Safe Cities
General Guidance
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Make sure that public sector/government entities prioritize gender equality and violence against women in policies and programmes

Last edited: December 03, 2010

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The availability of programmes and services that prioritize gender equality can ensure that women are not exposed to violence in their lives. These kinds of policies are designed especially so that women and men have equal access to public goods. Some programmes and policies are aimed specifically at combating sources of gender inequality, such as violence against women. Urban planners, designers, architects and engineers often have a great deal of influence over policies and programmes which affect women’s and girls’ safety. For example, policies related to housing can have a serious effect on whether or not women and girls are safe in their communities. A recent study on Argentina, Brazil and Colombia has shown that housing policies can have an impact on the safety of women who are facing domestic abuse – in cities where affordable housing is rare or non-existent, many women who are economically dependent on their abusers feel they cannot leave the relationship because they do not have any realistic options for housing (COHRE, 2010, 5). The same study noted that women can feel unsafe in their community simply due to the fact that they are single – a fact that highlights that no policy or programme can work in isolation with larger social change,

“In Colombia, women also recounted that the insecurity of their neighborhoods was part of the equation for women when deciding to stay in a violent relationship, as single women were not well regarded in their communities, and at the same time were more prone to attacks by strangers, especially sexual assault. This reality of insecurity and vulnerability to violence within the community forced women essentially to have to choose between maintaining their violent relationship or suffering the consequences of being a woman alone in their homes” (COHRE, 2010, 6).

More information on policies and programmes related to creating safe cities for women and girls is available in the National and Municipal Policies and Laws (LINK HERE).

Allocate resources for safety in public spaces and prevention of sexual harassment and assault of women and girls.

When planning and designing safe public spaces for women it is important to allocate resources specifically for this purpose. When developers and municipal governments provide resources for the creation of safe spaces for women, this sends an important signal to the public that women’s rights to the city and to freedom from gender-based violence are priority issues. Budgets can include money for building new or improving existing public spaces; as well as specifically for developing policies and programmes that address violence against women and girls in public spaces, such as prevention campaigns on sexual harassment in public transportation, or instituting zero tolerance policies and programmes in schools, universities and their vicinities, and so forth.

Gender-responsive budgeting is a particularly useful methodology for encouraging governments to allocate resources for the creation of safe public spaces for women and girls.



Los Presupuestos Sensibles al Género en el Municipio de Villa El Salvador, Peru  [Gender-Sensitive Budgeting in the Municipality of Villa El Salvador, Peru] (UNIFEM, 2001).

This initiative, carried out since 2001 within the framework of the UNIFEM project, “Strengthening Democratic Governance at the Local Level: Gender-Sensitive Budgeting Initiatives in Latin America”, centres on incorporating a gender perspective into municipal plans and budgets in Villa El Salvador. The activities are designed to raise awareness, provide capacity building, and encourage collaboration with other women’s organizations, NGOs, community kitchens, community health workers, among others, in a participatory process. (Presupuesto y Género en América Latina el Caribe, no date). More information is available in Spanish.  


Gender-Responsive Budgeting in Practice: A Training Manual (United Nations Development fund for Women and United Nations Population Fund, 2006). Gender budgeting is a tool used to review and understand government budgets with special consideration for gender. This tool allows women to point out where more public funding is needed to support gender-based initiatives, such as safer cities and communities for women and girls. This manual is a 69-page guide which details how to teach gender budgeting to local women. Available in English, French and Spanish. Also see the UNIFEM Gender-Responsive Budgeting web site for related tools and materials.    

¿Por qué el presupuesto participativo es una herramienta para pensar una ciudad más segura? (How can Participatory Budgeting be used as a Tool for Imagining a Safer City). (2008). This booklet was developed for counselors working on the Participatory Budget of the City of Rosario to raise awareness on resource allocation for gender-sensitive projects. Developed within the framework of the UNIFEM Regional Program "Cities Without Violence against Women, Safe Cities For All", and implemented by the Women and Habitat Network of Latin America. Available in Spanish.


Encourage the adoption of a community safety plan that addresses the needs and rights of women and girls.

