REFLECTION: What have you learned? What can others learn from your experience?

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REFLECTION: What have you learned? What can others learn from your experience?

To help start the conversation and keep the focus of this discussion thread, please consider and respond to the following questions:

  • What lessons have you learned in your work protecting communities at risk?
  • What has worked well? What didn't work so well?
  • Can you recommend any best practices for creating safe spaces?

Share your experiences, thoughts, ideas and questions by adding a comment below or replying to existing comments!

For help on how to participate in this conversation, please check out these online instructions.


What I would like to learn more about

I have learned (among a multitude of other things) that there are numerous ways of supporting and protecting people at risk.  In many ways ICORN is specializing in helping people who have come to the end of the line trying to stay safe at home.  But protecting people is a continuum, from working for general and broad issues like national political changes, and human rights work on a global level, to seeing and looking after very individualized needs. It is also possible to see protection as different at different stages in an individual’s, or a community’s, life. 

What I would like to learn and hear more about is initiatives, ideas and strategies for protecting people where they are (so they do not have to come to ICORN and other shelters), and also how to support people who would like to return to the community they had to flee.  I know these are big questions and also that they need different approaches depending on the individual person and community, but it is still something we would like to work with to help people before and after the ICORn residency. 

I think Front Line Defenders have a lot of resources individuals and communities can use when it comes to staying safe, like their workshops and handbooks.

Another issue is how to reach people who are vulnerable, but do not know it, or do not know where to seek assistance when they need it. Many artists fall in this category. They are not necessarily consciously working with political or sensitive issues, but may touch upon taboos or themes that others find offensive. Suddenly they find themselves threatened and harassed, with no network or knowledge on how to protect themselves.

Building Child Friendly Villages in India (a case study)

Hi Elisabeth,

This may not be exactly what you're looking for, but there is another example to share from the New Tactics resources that speaks to 2 of your questions (protecting people where they are, and protecting people who are vulnerable and don't know it).

Save the Childhood Foundation, which was started under the banner of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, developed the concept and application of child friendly villages as a way to not only promote education for all but also combat the cycle of child labor. Child labor is both a cause as well as a consequence of poverty, illiteracy and lack of human security. The aim of child friendly villages is to create and sustain a child friendly atmosphere within the community to ensure education and put an end to child labor.

We have a 22-page case study (in English only) on this example titled Building Child Friendly Villages: Using village strengths to combat child labour and other exploitative practices. In the case study, you will find information on:

  • The development of the tactic
  • The steps involved to make a child-friendly village
  • How to make a village a child-friendly village
  • Transferability ideas

It's full of practical information for anyone interested in setting up such a community. Here's a quote related to protecting children, who are vulnerable but don't necessarily know it:

"The idea was to make children aware of the exploitative nature of child labour, to emancipate them and make them self-reliant so as to eliminate the curse of child labour. For this to become reality, the active participation and cooperation of family, society, the village panchayat, and local administration is also essential."

In this sense, the safe spaces are a preventative tactic. Are there other examples of preventative safe spaces?

- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

creating safe spaces through creation of child friendly society

I definitely agree with Kristin. We, as Bachpan Bachao Andolan have been developing child friendly villages since 2000. We have created more than 300 child friendly villages so far. The concept of child friendly village is a preventive measure to stop trafficking of children for labour.

Bachpan Bachao Andolan realized that until the village community is sensitised and made aware on child rights, the problem of child labour cannot be abolished. Hence, child friendly villages started. What we do here is empowerment of the entire village community, making them aware of their rights.  We can only cretae safe spaces when the tragetted groups are aware of their existing rights. Only when they are empowered, will they feel safe.

Also it is important that these vulnerable groups are given due attention from the government. In BBA, we work with the village community, making them aware of the welfare schemes from the government, empowering them with informations. Working for a long time in the villages, we have found that these village communties are often neglected or are not given due importance.

In order to create safe space not only the enire community must be sensitised but also the government.


On legislation and creating community watch groups

Hi Elizabeth. 

Before I read your sharing here, I was already intending to share on the topic because something happened yesterday that somehow reinforced our belief in creating safe spaces through national legislation.

You see, Visayan Forum is a pioneer in championing the rights and welfare of domestic workers considering that our country is a major source country. For more than 18 years we have lobbied our national legislators to promulgate a Law that protects domestic workers. We stand on the argument that domestic workers are highly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation because they are invisible, and almost always ill-equipped to assert their rights.

The first draft of the law was pushed in 1995 but it was shelved many times over, and several Congresses have passed.

We were forced to elevate the discussions to the international level through the International Labor Organization Convention 189. We mobilized the domestic work sector and unified different sectors, even employers' groups to come up with a categorical position on having a policy that will safeguard the rights of domestic workers.

