Background to the Safe Cities for Women campaign

We want to make cities safe for women because the city belongs to everyone. It’s everyone’s right to the city. To live in, move around and enjoy their city without the constant fear of harassment and abuse that millions of women experience each day. For women who are poor, the opportunities they find in cities would have seemed impossible to generations before them. Yet for many of them, the reality of urban living is harsh, dangerous and demeaning.

About 3.5 billion now live in ever-growing cities and towns, and many are women. In rented rooms in slum communities, so many women rely on public toilets or open defecation and unsafe public baths where they risk getting molested. Inside factories, they face sexual harassment and violence from supervisors. On their way to and from work in unlit streets, they can be ambushed and gang-raped. Traveling on overcrowded buses and trains, they are groped. Going to and from schools and universities, they are pestered, harassed, or attacked. Even their own teachers may demand sexual favours in exchange for grades. This is unacceptable!

Since 2011, ActionAid have been working in communities to demand safe cities for women. And in May 2015, we launched a glbal campaign in 17 countries around the world to promote actions towards an end on violence against women in public spaces and to promote Safe Cities for Women.

The problem

Women in cities everywhere are often held back because they fear and experience rape, assault and sexual harassment when moving around, accessing education and health services and going to work. Many women living in poverty are unable to enjoy their right to the city and have little opportunity to make their voices heard or change their situation.

If women report sexual abuse to the police, they can face ridicule and blame for what they’re wearing or for being out at night. Even their families respond to their experiences and fear by telling them not to go out alone and not to go out. The media often blame survivors of sexual violence for being in the ‘wrong place at the wrong time’. And, perhaps worse, families of rape survivors often decide not to report the crime for fear that the families’ reputation might be tarnished, or because they have no faith that the police and courts will bring them any justice.

Impunity – as offenders continue to go unpunished – keeps these sexually-motivated crimes happening. Women’s lives are blighted by these crimes. Their fear of them is an everyday reality, a ‘normal’ part of their daily lives. This must change.

We are campaigning to change deeply embedded sexist attitudes, and to make governments and businesses, leaders and individuals act now to:

  • End sexual violence against women in cities
  • End impunity of sex attackers
  • Provide safe and gender-responsive public services
  • Build cities that are planned also by women and address the strategic and practical needs of women

What we want

  • We want to government, local authorities and public service providers to deliver equitable, affordable, accessible, quality gender responsive public services, recognising them as central to gender equality and guaranteeing women’s right to the city –including in ending violence against women in public and urban spaces
  • We want government to enact or review and implement laws, policies and adequately funded national action plans so that they address violence against women and girls in a comprehensive manner and build inclusive monitoring, transparency and accountability systems
  • We want governments to provide increased and accountable financing and set up accessible resource mobilization systems to strengthen women’s diverse organizing and collective action together with other movements (such as urban and youth) and civil society, from local to global level, so that women directly influence and monitor the advancement of their rights
  • We want women participating in the urban planning and design of their cities
  • We want city governments to lead public education campaigns to challenge sexism and patriarchy and to act against these attitudes and practices within government institutions and agencies, especially the police.
  • And we want individuals everywhere, women and men, young and old, to use their voices to call for an end to sexual harassment and abuse against women, and make our cities safe, secure and inclusive places for women to live in.