Usually, urban planners and urban designers are employed by a city planning department (or a regional planning department in rural areas). This planning department is responsible for setting out the guidelines for the planning and design of public spaces. The planning department is bound by any initiatives or commitments the city makes on increasing gender equality or improving community safety. Safe cities for women programme partners can encourage the creation of safe public spaces for women by demanding that their city planning department adopt a community safety plan that includes the needs and rights of women and girls. Once adopted, all urban planners and designers are obligated to follow these policies while working for the city.

In addition to the community safety plan, all other city plans should have as a stated objective a commitment to community/user involvement, noting that this includes the involvement of women, both as citizens with equal rights to the city and as planning professionals (RTPI, 2007).


Community plans and policies can address community safety by:

  • Establishing criteria and guidelines to ensure that the type and location of development projects promote individual and community safety, and that all such development projects are accessible to all segments of the population.
  • Encouraging partnerships with other departments and levels of government, private sector companies and businesses, and community groups in the provision of facilities and amenities that can foster affordable housing, parks, recreational facilities, day care and other social services.
  • Ensuring that public areas, services and facilities being developed are equally accessible to all population groups. For example, by recognizing that recreation is essential for youth and healthy life styles as well as to support crime prevention, more facilities and programmes can be prioritised in areas where families face affordability and related accessibility issues.
  • Engaging input from specific and diverse population/user groups to ensure adequate representation in decision-making processes.
  • Prohibiting exclusion of certain types of land-uses in by-laws to reduce barriers to provision of essential and other social services such as shelters and transition houses.

From pages 3-27 and 3-28 of Cowichan Women against Violence Society. (2002). Women and Community Safety: A Resource Book on Planning for Safer Communities. Duncan, Canada: Cowichan Women Against Violence Society. Available in English and French.   

Case Study: Gender Audit of Local Planning in Plymouth

The gender audit for the local plan review in Plymouth was the first of its kind in the UK. The audit provided a gender profile for Plymouth, using readily available statistics as well as the findings from a series of consultations with individuals undertaken as part of the 2000 audit. Using this information, the audit demonstrated how this understanding could be used to ‘gender proof’ the development of local policies, specifically, the Planning Strategy for Plymouth. The audit was conducted according to the following steps: 

  1. Creation of a gender profile for Plymouth through analysis of how men and women engage with the city using readily available statistics (e.g. how many public transit users and pedestrians are female vs. male, street crime rates by sex, etc.) and the findings from a series of interviews and consultations.
  2. Development of a Gender Issues Matrix based on the findings, with implications for planning (see table).
  3. Gender-proofing of the Planning Strategy for Plymouth, identifying the gender dimensions of the objectives and some key outputs related to the gender issues identified in the information and data-gathering process.
  4. A survey of planning staff involved to assess Plymouth’s capacity to implement gender proofing, i.e. skills and gaps related to the implementation of the policy.
  5. Recommendations for the development of a gender-sensitive policy.

From page 14 of the National Development Plan (NDP) Gender Equality Unit (2001). Gender Equality in Urban Development. Dublin: NDP. Available in English



Gender Issues Matrix Used in the Plymouth Gender Audit

Planning Policy or Proposal

Relevant Gender specific data

Ongoing community feedback

Gender Implication

Planning Implications

Policy Recommen-dations


Relocate office development beside motorway outside town


60% of office workers are female


80% of public transport users are female, with only 30% of women having potential daytime use of car


Existing complaints about journey times


Lack of support facilities


More children suffering from asthma


Lack of access to new site for those without cars


Reduces female employees job opportunities so affects economic viability of town


New scheme not linked to schools, shops, public transport


Reduces proximity for trip-chaining of journeys, increases time of travelling


Acts as magnet for further decentralisa-tion


Ideally do not proceed with this proposal


If other factors require progression, then improve public transport links and seek to co-ordinate future policy on adjacent location and access to schools, shops, housing, local centres


Implement by means of tariff system and planning agreement


Pedestrianise key central area streets as part of urban design programme


Check gender of pedestrian users, street crime rates and reasons for using these routes


Check feedback on what local people want as well as consultants


Decrease in access, reduction in safety, longer distances to bus stops


Check that scheme meets user needs


Avoid design features that are anti-social such as lumpy paving stones and steps


Specify detailed requirements, possibly back up by revised Central Area Design Guide


Consider allowing cars back in during evenings to increase surveillance and provide better lighting, toilets and bus stops

From page 19 of Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). (2007). Gender and Spatial Planning: RTPI Good Practice Note 7. London: RTPI.  The Plymouth Gender Audit is available in English for purchase.



