Safe Cities
General Guidance
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What are some of the challenges?

Last edited: October 30, 2010

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Taking into account all factors that contribute to the insecurity of women and girls

When creating or sustaining a safe city for women, it is easy to overlook some of the many factors that make women and girls feel insecure. Feelings of insecurity in cities and communities do not stem from crime and violence alone. These feelings are related to a mix of social, economic, cultural and domestic issues. For example, “in slums, violence against girls and women are higher than in other parts of the city. The combination of poverty, unemployment, inadequate wages, social exclusion and racism can lead to frustration among men and boys and vulnerability for women and girls, particularly if they are on the street” (Plan International, 2010, 55). A variety of related problems must be addressed to make a city safe for women. These include:

  • Violence against women and girls. Violence against women and girls affects their human rights, freedoms, health and self-esteem, and limits their possibilities and opportunities for improving their lives.  Additionally, violence against women and girls impacts family and social environments, which in turn creates new relationships based on inequality.
  • Criminal activity in general. In cases of home and street robbery, women are often targets.  Female victims of crime generally experience greater violence and sexual abuse than male victims.  Gun-related conflicts, such as confrontations between gangs, violence are exercised against women as an affront against men of the opposing group.
  • Gun-related conflicts, such as confrontations between gangs, violence are exercised against women as an affront against men of the opposing group.
  • Poverty and inequality. For many women, poverty and inequality results in increased exposure to insecurity and the risk of experiencing violence. Moreover, poverty increases women’s isolation, weakening their social networks and thus the support they are able to receive in situations of violence and attacks. For example, on her way to work, a poor woman living in a slum will be obligated to cross many unsafe neighbourhoods without lighting, with minimal upkeep, and with non-existent support services.  This situation exposes her to situations of possible violence that wealthier women are able to avoid. In another example, a woman working on the street in the informal economy will have to move about with small children, use unreliable public transport, and wait in unprotected sites in the early hours of the morning.  In both of these cases, conditions of poverty and inequality make women vulnerable and insecure.
  • Poor quality or non-existent health, police/security, emergency shelter, and/or legal services. Studies have shown that one reason women do not report their experiences of violence is because of a lack of professional support services. Evidence suggests that women do not report their experiences of violence because they cannot access services (eg: due to distance and/or lack of affordable transportation, lack of culturally supportive services, language barriers).
  • Poor quality or non-existent housing. When women are not the owners of their homes or do not have secure possession of their homes, they are less protected when they are victims of family violence.  In general, women tend to keep their children in cases of separation with partners, and fear of losing their home is an obstacle for women who wish to leave abusive partners.
  • Racism and other forms of discrimination. In societies where people are discriminated against because of their race or ethnicity, sexual orientation or age, women are doubly discriminated against because these discriminations are added to gender discrimination.
  • Inaccessible government and decision-making structures.  In societies where it is difficult for citizens to participate in public decisions, and women in particular are excluded, it is unlikely that women’s needs and ideas will be considered. This includes women’s safety needs and ideas about eliminating insecurity.
  • Disorder, vandalism, and other social disturbances. In neighbourhoods where organized crime is active, the poorest women are often recruited into criminal activity or are the victims of greater violence because they are not protected from regular security services.


Gaining government and community support for the creation of safe cities and communities for women and girls

Safe cities for women programmes can only exist and be strengthened if there is support from different levels of government, decision makers, and citizens (Viswanath and Mehrotra, 2008). It can be a daunting task to gain the support of a local government and the community. However, it is important that entire communities are involved in creating safe cities for women and girls.  No one group is responsible for doing it on their own.  For example, if the government officials initiate a safe cities for women programme, they should seek partner input from civil society, and particularly from women's organizations, to know their needs and suggestions for local action.  Conversely, if the initiative comes from civil society, or specifically from women's groups, they will need commitment from different levels of government. This is because government commitment can provide changes in public policy and legislation. This commitment can also secure long-term funding and sustained policy support for safe cities for women programmes.

Some of the areas and actors that have important roles to play in the creation of safe cities for women are:

  • Governments at different levels (local, regional, national)
  • Education (education policies, non-discriminatory curricula)
  • Urban planning (design, regulations, housing, transportation)
  • Health (policies for care of victims, training of professionals to respond to survivors)
  • Justice (access to justice, legislation, specialized courts)
  • Services  (water, sanitation, emergency services, etc)
  • Community organizations
  • Women’s and feminist organizations
  • Youth groups
  • Concerned men’s groups
  • Faith-based groups
  • Human rights organizations
  • Police, community police and other security personnel
  • Private Sector (transportation and construction companies among others)
  • Local residents (ensuring diverse representation - disabled, elderly, young, immigrant, indigenous, gay or lesbian, sex workers and others)
  • Researchers and academics
  • Mass media