UN-HABITAT and UNIFEM have announced that they plan to launch a new programme aimed at stopping sexual harassment and violence against women and girls.
The Global Safe Cities for Women and Girls Programme will start in the five cities of Quito, Cairo, New Delhi, Port Moresby, and Kigali. The announcement was at the third international conference addressing the theme, Women's Safety: Building Inclusive Cities meeting in New Delhi.
"A major section of slum dwellers in cities are women, and reducing urban vulnerability needs to be integrated with urban planning and policy making," said Axumite Gebre- Egziabher, the Director of UN-HABITAT's Global Division.
"Every day, women and adolescent girls face sexual harassment and violence as they go about their daily routines — whether on city streets, in buses and trains, or in their own neighborhoods," said UNIFEM Executive Director Inés Alberdi. "This limits their freedom and rights to education, work, recreation and participation in political life."
Rajiv Kale, Director, Delhi government's Department of Women and Child Development, said the women of the capital felt insecure in public spaces and crowded public transport, adding that the problem needed a long term change in mindset.
"A baseline survey conducted by Jagori (the government resource centre) very clearly highlighted that being a woman is in itself a risk factor in the capital and that women feel insecure in crowded public places, due to poor lighting on roads and a lack of clean public toilets," he said.
All five cities have strong support from local authorities, the potential for far-reaching engagement of civil society groups, and partnerships with agencies involved in ending gender-based violence, community safety, urban planning and development. They have committed to rigorous evaluations to demonstrate what works best.
Potential measures may include stronger laws and policies against violence in public spaces; training for urban planners, grass-roots women's groups and police; special audits to identify unsafe areas; mass media campaigns on "zero tolerance" for violence against women; activities to engage local communities, men and adolescents of both sexes; and reviews of public sector budgets so that adequate resources are spent on making public areas safe for women and girls.
Collecting reliable data will be an important aspect of the Safe Cities programme, because the current lack of reliable and specific information on violence against women and girls in public space hides the problem and hampers the development of solutions.
Globally, the Safer Cities programme contributes 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 slum dwellers around
The conference in new Delhi 22-24 November was attended by representatives of women's organizations and networks, grassroots, community and non-governmental organizations, cities and municipalities, police services, government departments and institutions, the research community, international networks and UN agencies. In total, 41 countries and 60 cities were represented. The meeting was co-organised by Women in Cities International and Jagori, in collaboration with UN-HABTIAT, UNIFEM, and the Huairou Commission with the support from the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom, the Canadian Government, the Interchurch organisation for development co-operation (ICCO), the Evangelischer Entwicklingsdienst (EED), UNICEF, the German NGO Freidrich Ebert Stuftung, CITYNET, the Australian Government, Red Mujer y Habitat America Latina, and Plan International.
Representatives also saw photography exhibition showing how women perceive and experience public spaces in cities.
Public transport and public toilets are two major spaces where girls and women face harassment throughout the world. The issues of women's safety and security in urban spaces are closely linked to their accessibility to basic services and the quality of governance at local, regional and national levels. These were some of the findings that emerged from a series of workshops.
The intense deliberations at the conference led to the Delhi Declaration which affirmed the commitment of the delegates and organisations across the spectrum to make cities safe, inclusive and free from violence.
Ms. Gebre-Egziabher, used the occasion to launch UN-HABITAT's Urban Safety on-line Toolkit for the Asia Pacific. The toolkit was inspired by the findings from sub-regional studies on urban safety and poverty in the region.
Carolyn Whitzman, Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne presented the on-line toolkit which can be viewed on http://www.unhabitat.org/urbansafetytoolkit/toolkit.htm