There is no city or country in the world where women and girls live free of the fear of violence. No leader can claim: this is not happening in my backyard.
In 2012, two cases ignited outrage in their nations, which spread around the world: the shooting of Pakistani girls’ education activist Malala Yousafzai, and the gang rape of a 23-year-old in New Delhi. In every region, countless other cases occurred that did not make headlines.
Whether walking city streets, using public transport, going to school, or selling goods at the market, women and girls are subject to the threat of sexual harassment and violence. This reality of daily life limits women’s freedom to get an education, to work, to participate in politics – or to simply enjoy their own neighbourhoods. Yet despite its prevalence, violence and harassment against women and girls in public spaces remains a largely neglected issue, with few laws or policies in place to address it.
This week in Dublin, around 600 delegates are gathered for the eighth forum of the World Alliance of Cities Against Poverty. They have come from all over the world to discuss innovative approaches to make cities smart, safe and sustainable.
One approach is the Safe Cities global initiative. This partnership of municipal governments, local communities and organisations, and the UN, is working to make urban environments safer for women and girls.
Initially launched by UN Women and UN-Habitat with five pilot cities — Cairo, Egypt; Kigali, Rwanda; New Delhi, India; Quito, Ecuador; and Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea — the initiative has expanded to more than 20 cities and continues to grow.
One of the most important lessons we have learned is that each city is unique and requires a local response. This can only be achieved by conducting a diagnostic study with data and evidence, and engaging community members. A diagnostic study in New Delhi, for instance, revealed that a common strategy against harassment was to keep girls and women at home. But that’s not a solution. Residents organised community collectives to build awareness, report crimes, and work with authorities to improve public safety and justice.
As more and more women, men and young people become active in local government, and more local leaders take action for the safety of women, change happens. The Dublin meeting recognises that making cities smarter, safer and more sustainable requires partnership and collaboration — between residents, government, the private sector and civil society. By including women in decision-making, city governments will be in a better position to fulfill their responsibility to ensure the safety of their residents, especially women and girls.