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Shelter home; Shelter home;

Guinea-Bissau shelter home, Guinea-Bissau

Designing Guinea-Bissau’s first shelter home for at-risk women

Women are one of the most vulnerable groups in Guinea-Bissau, a developing country in West Africa, where according to the World Bank 97% of the female population/women has/have experienced gender-based violence in the last eight years. 

To tackle this issue, the regional Bafatá and Gabú government is developing local initiatives to help empower women in partnerships with international organisations. The Ana Bella Foundation, in collaboration with Arup and the Un Refugio Colectivo organisation, is investing in one such solution – designing the country's first shelter for abused women. 

The shelter is located in the semi-urban area of Bafatá, a town in the central part of the country, where more than half of the 201,000 local population are women. 

The partners worked on a women-centered design for the shelter which will accommodate ten women and offer a learning centre to facilitate opportunities for personal development. The shelter will be built from sustainable materials sourced on site.

Project Summary

10women in the shelter

35peoplein the training centre

20local peopleinvolved

Creating a safe and collaborative space

Arup’s team of volunteers has exhaustively studied the local terrain to advise on a series of sustainable and durable solutions for the construction of the shelter. As the plot is perched on a slope, the retaining walls and foundations have been adapted to fit the terrain specifics.

The shelter will be constructed from sustainable materials sourced locally through a simple building technique replicable on future projects. Currently, Arup’s team is working with 20 local volunteers to build the shelter – local masons, builders, as well as carpenters, blacksmiths and plumbers.

The shelter includes three  residential levels. The first level  will house a restaurant, kitchen, terrace and a bakery. The administration, offices and a classroom will be located on the second level. All rooms are designed as meeting spaces for women and their families to spend time together. The third level includes a communal area with kitchen, living and dining room, and a private area with eight  living units, bathrooms and a laundry area.

Women building the shelter home Women building the shelter home

Women survivors will manage the shelter, once constructed. Women play a very important role in Bissau-Guinean society, with 60% of them looking after rice production and commercialisation. But this same percentage of women currently cannot read or write. The shelter will host a training centre to support women with personal development and to become financially independent.

Sustainable and durable local materials

Arup together with Un Refugio Colectivo advised the community on the choice of building materials, produced from locally available resources. 

The shelter is built from in situ concrete for the foundations, block concrete for the retaining walls and compressed earth blocks (CEB) for the rest of the structure, manufactured through manual presses from the plot’s soil, mixed with 7% cement. A group of young masons have been trained through a series of one-week courses for the optimal handling of the hand press and to ensure the quality of the CEB blocks.

These blocks are a sustainable and affordable formula for constructing residential buildings, reducing CO2 emissions by more than 80% compared to similar conventional constructions. The shelter also uses timber for the roof trusses as a renewable material with low carbon footprint.

Supporting the Guinea-Bissau shelter project by offering our technical advice is very rewarding as it is a first step in providing a safe space for women survivors of abuse in the area as well as an opportunity to contribute to the training and development of the local community. ” David Rutter David Rutter Associate Director

Women-centered design

Un Refugio Colectivo together with the Ana Bella Foundation   organised participatory workshops with the local community to inform the design of the shelter and adapt it to local needs. The design is created from a female perspective, with women-led organisations providing key insight into local living conditions and needs, including requirements for self-development through learning activities.