Violence is now among the five main causes of death in Latin America and is the principal cause of death in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico and Venezuela. While young men remain the major victims of street violence, the rapid acceleration of criminality and violence in Latin American cities creates a high degree of insecurity for women and girls as well. Women in too many public spaces must fear rape, homicides, kidnapping or sexual harassment. Government protection and prevention policies have not always been adequate to meet these concerns. Many cities lag behind, even on basic safety measures, such as well-lit streets and sufficient policing.
In Rosario, Argentina, and Lima, Peru, two women’s organizations used a UN Trust Fund grant to pilot ways of making cities safer for women. The original project has since been expanded into a regional UNIFEM programme, with activities in Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador. The Peruvian group Flora Tristán and the Argentine organization Centro de Intercambios y Servicios Cono Sur-Argentina (CISCSA) convened focus groups of women to record their experiences. They analysed the prevalence of public violence and identified policy gaps hindering urban safety. In a survey of two districts in Lima, for example, they found that nearly 100 percent of women feel they have the right to move freely without fear of aggression; only 12.5 percent feel this right is actually respected.
In Lima and Rosario, Flora Tristán and CISCSA supported local women’s groups to brief city planners and the media on the issues women face, and to discuss recommendations to improve safety. The city of Rosario, as an initial step, began printing anti-violence messages on pre-paid transportation cards, informing commuters, “Violence against women is a grave violation of human rights.” Municipal plans were revised to include steps to curtail violence, such as better signage and the installation of bus shelters allowing passengers clear visibility of the surrounding area. In Lima, city officials also took immediate action by improving lighting on streets and parks and fencing off empty lots.
As part of the project, CISCSA produced a guide to gender-sensitive municipal planning called Tools for the Promotion of Safe Cities from a Gender Perspective. The first regional compilation of information on urban violence against women in Latin America, the book makes the case that while women in recent decades have moved more firmly into public spaces, these spaces do not yet ensure women’s right to safety. It showcases successful practices from the region and other parts of the world, and offers tools for formulating urban improvement strategies that improve women’s safety.
Some Latin American cities have taken steps in recent years to address the specific types of violence and crime that women and girls face. Sao Paulo, Brazil, sponsors police stations with specially trained female staff. Bogota, Colombia, instituted specific guidelines on dealing with sex crimes. Mexico City has designated separate subway cars for women during rush hours. UNIFEM’s new regional programme, inspired by the Trust Fund pilot, will encourage the continued expansion of strategies like these, promoting public awareness, policy changes and practical strategies that enhance safety and protection for women and girls.
Centro de la Mujer Peruana Flora Tristan (FT), Centro de Intercambios y Servicios Cono Sur-Argentina (CISCSA) received a grant in 2003 from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women for the project titled, "Cities Without Violence for Women: Safe Cities for All”. (Story reprinted from A Life Free of Violence Is Our Right! The UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women.)
(Story Date: 8 March 2007)