UN Women’s first annual Safe Cities Global Stakeholders Meeting kicks off in Egypt

July 13,2011

UN Women kicked off its first annual stakeholders meeting on July 5th at the Marriott Hotel in Cairo for the Safe Cities Global Programme. This event brings together over 100 participants – from over 12 countries – who are working together to bring an end to sexual harassment and violence against women and girls in public spaces. Over a period of five days, participants from the United Nations, NGOs, civil society, think tanks, law enforcement agencies, grassroots organizations, and public and private institutions will be sharing information and feedback on the design of the Safe Cities pilot project that rolled out in the cities of Cairo, Kigali, New Delhi, Port Moresby and Quito earlier this year.

Every day, women and girls face the threat of sexual harassment and violence in public spaces whether it is on city streets, public transportation, parks, sport facilities or their own neighbourhoods. These threats limit women’s freedom to enjoy urban environments as equal citizens, and to exercise their rights in accessing education, work, recreation, and political participation. Recent studies show that more than 83% of Egyptian women experience sexual harassment on the streets of Cairo (with 62% of men admitting to harassing women); a rape is reported every 29 minutes in New Delhi, India; only 12% of women in Lima, Peru said they felt safe moving around without fear of violence; and in Tokyo, Japan, 64% of young women have been groped when travelling by train.

Unfortunately, such patterns of abuse are tolerated as a regular feature of urban life and few national laws or policies are in place to reduce and, most importantly, prevent these types of violence. This is surprising considering the socio-economic cost that continual harassment and violence against women and girls has on individuals, families and entire communities.

The 2011 – 2015 UN Women Safe Cities Global Programme is a unique initiative that aims to develop models that serve to reduce and prevent sexual violence against women and girls in public spaces. These models can be adapted to fit each local context by local authorities and decision-makers, including women’s grassroots organizations, community groups and other leading national and international networks. Focusing on slum areas and impoverished neighbourhoods, the collective efforts of Safe Cities partners are meant to empower women and their communities in the five pilot cities.

The first day of the Global Stakeholder Meeting was opened by a video address featuring Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women, Ms. Michelle Bachelet, who spoke about the importance of drawing attention to the issue of violence against women in public spaces and how the “integration of gender equality and prevention of violence against women and girls needs to be mainstreamed into national programming.”

Ms. Bachelet’s speech was followed by remarks by Egypt’s UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. James W. Rawley and UN-Habitat Urban Safety Expert, Ms. Cecilia Andersson, who both expressed the need to determine the root causes behind violence against women and girls in public spaces and how advocating for gender equality and the empowerment of women is the responsibility of various actors including national governments, the United Nations system, research and training facilities and civil society partners who work closely on the ground with local communities.

Throughout the remainder of the week participants will take part in panel discussions, technical sessions and detailed group work – facilitated by global experts – where findings from country-specific studies will be shared in order to identify the root causes of sexual violence and harassment in public spaces, and any bottlenecks that act as barriers to achieving progress. Addressing such challenges will allow delegates from Cario, Kigali, New Delhi, Port Moresby and Quito to draft strategies and solutions they can implement in their communities that will help in their efforts to make cities free from violence against women and girls.