A women and girls friendly space is a place where women and girls can go to feel safer, access information and support, participate in activities, build their networks and strengthen relationships with peers. It is a formal or informal place where women and girls feel physically and emotionally safe. The term ‘safe,’ in this context, refers to the absence of trauma, excessive stress, violence (or fear of violence), or abuse. Friendly and Safe Spaces are often, but not always, integrated spaces offering a range of services, ranging from information sharing and support for social networks and recreational activities to essential and discrete clinical care and support for GBV survivors and sexual and reproductive health services. Women and Girls Friendly Spaces (WGFS) can go by different names, such as Women and Girls Safe Spaces Spaces (WGFS), Wellbeing Centers, or Wellness Centers. In this document they will be referred to as Women and Girls Friendly Spaces (WGFS) while recognizing depending on local contexts different names are used. In conflict contexts it may be best to call them Women and Girls Friendly Spaces given the misinterpretation that may arise from the word ‘safe’ including perception around physical safety.
Establishing a WGFS does not necessarily involve building a new structure but rather working with women and girls to identify a space in their community that they perceive as friendly and safe. WGFS can be temporary (tent), semipermanent, permanent, or a mobile structure. The different types of set-up responds to the different needs of affected women and girls but generally temporary and semi-permanent safe spaces should be set-up in temporary IDP sites and it is advisable to establish permanent WGFS within existing facilities, whenever possible and appropriate for the context. WGFS are often most effective when they are easy to access for women and girls and organized in conjunction with child-friendly spaces and/or health center services.
The objective of a WGFS is “to be a safe place where women and girls are supported through processes of empowerment.”1 As such, WGFS are established to empower women, promote and enhance protection, provide necessary information and care, support healing and help reduce vulnerability to harm in the future, as well as to provide opportunities for skills building and collective action in communities. WGFS are co-created with women and adolescent girls entangled in conflict, disasters and displacement, which supports their empowerment and participation in humanitarian settings. The Minimum Standards for Prevention and Response to Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies highlights WGFS as one of the ten core standards of GBV programming and evidence suggests that the establishment of women- and/or girl-only spaces in emergency response helps to reduce and mitigate risks and prevent further harm and promotes psychosocial well-being and protection for affected women and girls.
While a WGFS is an entry point for information-sharing on available services and support, as well as a safe space for survivors of GBV to disclose incidents of violence, the main purpose of friendly spaces is transformational change and empowerment of women and girls. Activities and services provided in the WGFS must be culturally appropriate and tailored to the needs of the communities and can include psychosocial support, such as support groups and individual counseling, recreational- and skills building activities, and GBV case-management. In addition, information on critical issues can be shared- such as where/how to access humanitarian services and information on sexual and reproductive health, legal rights, childcare, and GBV prevention and response, safety planning and risk reduction.
When using the term women and girls it includes women and older adolescent girls (aged approx. 15-19) in all of their diversities. This includes for example, older women, women heads of households, women and girls living with disabilities, and women and girls living with HIV/AIDS but this list is by no means exhaustive and can include other groups of women and girls with heightened risk of unequally participating and benefitted from humanitarian services. This focus on inclusion does not require WGFS to provide specialist services or for staff to have specialist skills. It requires WGFS to address barriers which prevent women and girls from diverse backgrounds from equal access to the WGFS, while providing a space that ensures their physical and emotional safety, and supports them through a process of empowerment equally.
This guidance walks you through the full cycle of setting up a WGFS, from inception and assessments, to lay-out and construction, to the implementation of activities and the phase out (or handover). Several useful tools, taken from IRC and IMC’s Women and Girl’s Safe Spaces: A Toolkit for Advancing Women’s and Girls’ Empowerment in Humanitarian Settings (find the full toolkit in Annex 1), are annexed and referenced.