And in January 18 of this year, our work paid off. The Magna Carta of Domestic Workers or the Domestic Workers Act that protects and promotes the rigths and welfare of all domestic workers in the country was signed into Law by the President of the Republic. This Law effectively places domestic work in public because the law mandates a registration system of all domestic workers in a given local government jurisdiction, for the local officials to be able to monitor them. The law also requires the execution of a contract that covers all conditions of work. It requires the provision by the employer of humane sleeping areas, three meals a day, social protection benefits (health incurance, home development, and social security), standardized wage, among others. It provides penalties for violations and specifically points to child labor, debt bondage, and other unfair and exploitative conditions of work.

Yesterday, I was Guest Speaker at a congress of women leaders (in celebration of women's month) in a different city. There was about 2,000 women leaders from different organizations and sectors eager to learn about this new law that I was to share. After I shared, one woman approached me and said (in filipino, and I am loosely translating) "thank you, you have just made it safer for us to work as domestic workers. Now it is not so dangerous anymore and now I can demand what I know should have been mine in the first place, because there is a law"

Of course, I think the law has yet to be proven as a surefire mechanism to create safe spaces. However, for invisible situations such as domestic work, the protection of a law can go far in terms of ensuring the safety and security of domestic workers especially if they are made aware of it.


Onto my second item - community watch groups. The enlisting of local residents into community-based watchgroups against child abuse and exploitation has always been one of our organization's crowning glory. An empowered community of mothers engage the local government to provide protective services, programs, and policies. The mothers provide emergency response and counseling services to distressed women and children. They are pro-active in terms of childs' rights education, and parenting sessions. They engage various partners including  schools and private organizations to provide alternative learning system for the children and the youth, as well as social enterprise opportunities. And they are able to reinforce a strong change in community culture in terms of child-rearing. A localized sense of ownership and vigilance has proven to be a sustainable and strategic intervention to modern-day slavery. 

Building this kind of community of vanguards is not easy, especially in poor areas. This is so because you are not only contending with that apparent lack of education and awareness, but you are also seen as "interfering" in their affairs. You see, as we have experienced, getting the grassroots to a level of awareness is difficult, because just getting them to sit with you and talk is difficult. Their daily concern is filled with "how to put food on their table" and "how do I enjoy my life despite my poverty and my problems". Most often than not, they do not know and do not "care" about "human rights". You have to be able to answer both in order to engage them in a dialogue. So, we developed a model that addresses this needs. We had to be comprehensive. So we provided livelihood trainings for mothers and tutorial sessions for kids so that both mother and child are at the Center we have built (no need for her to be at home with an excuse of taking care of her child); we partnered with organizations who can provide alternative learning systems; and all the while, we bombarded them with values formation, counter-culture advocacy, and even the parenting sessions have been highly appreciated especially by parents who claimed they had a "problem child". Making parenting easy somehow provided them the time and energy to devote to child protection through the community watch group. Once you get this going, the ripple effect comes in. Visayan Forum now is actually reaping the fruits of its labor fifteen years back. Our communities are empowered, they are able to mobilize and deliver on their own.


I think this has been too long already. thanks

Tackling vulnerability

I think Elisabeth has raised a very important issue in her post. I think further discussion is required on what constitutes vulnerability. Whether it is a constituent of an individual/community or emerges in a social context and who defines it. It is only then, I believe, that we can reflect on how to ensure protection to those who might be vulnerable without realising it.

For example, people with disabilities refuse to call themselves vulnerable while arguing that it is the particular structuring of society that makes them vulnerable. Vulnerability, in this context, therefore becomes a situation of powerlessness which is not constituent of a disabled person but emerges from their interaction with how everyday life is structured in a society.

Vulnerability of artists highlighted in Elisabeth's post arises due to apparently unresolved conflicts between competing rights. While people have the freedom to express, they are also entitled to social and cultural rights, especially the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Both these rights are not absolute and therefore their implementation or enforcement is circumscribed by the social and cultural context that may value either secularism or religion or is ambiguous. Therefore, it may be important to consider how well prepared are our institutions, to which artists are associated or are trained in, to handle competing claims of different values.

Our experience has shown that vulnerability of children arise in an economic context that distributes differential resources to people. This differential distribution has significant impact on how individuals/communities choose to act making them vulnerable to dangerous and criminal activities, including child labour and child trafficking.

Therefore, such an analysis leads us to implement project ideas that do not distinguish between people who are vulnerable or not but seek interventions that alter resource distribution. BBA has tried to do that through its Child Friendly Village programmes. Similarly, policy and advocacy work aims to improve the fit between different government programmes to achieve equitable distribution of resources.


since we in harassmap are

since we in harassmap are working on creating safe spaces and anti sexual harassment zones, what really worked was having as many volunteers as possible and help mobilize people and encourage them to work with us. advocacy is okay but the more important is to have allies from the society it self.  together we can make the desired change.

I think also the new technology and social networks helped us very much as well in our mapping and reporting system.