Safe Cities
General Guidance
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What inititatives have been developed to date?

Last edited: October 30, 2010

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The concept of safe public spaces for women and girls gained popularity in the 1970s. During that time, groups of North American women organized protest marches against fear and experiences of sexual violence and aggression, demanding that women “take back the night”.  Later, this experience was repeated in other cities, including several in Latin America.  For example, in Colombia, since 1999, the Office of the Mayor of Bogota declared March 8th “Women's Night”.  The objective of these kinds of events is to raise public awareness of and support for women's free and equal use of city spaces at all times.

After the original “Take Back the Night!” marches, articles in professional journals began to interpret fear of crime and violence in public spaces as a barrier to women’s access to urban resources. Since the mid-1980s, European cities have begun to address this issue.  For instance, the Greater London Council, the City of Manchester, the Dutch Housing Ministry, and others have conducted interviews and created guidelines for increasing women’s and girls’ security.  These initiatives have been replicated in Toronto and other North American cities (Sánchez de Madariaga, et al., 2004, 71). Still, the safe cities for women approach is a relatively new area of activism that requires further development of knowledge and experiences. This will allow for the measurement and sharing experiences, initiatives and results from cities and communities all over the world. It is important to note that measuring the results of a safe cities for women and girls programme implies a prolonged process that focuses on the evaluation of objective changes in the everyday life of women and girls with the respect to their use and enjoyment of the city.

UN Women is implementing several programmes on safe cities for women. These programmes are being implemented by women's and feminist organizations and networks in partnership with local governments in different countries throughout the world. In Latin America, the Regional Programme Cities without violence against women, safe cities for all (implemented in Argentina, Colombia, Chile, and recently in Peru, El Salvador and Guatemala, and Brazil), works in many different areas, including knowledge-building and training for governments, civil society, women, young people, police officers and urban planners on safe cities for women. The Regional Programme also works with women’s organizations to develop participatory baseline assessments on the types of violence experienced by women in cities, and on the places where violence occurs, as well as to develop action proposals for improving the urban environment. While being implemented, this programme has been able to ensure the commitment of several government and civil society actors to carry out actions for achieving safe cities for women.  For example, in Chile, an agreement was signed with the Ministry of Housing to incorporate the issue of gender and security in plans for neighbourhood improvement. In Colombia and Argentina, women's organizations developed an agenda for local public officials, which included proposals for improving women’s safety in public spaces. In Rosario, Argentina, a series of campaigns were developed to raise the awareness about the sexual violence women experience while using public transport. Additionally, the Municipal Urban Guard, or municipal police force, was specially trained to help victims of gender-based violence in public spaces. The actions and tools developed within this programme are detailed throughout this module.

Women in Cities International is coordinating the programme Gender Inclusive Cities. Increasing women's safety by identifying and disseminating effective and promising approaches that promote women's equal access to public space. The project is being carried out in four cities around the world - Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Delhi in India, Rosario in Argentina, and Petrozavodsk in Russia. The programme aims to develop a set of actions that help communities understand the factors that cause and lead to gender exclusion. Different methodologies, such as focus groups and women’s safety audits, are used in each city to help women identify the problems they face with regards to their own safety. As a result of their actions within the programme, women are encouraged to engage with different sets of stakeholders including governments, non-profit organizations, citizen groups, and the community in general, in order to design and implement strategies that can bring about significant measureable change in women’s safety and right to the city. In 2010, UNIFEM and UN-HABITAT launched the implementation of a global programme on safe cities for women and girls, which is to carry out strategic safe cities for women actions in different countries worldwide. This programme is being implemented with a very rigorous cross-regional impact evaluation in Cairo, Delhi, Kigali, Quito and Port Moresby.