Today, as cities around the world celebrate the achievements of women on International Women’s Day, UN-HABITAT gives full support to this year’s United Nations theme: “Women and men united to end violence against women and girls.”
We are striving towards sustainability and inclusiveness in our cities, yet compared to men and boys, women and girls around the world still experience greater concerns for their safety and security on a regular basis.
Women in slums and informal settlements often suffer the most. A woman who collects water from a public standpipe shared by hundreds of other families has no choice but to queue for long periods, often very early in the morning or late at night, despite fear of harassment or rape. With dangers that are very real, many women in slums would rather endure the indignity of relieving themselves in a plastic bag at night, rather than risk an attack on the way to a public latrine.
We are talking about everyday realities like safety in streets, parks and public transportation. The needs and concerns of women and girls are often different, yet on a global scale we still have much work to do in ensuring we give adequate recognition to their specific needs in policy development, budgeting and programmes.
To create inclusive cities that respect the rights of everyone, we need to create conditions and physical environments where women, men, girls and boys can live, work, go to school, move around, and socialise without fear of harm. We also need to change attitudes and policies that perpetuate violence against women. This is essential for economic and social development and for meeting the Millennium Development Goals pledged by the international community in 2000.
Many women and girls face violence not only in their homes and in relationships in the context of domestic violence, but also in public spaces due to poor choices in urban design and poor management and funding of those spaces. In practical terms this can relate to very tangible concerns such as poor street lighting, unsafe underpasses, ineffective community policing and lack of rehabilitation programmes for those involved in antisocial use of public spaces. During times of conflict or social unrest, those poor choices can further exacerbate the risk of gender-based violence.
UN-HABITAT takes an active role in the documentation and exchange of best practices and lessons learnt to improve safety and security in cities. Our Global Assessment on Women’s Safety was an extensive review of tools promoting women’s safety on the global, regional, national and local levels. We have now developed a database of over 250 institutions, local authorities and grassroots initiatives. This helps with information sharing and building of global and regional networks.
Celebrating achievements in creating safer cities is also important in campaigns to end violence against women. To this end, UN-HABITAT has collaborated with Women in Cities International in presenting awards for women’s and girls’ safety in cities. These awards highlight the achievements cities have made in adopting policies, legislation and strategies for preventing and addressing violence against women and girls.
We are also joining UNIFEM in the Global Programme on Safe Cities Free of Violence, building on strong collaborative work in Latin America. In addition, we are working with UNIFEM to develop a joint training programme in Latin America and the Caribbean on women’s safety audits. During the audits local women walk through local areas to determine the factors that make them feel safe or unsafe.
Since women’s safety audits were developed in Canada in Toronto in 1989, the method has become a popular method for cities to incorporate input from local women in urban planning and decision-making.
To make cities safer for women and girls, we need full and meaningful participation from them, and governments have a vital role and responsibility in engaging women and girls and men and boys as equals in decision-making.
Ending violence against women requires collective action, and so today on International Women’s Day and everyday, we need to recognise that safer cities for women and girls are better cities for everyone.