Case Study: Universal Design Guiding Principles, City of Winnipeg, Canada.

These principles include safety design features for accessibility in the city for all user groups. Each principle is based on the specific needs of different groups, including women.  The Universal Design Guiding Principles are a keystone of Winnipeg’s “Plan Winnipeg 2020” and the “City of Winnipeg’s Universal Design Policy”, passed in 2001. The four guiding principles for universal design – inclusive design, easy and clear design, safe design and comfortable design – aim to ensure the following:

-That all people in a community must be considered and understood when providing an integrated public service. Diverse and inclusive communities are what make us an exciting and vibrant community.

-That providing people with choices that help them use their environment in a functional and respectful way creates an inclusive city.

-That ensuring our environment is easy to navigate and clearly understood creates a welcoming city.

-That safety is integral in an accessible city.

-That Winnipeg is a comfortable place for everyone to live, visit, do business and play in.  

Taken from Universal Design Guiding Principles, City of Winnipeg (January 2006). Planning, Property and Development Department, Planning and Land Use Division. Available in English 


Case Study: El Cabildo de la Red Comunal por la No Violencia, San Pedro de la Paz, Concepción, Chile [The Town Hall Meeting with the Community Network for Non-Violence]  

In 2008, representatives from women’s organizations and civil society groups joined together in San Pedro de la Paz to hold a town hall meeting with local and regional authorities. The meeting was organized by the Community Network for Non-Violence in order to provide a local-level opportunity for citizens to influence public policy. The town hall meeting attempted to link civil society actors with state actors together in analysis and debate on the effectiveness of public policies related to violence against women. The meeting revealed that public policy on gender-based violence was weak and that the state had retreated from the issue. The meeting also revealed that the state was providing little support to civil society groups actively working on gender-based violence. The town hall meeting helped correct these issues by creating the opportunity for face-to-face relationships between representatives from women’s organizations and local authorities.

From  Valdés, X. (2008). “Haciendo frente a la violencia de género: intervenciones desde la sociedad civil”. In Ediciones SUR, 65. Available in Spanish.  



Planning for Safer Communities: A Guide to Planning for Safety of Women and Children in Small and Rural Communities (Cowichan Women Against Violence Society, 1999). Although it is directed at rural and small communities, this guide can be used by cities as well. The guide gives clear instructions for including women’s safety concerns in planning policies. It also outlines the main areas that can be targeted for safety in community plans (fear of crime and violence, limitations to activities, factors that affect safety and sense of safety). In addition, step-by-step suggestions are provided on how each area administered by a community plan can include provisions for safety (i.e. residential areas, industrial areas, etc.). Part one and part two are available in English.  

Re-Moving the Goalposts (Women’s Design Service, 2002). This guide is designed to be a useful working tool for all those involved with regeneration and renewal partnership boards and other decision-making bodies connected with urban regeneration and renewal. It is intended to promote inclusive working practices and encourage the continuing development and practice of processes that harness local skills and knowledge. The guide is primarily based on community research and development work carried out by the Women and Regeneration Project, with local women in three London regeneration areas between 1999 and 2001. It seeks to generate understanding of the barriers faced by the diverse communities of women living in regeneration areas and to suggest ways in which those barriers can be overcome. The guide includes checklists to assess to what extent decision-making bodies are working inclusively. These tools for practical steps towards inclusiveness aim to assist partnerships in their work. The guide is available in English for purchase.

Inclusive Consultations to Increase Women’s Participation Guide in Increasing Women's Participation in Municipal Decision-Making: Strategies for More Inclusive Canadian Communities (Purdon, C., 2004). Federation of Canadian Municipalities: pages 39 – 43. This guide outlines how public bodies and women’s organizations can strategise, act and discuss issues with women in ways that encourage participation. Available in English and French.  

Access Guide in Increasing Women's Participation in Municipal Decision-Making: Strategies for More Inclusive Canadian Communities (Purdon, C., 2004). Federation of Canadian Municipalities: page 21. Through worksheets, checklists and examples, this tool outlines how both municipal governments and women’s organizations can work to increase women’s participation in public decision- and policy-making processes. This guide can be used to work with governments on safe cities programming.  Available in English and French.


