence.  These can include significant physical injuries, some of which lead to severe disability, unwanted pregnancy, depression and stress and anxiety disorders. The lack of access to essential services may also result in a woman’s death.

General Description

This programme seeks to fill the gap between the agreements made at the international level for responding to violence against women and girls, which stress the need for access to quality services for survivors, and work done at the country level on how to develop quality services and responses.

We will provide comprehensive technical guidance to countries on how to provide quality essential services through the development of internationally agreed standards and guidelines and extensive resources for building the capacity of service providers at the country level. The guidelines for the essential services, while meant to be applicable universally, have been developed for low to medium income countries not in crisis.

The overall goal of the joint global programme is women and girls benefit from access to a range of essential services which are provided in line with internationally agreed standards and guidelines which have been adapted to the national context. 

The Programme has two components which will be implemented over a four-and half year period:

The first component is focused on the development of the standards and guidelines as well as the accompanying guidance for implementation and capacity development at the global level.

The second component is focused on testing the standards and guidelines at the national level in up to 10 countries, and adapting the relevant materials to ensure seamless implementation.

There have been several global consultations to date. The documents and products resulting from these consultations can be accessed by clicking on the following links:

  • Health Sector
  • Police and Justice
  • Social Services
  • Coordination and Governance


Next steps

The next two steps of the programme include:

THE DEVELOPMENT OF SPECIFIC GUIDANCE FOR USE BY COUNTRIES:  This will include the development of policy and technical advice for governments, which have the responsibility to provide essential services, and organizations which provide services, on how to plan for and provide a set of essential services in line with the agreed standards and guidelines, including how to cost and budget for such services; and

TESTING THE STANDARDS AND GUIDELINES: We will be identifying up to 10 countries in different parts of the world in which to test the standards and guidelines, including both an urban and rural location in each country.  The learnings and outcomes from the test sites will help us to understand how the standards and guidelines can be adapted to a specific country context and assist us to further refine the advice provided.

Other important aspects of the programme include:

SHARING KNOWLEDGE: This online knowledge space for the products and resources has been developed for easy access by countries and specific organizations. This platform will also be used to share the outcomes of the testing sites and to record lessons learned.

GLOBAL ADVOCACY AND ROLLOUT: Ultimately, it is envisaged that these standards and guidelines can be applied universally and that countries integrate these standards and guidelines into the existing policies and practices of the various sectors (health, police, justice and social services).

SUSTAINABILITY: It is critical that the provision of quality essential services is sustainable. To do that, we will encourage the development of sustainable coordination and governance processes/mechanisms at the country level to oversee this work, not just during implementation but into the future.

A comprehensive programme document with more detail on activities, budget and workplans can be accessed by clicking here.

Will the programme be relevant to all women and girls?

While this programme is dedicated to ensuring improved services, and access to such services, for women and girls, with respect to girls, it is limited to those girls who may require services similar to that of adult women and whom, because of the well acknowledged gap in age-appropriate services for girls, particularly adolescent girls, in many parts of the world, including a non-existent or non-functioning child protection system, will have no other option but to access those services established for women. This programme is not seeking to duplicate those responses necessary for and available to abused children.

What forms of violence does this programme address?

The standards focus on the provision of services for women who have experienced domestic/intimate partner violence and sexual violence as these are the most universally prevalent forms in relation to the data currently available.  However, given the gendered nature of other manifestations of violence against women, women who experience other forms of gender based violence, such as human trafficking, forced and early marriage, and female genital mutilation, are also likely benefit from these services.

What countries are supporting the programme? Which other UN Agencies are involved?

This programme is building on and expanding the initial essential services programme of work agreement between UN Women and the Australian government (signed in 2012 and revised in 2013).The joint global programme is a subsequent collaboration in this area between UN Women, UNFPA, WHO, UNODC and UNDP. 

Funding for the global joint programme has already provided by the Governments of Australia, and Spain.  All five UN entities who are participating in this joint programme, have also provided funding and/or technical assistance for this programme of work. As is evident from budget outlined in the programme document for the broader range of activities, the requirement for further substantial funding is critical.

Essential Services Package

The Joint Global Programme for Essential Services for Women and Girls Subject to Violence (the “Programme”), a partnership by UN Women, UNFPA, WHO, UNDP and UNODC, aims to provide greater access to a coordinated set of essential and quality multi-sectoral services for all women and girls who have experienced gender based violence. The Programme identifies the essential services to be provided by the health, social services, police and justice sectors (the “Essential Services”) as well as guidelines for the coordination of Essential Services and the governance of coordination processes and mechanisms (the “Coordination Guidelines”). Service delivery guidelines for the core elements of each essential service have been identified to ensure the delivery of high quality services, particularly for low and middle income countries for women and girls experiencing violence. Taken together, these elements comprise the “Essential Services Package”.

The Essential Services Package comprises six overlapping modules:

Module 1: Overview and Introduction (aresfr, ru, zh)

Module 2: Health Essential Services (aresfr, ru, zh)

Module 3: Justice and Policing Essential Services (aresfr, ru, zh)

Module 4: Essential Social Services (aresfr, ru, zh)

Module 5: Essential Actions (aresfrru, zh)

Module 6: Implementation Guide (EN, FR, SP)

Module 7: Guidance on Estimating Resource Requirements for selected interventions inthe United Nations Joint Global Programme on Essential Services for Women and Girls Subject to Violenceand beyond

All Modules in Macedonian, Chinese.