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NNEDV staff at 3rd World Conference of Women's Shelters
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3rd World Conference of Women’s Shelters Strikes Gold

December 21, 2015

The 3rd World Conference of Women’s Shelters (WCWS) was held from November 3-6, 2015 in The Hague, Netherlands, the International City of Peace and Justice. Hosted by the Foundation of Women’s Shelters in the Netherlands and its partners – and an event of the Global Network of Women’s Shelters (GNWS) – the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) was honored to both present and participate in the 3rd WCWS as part of a large U.S. delegation.

Opening Ceremonies Set the Tone for the 3rd WCWS

The Conference opened with an evening ceremony that set the informative, yet joyful, tone of camaraderie for the week. Through an innovative news program format, the program introduced the five conference themes and what to expect the next few days:

  1. Economic Independence of Survivors
  2. Sustainable Financing and Advocacy
  3. Transboundary Violence Against Women: International Exchange and Cooperation
  4. Strengthening Regional Networks
  5. Innovative Approaches to Eliminating Violence Against Women and Supporting Survivors


Speakers for the opening ceremonies included Bandana Rana (Chair of the GNWS), government officials, survivors, and our very own Erica Olsen, Deputy Director of the Safety Net project! Pakistani human rights activist, lawyer, and keynote speaker, Hina Jilani, advocated for adopting a worldwide campaign to empower women, saying, “…women are not meant to live in shelters forever. Therefore, it is absolutely critical that we’re not only providing immediate safety, but that we are also changing attitudes.” The ceremonies concluded with all attendees dancing together for One Billion Rising; with over 1,000 participants, this was the largest One Billion Rising dance to date!

Survivors’ Experiences Are at the Center of our Work

Throughout the conference, survivors were featured in plenary and parallel sessions. Their strength and resiliency was inspiring. Emma Murphy, whose message against abuse went viral on the internet, shared her story of survival. Linor Abargil, former beauty queen and subject of the documentary Brave Miss World, encouraged survivors to speak out and stand together against violence. Iffat Gill discussed the barriers and challenges survivors face, offering an answer to an often-asked question: “Why don’t women leave? I had nowhere to go. Literally. Nowhere to go.”


Powerhouse Presenters Addressed Common Themes in Our Work

Daily plenary sessions brought all attendees and presenters together with speakers sharing stories of survival, innovative directives, and messages of hope. Speakers included:

“Together, we are sending a clear message: Everyone has a right to a life without violence.” –Her Majesty Queen Maxima of the Netherlands

“Living free from violence is everybody’s right, but also everybody’s responsibility.” –Australia’s Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash

“There needs to be a red line—rape should be banned as a weapon of war.” – Dr. Denis Mukwege

“A sustainable world cannot exist if half are denied their full rights and responsibilities.” – Crown Princess Mary of Denmark

Participants also attended workshops presented by advocates from around the world. Topics ranged from engaging and educating the media, to the use of storytelling in the healing process, to engaging men and batterers’ intervention, and even included performances such as The Veiled Monologues, which told the stories of women with Islamic backgrounds living in the Netherlands.


NNEDV’s Positively Safe Team presented on DV and HIV/AIDS and fostered engaging conversations with advocates from around the world, and the Safety Net Team presented on Technology Safety and Smartphone Safety Applications. NNEDV Executive Vice President, Cindy Southworth, participated in two plenary sessions: one on safety and accountability and another on technology safety where she was joined by Brittany Smith (Google), Antigone Davis (Facebook), Julie Oberin (Safety Net Australia), and survivors Emma Murphy and Ashley Judd.

Closing with a Call to Action

The closing ceremonies mirrored the inspiring, humbling, empowering, and motivating week. Ashley Judd shared her story and inspiration, and Bandana Rana presented the Call to Action, which called on the world for an end to violence against women and support for shelters all over the world. The closing ceremonies ended with an in-house concert performance, bringing everyone to their feet in celebration and joy.


It was an honor and privilege to meet with advocates from around the world working to end gender-based violence. We’re already looking forward to, and preparing for, the next WCWS. There’s just one question left—where will it be?

Learn more about the 3rd WCWS >>