Safetipin is another mobile app that uses a map-based platform. Originating in Delhi, the app provides an electronic version of the safety audit tool that can be used on a smart phone, and shares information through a map. Safetipin is being used quite extensively in different cities, and is now working with municipalities to help them develop policy responses to the data collected.
The internet is also a useful tool for mobilising women and girls. The “Girls at Dhabas” was initiated by two Pakistani women in an effort to reclaim public spaces in South Asia. They use Facebook, twitter and Tumblr, with the hashtag #GirlsAtDhabas, to share photos of girls at dhabas (roadside tea stalls typically occupied by men), playing cricket in the street, loitering in public places, and generally enjoying public spaces which are stereotypically occupied by men, encouraging other women and girls to do the same.
Urban planning for women’s safety
The women’s safety audit has been an important tool for documenting women’s relationship with the built environment. However, planning for women’s safety also requires good urban governance, with women taking part in neighbourhood and city decision-making processes.
Gender is a cross-cutting issue that touches many areas of municipal planning, so it is important that city plans are gender mainstreamed, rather than considering gender as a secondary issue. Women and girls need to plan with the city and not be planned for. The city of Vienna, Austria is recognised as a model city for incorporating gender mainstreaming in urban planning. In 1991 a group of city planners organised a photography exhibition titled “Who Owns Public Space – Women’s Everyday Life in the City,” depicting women in Vienna. The exhibit received so much media and public attention that politicians have since undertaken over sixty pilot projects and produced many guides on mainstreaming gender in urban planning. Seoul, South Korea is another excellent example of a city that has incorporated gender mainstreaming into their urban policy through a two-track strategy of systemisation of policy measures for women, and in-depth gender analysis.
Improving urban services
Women’s and girl’s safety and inclusion in the city also depends on how well those delivering urban public services are trained on gender issues. In Latin America, the NGO Red Mujer y Habitat is working to strengthen collaboration with the police, providing them with training on gender equality and women’s right to the city, and on dealing with cases of VAWG. As part of Plan International’s Safer Cities for Girls Programme, Women in Cities International (WICI) developed a training module for municipal governments on girls’ safety and inclusion. Adolescent girls who participated in the programme received training on how to engage with municipal stakeholders, not only to share their experiences, but to speak out on the issues most important to them. This two-pronged approach offers both municipal stakeholders and adolescent girls the tools they need to address common challenges together, empowering girls to participate, and teaching the city how to listen and adapt its services.
Concluding thoughts and looking forward
Building on work that began in the 1980s in Canadian cities, it is evident from the above examples of action research and campaigns around the world, that creating safer cities for women has now truly grown into an international movement. There are now several global initiatives aimed at ending VAWG in public spaces, including the UN Women Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces programme, now being implemented in over 20 cities from the global North and South. A diversity of women and girls are at the centre of these efforts.
Today the movement for women and girls safety is strong. It is not only a story about women being protected from violence, but also about the empowerment of women and girls to participate in public life and access urban services. Achieving this demands multi-level, multi-sectorial and multi-stakeholder engagement. We will have to face and overcome new challenges where VAWG is present, since it is often not well studied or understood. VAWG in the context of migration, refugees, climate change and on the internet are some examples. Confronting these challenges as well as the ongoing challenges of making urban public spaces safe for all women and girls requires an intersectional analysis to understand the nuances with which different groups live and experience safety in the city. UN-Habitat has also argued for a more holistic and multi-dimensional approach to urban safety and security enriched through “effective urban planning, design and governance from a gender perspective in cities”.
The concept of women’s safety has expanded from concerns about sexual harassment or assault in public spaces, to being empowered to move about freely and access the city as a right, as well as freedom from poverty, and financial and housing insecurity. Henri Lefebvre and David Harvey’s concept of the “Right to the City,” argues for women to have the right to use the city and to participate in its creation and re-creation, building on the belief that gender equality is a human right.
There is a need for transformative policies at all levels of government, and meaningful implementation on the ground that supports gender equality from an intersectional perspective. This requires continued improvement of data collection, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes to assess impacts, the integration of gender mainstreaming, budgeting at city level, and increased public awareness. It is vital that we create gender inclusive built environments and physical infrastructure, accompanied by urban policies and programmes that create opportunities for women’s meaningful participation in shaping urban governance and development.