Safe Cities
General Guidance
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Why focus on safe cities and communities for women and girls?

Last edited: October 30, 2010

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Women and girls experience situations of violence that are different from those experienced by men. Violence that is inflicted against women and girls because of their gender is one of the worst discriminations that they suffer. This discrimination is a consequence of a patriarchal culture based on unequal relations of power between men and women. Women and girls are sexually harassed, in streets, in parks and plazas, in schools, in work places, and while using public transportation. Women and girls are also continuously exposed to abuse and rape in all different kinds of environments.  The omnipresent violence against women and girls adds to women and girls’ fears of being victims of crimes like robbery and other types of assaults. For example, in Montreal, Canada, an opinion poll in 2000 revealed that nearly 60% of women are afraid of walking alone in their neighbourhood at night as opposed to only 17% of men (Michaud, 2003). In Argentina in 2002, of the total reported crimes against sexual integrity and honour (rapes, crimes against honour, other crimes against sexual integrity), 83% of the victims (7.742) were women (CISCSA, 2005). Sexual abuse is the main cause of fear among women in cities. As a result of this reality, studies show that women change their routines more often than men. For example, women tend to stop going out alone after dark while men do not. Thus, women and girls feel and perceive safety and insecurity differently than men and boys.


Making cities and communities safe for women and girls can expand their full social, economic, cultural and political participation as equal citizens. Cities and communities that are safe and free from violence against women help to create equal opportunities for men and women. When they are safe and comfortable, public spaces in cities and communities offer countless possibilities for the participation of women and girls in the areas of work, education, politics, and recreation. The creation of safe cities and communities for women and girls depends on the elimination of the violence and insecurity that prevent women and girls from using public spaces freely as citizens with equal human rights to opportunity and safety.


Insecurity and the perception of insecurity impede women and girls from fully using and enjoying the city and lead to unfair assumptions about women. When women and girls perceive that their environment is threatening, they are limited in their use and enjoyment of public spaces because they avoid places that make them feel unsafe (Viswanath and Mehrotra, 2007).As a result, streets, squares, parks, and neighbourhoods are often used more by men and boys than by women and girls. This reality contributes to unfair assumptions that women and girls should always be afraid and they are treated as “weak”, “helpless”, and “vulnerable”. This makes women and girls victims of fear, as well as victims of violence (Falú, 2007). Despite many protocols, policies and increased global awareness about violence against women and girls, these forms of violence and their effects remain underestimated and are not sufficiently taken into account by governments and civil society. Also, to date, violence against women is not generally considered to be a component of urban violence. This means that programmes which are designed to eradicate urban violence fail to address violence against women.


When the root causes of violence are prevented or diminished, related issues can be also prevented or eliminated and cities can be made safer for all. Positive effects of safe cities and communities programmes include:


  • Improved recognition of the rights of women and girls
  • Increased  women’s independence
  • Increased women’s participation in democratic life
  • Widespread recognition of the fact that unequal relations of power between men and women are a main cause and consequence of violence against women.
  • Widespread recognition of the fact that violence against women is an obstacle for the development of cities and communities
  • Increased public understanding of how violence in public spaces and violence in private settings are connected
  • Widespread recognition and assessment of the impact of violence against women and girls in cities, including its economic costs.  For instance, each year, cities spend millions of dollars in police, health and victim services related to women’s experiences and fear of violence in public space.
  • Consideration of the different needs of other marginalized groups, such as indigenous peoples, migrants, ethno-cultural communities, women with disabilities, adolescent girls, the elderly, and others.