Safe Cities for Women and the Rise of the Mainstream Feminist

Friday, January 23, 2015 - 13:57

2014 was undoubtedly the Year of the Feminist. Having worked in women’s rights for a number of years, and having been passionate about them for a good deal more, I’ve felt something change over the past twelve months. Something growing. The cry for women’s equality, and for the freedom to make our own decisions about our bodies, choices and lives has never been this loud, this defiant, in my lifetime.

And it seems unstoppable.

From highlighting the problems (in case it’s not already obvious) to tens of millions through viral videos like the woman in New York who was persistently harassed walking through the streets of her own city, to women in Kenya claiming their right to dress as they please without being subjected to sexual abuse, (with the rather brilliant hashtag #mydressmychoice), the pushback against gender-based violence has become as universal as the problem itself.

We learned that #YesAllWomen experience discrimination and harassment, and we watched as women reclaimed their public spaces in innovative (and pretty damned cool) ways. They were loitering in India, they were openly shaming offenders in Britain and the US, they were boldly protesting injustice offline on the streets and online via social media in unprecedented numbers.

And ActionAid, I’m proud to say, is part of this incredible shift, this powerful movement. Our Safe Cities for Women campaign, happening already in countries across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas, is amplifying the voices of women who are saying openly what every woman knows to be true: Our streets and cities are not as safe for us, by virtue of the fact that we are women. And it’s beyond high time that they were.

This is why ActionAid countries recently joined together for 16 Days of Activism, a global annual event decrying violence against women in all its forms. For ActionAid and our supporters, it was a moment of uniting across borders - women and men, young and old - demanding a better, more equitable experience for all of us living in cities, especially women. Because, while our cities are diverse, each with their own character and culture, the problems women face in moving around them are much the same.

It’s simple (but our supporters around the world are spelling it out anyway):

16 Days of Activism provided our Safe Cities for Women campaign and its supporters around the world with our first opportunity to shout collectively, with one voice, for women’s right to the city. In a dozen countries, we sang, we marched, we danced, we shared stories, we demanded action from those with the power to improve our streets through better infrastructure and public services. Even more importantly, we demanded a broader change in society. Because while blaming survivors who are courageous enough to speak out, and the existence of a global rape culture that protects perpetrators has never been acceptable, it sure as hell isn’t now.

Here’s to shouting even louder and aiming even higher in 2015.

For more information about ActionAid’s Safe Cities for Women campaign, visit www.actionaid.org/safe