Make sure all professional urban planners and designers are aware of women’s safety needs.

It is important that all actors involved in community planning and design are trained on the gendered nature of public services and spaces, and on women’s and men’s different experiences of the city and their different needs. This is a necessary prerequisite to creating safe cities and communities for women and girls. This kind of training will avert the tendency to plan and design public spaces from a solely male or “gender neutral” point of view. For more information on training professional urban planners and designers about safe cities for women, see the capacity development section.

The issue of planning toilet facilities (both in homes and in public) is a good example of how women are more insecure due to poor (or non-existent) infrastructure planning than men. In informal settlements and slums in Nairobi, Kenya, lack of access to toilet facilities is a pressing issue for women and girls,

“Women and girls living in these informal settlements are particularly affected by lack of adequate access to sanitation facilities for toilets and bathing. Not only do women have different physical needs from men, (for example, related to menstruation) but they also have greater need of privacy when using toilets and when bathing. Inadequate and inaccessible toilets and bathrooms, as well as the general lack of effective policing and insecurity, make women even more vulnerable to rape and other forms of gender-based violence” (Amnesty International, 2010, 5).

Watch the Kenya Television Network (KTN) video report.  


Case Study: Gender-Sensitive Housing Design. Frauen-Werk-Stadt, Vienna.  

This pilot housing project in Vienna aimed to increase the participation of women experts in planning and construction projects. At the same time, the project also aimed to draw attention to women’s housing needs. The Frauenbüro in Vienna launched this project in 1993 with an architectural competition. Project submissions were assessed according to how well their design incorporated women’s needs. The jury was composed mainly of women architects and landscape architects. The housing that was created on the site in 1997 was based on the winning entry and built according to gender-sensitive guidelines. As a result of the experience, a guide was published which outlinies criteria for creating housing projects adapted to women’s needs and everyday life (‘Guidelines for a safer city’). The planning principles outlined are intended to be transferable, with the aim of increasing the consideration of women’s everyday requirements into planning. From page 13 National Development Plan (NDP) Gender Equality Unit (2001). Gender Equality in Urban Development. Dublin: NDP. Available online in English.  More information is available via the UNESCO website.


Key components of the design include the following:

  • Links are made between the interior and exterior of the building, between flat spaces, staircases, garden-type courtyards, squares, and streets.
  • Often neglected arrangements such as rooms to store bicycles and strollers are located in easily accessible areas on the ground floor while laundry rooms are on the roof and are combined with a common roof terrace.
  • Social space is created—on average there are only four units per storey in order to avoid anonymity and to encourage community development.
  • Staircases are transparent and well-lit to address safety and security issues. In addition, the staircases are designed as pleasant places where tenants can spend time and communicate with each other.
  • Attention is given to the kitchens as a central place for families. They are large, with natural light, and face the courtyards or street.
  • Almost all flats are equipped with some individual outdoor space.

List taken directly from page 22 of Design Consideration in Developing Alternative Housing: A City of Toronto User Guide. Levitt Goodman Architects Ltd., Gloria Gallant, Joyce Brown and Sheila Miller. Available in English.



“Getting More Women into the Field Operations” list in Politics of the Possible: Gender Mainstreaming and Organizational Change: Experiences from the Field. (Mukhopadhyay, M., G. Steehouwer and F. Wong, 2006). Oxfam and KIT-Royal Tropical Institute: page 89. This list provides extensive examples of ways in which different organizations have made their operations more woman-considerate. This list can be provided to planners to help them include more women staff (and more women’s opinions. Available in English.

The London Women and Planning Forum. The Forum is an information network for planning officers, architects, academics, students and community and voluntary organizations involved with urban environment and gender equality issues. It aims to change and improve the position of women in relation to planning issues; to provide a productive opportunity to share experiences of problems and difficulties encountered by women in the field; and to promote feminist thinking in planning organizations and urban studies. From London Women and Planning Forum (LWPF). (no date). LWPF Background in London Women and Planning Forum. Available in English

Gendersite: Gender and the Built Environment Database (Women’s Design Service; Queen Mary, University of London and UrbanBuzz 2008) . This online resource site was created to help decision-makers, architects, academics and planners develop deeper understanding of gender issues and the built environment. The site contains international case studies and a searchable database of resources (books, journal articles, theses) on gender, gender equality, and the built environment. Available in English.