Survivors of violence find hope in shelters in Ethiopia


A survivor at Association for Women’s Sanctuary and Development (AWSAD) with her child. Photo: Womankind Worldwide/Maheder Tadese
A survivor at Association for Women’s Sanctuary and Development (AWSAD) with her child. Photo: Womankind Worldwide/Maheder Tadese

“After I came to this shelter, it was like a new beginning. I am back in school and I am a good student. I want to help other girls who are survivors of violence,” shares Tigist Getachew who lives in the Association for Women’s Sanctuary and Development (AWSAD), a shelter for survivors of violence located in an unmarked, confidential location in the center of Adama town, Ethiopia.

Tigist, 16, worked as a domestic worker in Chiro town before she came to AWSAD eight months ago. Since her grandmother’s death, she had no one who could give her a home. Tigist was raped by a friend of her employer and the case was reported to the police, who referred her to the AWSAD shelter.

A large proportion of women in Ethiopia have come to accept domestic and sexual violence as an inevitable part of their lives. A national survey in 2011 showed that 41 per cent of Ethiopian women aged 20-24 were married before they reached 18 years of age, and 8 per cent of those aged 15-19 years were married before their 15th birthday [1]. Harmful practices such as female genital mutilation, abduction and early marriages affected 25 per cent of Ethiopian girls [2]. A 2010 survey by the Population Council and UNFPA revealed that 25 percent of Ethiopian women experienced their first sexual experiences under coercion and there is widespread acceptance of violence against women and girls, among both men and women [3]

This violence is further driven by an acute lack of services for survivors, particularly, shelters that can provide housing, reintegration and rehabilitation support. As a member of the Federal Police Commission explained, “the shelters we have are so few that it is better to say we do not have shelters in this country, given the demand we have.” There are an estimated 12 shelters operating in Ethiopia, hardly enough to respond to the scale of violence faced by women across all regions.

In 2015, UN Women Ethiopia Country Office partnered with the Association for Women’s Sanctuary and Development (AWSAD) to establish the largest shelter in the country in Oromia region, as part of the ‘Preventing and Responding to Violence Against Women and Girls in Ethiopia’ programme, funded by the Governments of Ireland and Denmark, under UN Women’s flagship programme initiative. With a 50 bed-capacity, the shelter has hosted more than 143 women and their 54 children since May 2015, providing them holistic rehabilitation and reintegration services, including transitional housing, food, medical services, counselling, legal support and professional skills training.

Hiwot Abebaw, also a survivor, shared how the shelter helped her overcome the trauma: “I used to want to be alone all the time when I first came here. But not anymore.” With counselling and support, Abebaw has regained hope and dignity.

“It is not about high numbers but about turning around the lives of these women and girls, in a way that impacts the generations to come,” said Ms. Funmi Balogun, UN Women Deputy Representative in Ethiopia.

Ms. Maria Munir, Executive Director of AWSAD added: “Safe houses take a lot of efforts, from supporting women and girls to build back their self-esteem and providing them with medical and psychosocial support to ensuring that they gain skills to be economically independent and working with the police and health officials to preserve evidence to get justice.” As a critical response mechanism, shelters require adequate and sustained resources.

Ending violence against women needs multi-pronged approaches at different levels. Working with partners and communities, the programme combines prevention, increasing women’s access to justice and providing life-saving services through the shelter. For example, a training of more than 300 religious leaders has led to the prevention of almost 470 child marriages in Gozamen and Sinan districts in Amhara region.

The programme is also building the capacity of police officers, prosecutors, judges and community leaders to ensure an effective investigation, prosecution and adjudication of cases. Following successful collaboration between UN Women and the Ethiopian Government, the Central Statistics Agency of Ethiopia has committed to register data on violence every five years.


[1] Central Statistical Agency [Ethiopia]. Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey, 2011.

[2] Ibid.

[3] UNFPA and Population Council (2010), Ethiopia Gender Survey: A Study in Seven Regions, Population Council In