Horrific acts of violence against women and girls go hand in hand with the expanding cities, home to around half of the world's population. The innovative Safe Cities Program has been launched by UNIFEM, testing strategies to counter epidemic gender-based crime rates.
Violence rates against women and girls have reached epidemic proportions in the cities of the world, where an estimated 3.4 billion people live - half the world's population. Strategies to combat crime are often generic and very rarely take into account special measures to protect women and girls - the main victims.
Following the idea that "Cities that are safe for women and girls are safe for all", UNIFEM, (the United Nations Women's Organization, part of UN Women) is launching its innovative Global Safe Cities Free of Violence Against Women and Girls Program, which it describes as "a cross-regional initiative dedicated to making cities safer for them, while improving the quality of life for all city dwellers".
Inés Alberdi, UNIFEM Executive Director, declares "Every day, women and adolescent girls face sexual harassment and violence as they go about their daily routines - whether on city streets, on buses and trains, or in their own neighborhoods. This limits their freedom and rights to education, work, recreation and participation in political life". She added that while domestic violence is regarded more and more as a human rights issue, violence against women in the public domain often remains neglected.
The Safe Cities Program was launched yesterday at the Third International Conference on Women's Safety in new Delhi, India, one of the five cities chosen for the pilot program, along with Quito (Ecuador), Cairo (Egypt), Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea) and Kigali (Rwanda).
The program will be launched separately in each of the five cities, where hundreds of people gathered to welcome the initiative and to light candles of hope, symbolising the end of impunity and the beginning of a sustained campaign against gender-based violence and harassment.
UNIFEM explains that "The Safe Cities program was inspired by a successful UNIFEM initiative in Latin America, which began with an experimental grant from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women in 2004". The projects launched in seven countries "raised a much higher level of awareness of urban violence against women and girls and generated knowledge on how to stop it".
The projects encouraged municipalities to take concrete measures against gender-based violence, including improved street lighting in strategic places and to launch new safety programs aimed at protecting women and girls. Fresh measures under the global scheme, according to UNIFEM, could include stronger laws and policies against violence in public places; better training for urban planners and audits to check the implementation of policies; media campaigns on zero tolerance for gender-based violence; public awareness programs among members of both sexes; budget reviews to free adequate resources and the focus on collection of reliable data.
In the five cities where the program is being launched, the local authorities are providing strong support, while civil society groups have been engaged and partnerships have been formed with agencies involved in stopping violence against women and girls.
How can mankind call itself civilised or claim to have reached a civilised state when there exists discrimination against the defenceless? Or do we agree that the law of the jungle rules?
Photo credit: CEDAW for Jamaicans