United Nations: UNIFEM Launches "Safe Cities" Program to End Urban Violence Against Women and Girls
Wednesday, December 1, 2010 8:40 AM

On 22 November 2010, UNIFEM announced the launch of its Global Safe Cities Free of Violence Against Women and Girls Program at the Third International Conference on Women's Safety in New Delhi. It is the first global initiative specifically addressing threats faced by women and girls residing in urban areas. The goal of the program is to make cities safer while also improving overall quality of life for all urban residents. Safe Cities is highly relevant, in that over 3.4 billion people are now living in cities, which are subject to high crime rates. While numerous municipal safety plans have been enacted in cities across the world, none specifically tackle violence against women and girls on a broader scale.

“Every day, women and adolescent girls face sexual harassment and violence as they go about their daily routines – whether on city streets, on buses and trains, or in their own neighborhoods,” said Inés Alberdi, Executive Director of UNIFEM. “This limits their freedom and rights to education, work, recreation, and participation in political life.”

Alberdi noted that violence against women in the private sphere has become increasingly recognized as a human rights violation, while similar violence in the public sphere has not. Safe Cities is a direct effort to change that, contributing both to the UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence Against Women campaign and the Millennium Development goals on gender equality and the rights of over 900 million slum dwellers.

The program is launching separately in five cities around the world, with specific focus on impoverished parts of the cities and their slum areas, including: Quito (Ecuador), Cairo (Egypt), New Delhi (India), Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea), and Kigali (Rwanda). Participating cities will contribute to developing a comprehensive model for stopping various forms of violence against women in urban areas. The model will then be offered as an adaptable example for other cities around the world. All five cities currently have strong support from local authorities, agency partnerships, urban planning, and the potential for lasting engagement with civil society groups. Additionally, all five cities have agreed to rigorous evaluation standards to best discover the most useful techniques to make cities safer for women and girls. Thousands of people gathered at each of the five launch sites to show their support on 22 November, lighting candles to symbolize the end of impunity for violence against women.

Potential strategies Safe Cities sites may adopt include: mass media campaigns on ‘zero tolerance’ for violence against women; reviews of public sector budgets to ensure adequate resources are allocated to making public spaces safe for women and girls; special audits to identify unsafe areas; training for urban planners, grassroots women’s groups, and police; strengthening laws against violence in public spaces; and activities to engage local communities, men, and adolescents of both sexes. Reliable data collection will be a primary focus of the program, as the current lack of consistent data on violence against women in the public sphere serves to conceal the problem and impede the creation of new solutions.

Safe Cities has its roots in a successful UNIFEM project launched in Latin America in 2004, with an experimental grant from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women. Programs implemented in seven countries raised a demonstrably higher level of awareness of urban violence against women and girls, and they also generated new knowledge on how to end it. A number of municipalities developed new safety plans focusing on women and girls after the project had been concluded, with improvements such as better street lighting being added into their plans.

To learn more about Safe Cities, please visit: http://endvawnow.org/?safe-cities.

Compiled from: WUNRN, UNIFEMNew Global Initiative to Make Cities Safer for Women, (1 December 2010).