Municipal authorities from eight cities around the world meet in Nairobi this week to learn about successful experiences in making cities a safer and a friendly place for all, with a special focus on women and children.
Modern houses near a slum in Nairobi © UN-HABITAT/Noor Khamis
The meeting is hosted by UN-Habitat, which together with UNICEF and UN Women lead the five-year programme "Safe and Friendly Cities for All," that aims at making women and children feel safer in local neighborhoods of eight pilot cities: Beirut, Lebanon; Dushanbe, Tajikistan; Manila, the Philippines; Marrakesh, Morocco; Nairobi, Kenya; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; San Jose, Costa Rica, and Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
This partnership, launched last year, builds on prior experience that all the three organizations have accumulated on preventing gender-based violence, in working closely with municipal authorities and civil society partners in several cities around the world.
Violence against women is a universal issue and no city in the world is exempt but an increasing number of cities is exposing the true magnitude of the problem and undertaking concrete practical measures to address it. Representatives of cities currently implementing successful 'safe cities' initiatives will take part in the Nairobi meeting to share their experiences.
Lessons learnt so far include:
- better street lighting, better signs, and cleaner and more women and child friendly public places make a real difference;
- data collection, innovative efforts such as mapping through text messaging and the use of Geographic Information Systems, makes cities safer;
- joint safety audits-with local authorities, police, women, and young people-can pinpoint the factors creating insecurity and risk in urban public spaces, so effective measures can be put in place to address them;
- women-led committees to monitor responses to sexual violence and crime, and encouraging greater involvement of female elected officials and urban professionals, produce results.
Studies conducted last year by UN Women in five major capital cities show that women and girls experience sexual harassment or violence in public spaces on a daily basis – on the streets, on public transport, in the markets, in recreational areas, and near schools and shopping centres. The forms of sexual harassment and violence span the spectrum - from rape and attempted rape to groping (especially on transport), to inappropriate touching, usage of obscene language, aggressive stalking and whistling.
The figures and testimonies gathered are contributing to raise awareness among city inhabitants and local authorities, and new laws and policies are being adopted to address the issue.
This is the case of the Municipality of Quito that recently expanded the scope of the City Ordinance on gender-based violence by integrating sexual harassment in public spaces. In Cairo, Women's Safety Audits have been mainstreamed into the planning processes of the Egyptian Ministry of Housing, Utilities and Urban Development.