UNIFEM and UN-HABITAT Partner to Make Cities Safer for Women
Tuesday, June 9, 2009 11:04 AM

3 June 2009

The Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, and the Executive Director of UNIFEM, Mrs. Ines Alberdi, today signed a Memorandum of Understanding to join efforts to make cities and towns free from violence against women and girls. UN-HABITAT is joining UNIFEM’s new flagship initiative the "Global Programme on Safe Cities Free of Violence against Women and Girls” as a lead global partner, building on an ongoing UNIFEM-UN-HABITAT collaboration in Latin America, as well as on broader issues of good governance, urban planning, women’s empowerment, political participation, gender equality, gender-responsive budgeting and access to basic services.

In many cities around the world, women and girls still have a lot to worry about when it comes to their personal safety. On average, violence makes up at least 25 to 30 percent of urban crime, and women, especially in developing countries, are twice as likely to be victims of violent aggression (including domestic violence) as men.

Whether on city streets, public transportation or in their own neighborhoods, women and girls are subjected to various types of violence and abuse — from sexual harassment, both physical and verbal, to sexual assault and rape. Such daily occurrences limit the rights and freedoms of women as equal citizens to enjoy their neighbourhoods and cities, and to exercise their rights to mobility, education, work, recreation, collective organization and participation in political life. Despite affecting countless millions of women, with often disruptive and devastating consequences, this phenomenon has long been tolerated as a regular facet of city life. Whereas gender-based violence in the private domain is now widely recognized as a human rights violation, violence against women in public spaces remains a largely neglected issue, with few laws or policies in place to address it.

UN-HABITAT, through its Safer Cities Programme, has over the past 10 years been supporting local authorities in developing countries in preventing crime and violence through advocacy, training and city level activities. Local authorities and city management have a crucial role to play in the prevention of violence against women, both in public and private spaces, whether it be harassment or attacks outside the home, or domestic abuse behind closed doors, said Mrs Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT. Local authorities can improve the city’s physical environment — for example, through better street lighting, building better alternatives to dark and secluded walkways, or even positioning bus stops in safer areas. Local governments can also make cities safer by mainstreaming gender in their crime prevention policies and programmes, especially through sensitisation campaigns, training and development of services for women affected by violence. They have a role in helping to change attitudes and behaviour that condones and perpetuates violence against women, especially addressing the concerns of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups of women and girls.

Mrs. Tibaijuka, concluded that women and girl’s safety in the public spaces is also an issue of participation and governance: greater involvement of women and girls in planning and management of public spaces is needed. To make cities safer and address the issues of insecurity and violence against women, cities must engage women and girls in decision-making and bring a gender analysis to governance.

Mrs. Ines Alberdi, Executive Director of UNIFEM, is committed to delivering "Safe Cities," a tested and proven global model inspired by proven strategies that can be promoted for up-scaling and uptake by governments and donors. Mrs. Alberdi noted that "proving" the Safe Cities approach will make a significant contribution to one of the most neglected, but most pressing and strategic areas, within the field of programming on ending violence against women: prevention. Most experiences to date have focused on responding to survivor needs for justice, care and support, but due to limited funding and political will, few initiatives have directly focused on preventing systematic gender-based violence from occurring in the first place. As such, this Safe Cities Programme is poised to make a valuable contribution to the wider field of ending violence against women.

Mrs. Alberdi emphasized that the new partnership between UN-HABITAT and UNIFEM will go a long way in scaling-up impact for a "better urban future." As women’s safety is a cross-cutting issue for human settlements development, it is a central concern vis-à-vis women’s participation in urban development and needs to be addressed in the context of governance (political violence and violence prevention policies), security of tenure (economic violence and violence in connection with evictions), as well as in post-disaster/conflict situations (in the context of escalation of violence against women in situations of crisis). Finally, Mrs. Alberdi stressed that all women and girls, as citizens with equal rights, should be able to enjoy public spaces freely and safely, unimpaired by virtue of their gender.

Published in: UN-Habitat and UNIFEM Join Efforts to Make Cities Free from Violence against Women and Girls, UNIFEM (3 June 2009).