The National Shelters Network was conceptualized in 2019 and began in February 2020. It is led by the Centre for Domestic Training and Development (CDTD), a women rights NGO that works to promote the rights of girls and women in domestic labor in Kenya through advocacy, skills development, employment, education and protection since 2001. From inception, CDTD has continued to provide assistive services and a safe haven to domestic workers, refugees and victims of human trafficking. As a result, CDTD has had to open its doors to cases of GBV and VAWG and extend rescue and protective services to young women and girls all over Kenya due to the number of cases reported to them.
The establishment of TAGS opened many doors, one of which saw CDTD attend three World Conferences of Women’s Shelters (WCWS) as participants and presenters respectively. From such experiences, CDTD garnered learnings that enabled it to spearhead a network initiative set to address emerging issues and challenges related to the provision of shelter and other rescue services as well as the prevention of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) as a collective. Therefore, to facilitate capacity building for shelters and the formation of a shelters network, CDTD embarked on finding existing and functional shelters throughout the country. A baseline survey conducted between October 2019 and March 2020 to establish the number of existing shelters and their distribution across the country. A total of 27 shelters were initially mapped. Between March and June 2020, the network has further mapped 10 new shelters bringing the new total to 37 shelters. Through this alliance of 37 shelters and shelter operators across Kenya, the National Shelters Network was born.
The shelters network has so far provided rescue and referral services to victims of GBV across the country which is especially crucial because of the surge in defilement and other GBV related cases during this COVID-19 pandemic. The shelters network has also lobbied with duty bearers and policymakers such as the National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) and the State Department for Gender (SDfG) to actively participate in and contribute to all matters legal policies, rescue services and shelter provision for GBV victims and survivors. The network has also joined the SDfG’s GBV Cluster Working Group and, has partnered with the Collaborative Centre for Gender and Development (CCGD) to streamline the shelters mapping process.
This increase in demand for these services led to the opening of the Talia Agler Girls Shelter which is a safe space for these survivors and victims of GBV. The shelter, which acts as CDTD’s protection arm, uses the 4Rs approach (Reach, Rescue, Rehabilitate and Reintegrate) in its work with girls and women who are victims of trafficking, GBV and other forms of rights violations.
Many communities, most often in low income and rural communities, have reported an increase in the number of GBV, rape and defilement cases since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of these women and girls fleeing violence do not have access to rescue services or a safe shelter facility in which to access help. This is due to the closure of shelters due to COVID-19, an acute shortage of state owned shelters in the country as well as overwhelming demand for the few and far spaced private shelters. In addition to that, policy gaps and lack of proper legal framework for shelter has led to difficulty in setting up or operating a shelter in Kenya today. There are also a lot of overlaps between shelters and other rescue institutions such as children’s homes and Charitable Children’s Institutions (CCIs) that have led to a lot of conflict between private duty bearers and the state. Logistical barriers such as financial resources, housings, access to quality healthcare services, exit strategies and reintegration programs also contribute to the lack of proper and efficient shelter systems.
Therefore the formation of the National Shelters Network was necessary so as to address these gaps and to strengthen the existing systems for shelters and other rescue centers. The shelters network essentially aims to be the bridge between shelter operators, the victims and survivors themselves, their families and the government.
For shelter operators, the shelters network is a platform where they can interact, exchange knowledge and strengthen each other so as to provide effective and efficient services to the victims and survivors of GBV. The shelters network also unifies the shelter voices, so that they have an impactful and deliberate part in influencing the formation and implementation of laws and policies. To the government, the shelters network is the representative face for shelter operators and the beneficiaries of these shelters.
To the victims and survivors of GBV, the shelters network is the reporting and referral agency that connects them to rescue service providers, access to health care facilities as well as protective services and safe spaces. To the family, the shelter provides legal aid, counselling, and socio-economic support and reintegration strategies. Therefore the National Shelters Network is an advocacy and protective umbrella for all.
To bring together various stakeholders involved in the shelters’ space for synergy towards improved quality of standards for care and services for survivors of violence.
To articulate with one voice and joint efforts, the issues that affect the sector that needs to be addressed at legal and policy level.
To influence legislative, policy and practice matters that pertain to shelters establishment and management in Kenya.
To collect, maintain, analyze, package and disseminate data and evidence that can feed into national referral mechanisms and policy making process.
To build linkages with other relevant state and non-state actors for resources mobilization and advocacy on guidelines and standards for shelter registration and operations.
The National Shelters Network is run by a secretariat hosted by Centre for Domestic Training and Development. Following the formation of the NSN whatsapp group, it was found that a lot of information and data were generated and passed within the group especially in concern to matters GBV, providing rescue and health services and placement of victims in safe spaces. This necessitated the formation of the NSN Secretariat that manages all this information and communication systems.The secretariat acts as the backbone of the network as the members of the network who are the shelters operators and other partners are able to refer and rescue GBV cases and access resources and useful contacts.
The NSN secretariat has been instrument in addressing referral gaps and strengthening the existing systems for shelters and other rescue centers. It ensures that that the shelters network acts as bridge between shelter operators, the victims and survivors themselves, their families and the government.
The National Shelters Network has continued to garnered support from various policymakers, state agencies and private institutions whose primary interest is to further the girl child agenda and advocate against GBV. Through virtual meetings, webinars and referrals, NSN has managed to partner with key stakeholders and actively get involved in conversations about rejuvenating the existing shelter systems, reforming laws and policies governing shelters and the development of new shelters.
So far, the National Shelters Network has managed to partner with the following institutions;
The State Department for Gender (SDfG) through virtual zoom meetings to share the goal and objectives of the network and to request for guidance on registration which prompted SDfG to write to the Attorney General for advise and clarity on the registration process. SDfG also represented the shelters network at an interagency meeting chaired by PS and officially made recommendations on behalf of NSN to the government to appeal for support for the 36 existing shelters and invest in state run-shelters all counties in partnership with non-state actors
Collaborative Center for Gender and Development (CCGD) that assists the NSN in hosting virtual zoom meetings, conducting questionnaires, data analysis and documentation of shelter network activities
East African Civil Society Organizations Forum (EACSOF) that supports the NSN with logistics and resource mobilization in terms of networks and human capital