Remarks by Inés Alberdi at the Launch of the Global Safe Cities Programme

By Inés Alberdi, Executive Director, UNIFEM (part of UN Women)

Date: 22 November 2010

Occasion: Launch of the Global Safe Cities Programme, New Delhi, 22 November 2010

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Thank you and welcome. I first want to acknowledge our distinguished guests, including Prof. Kiran Walia, Delhi Government Minister of Health, Women & Child Welfare; Cairo government representative Dr. Fahima El Shahed; and Nilka Perez, Municipality of Quito, whose cities have also been selected for this programme; as well as our key partners, including the Global Director of UN-Habitat, Mr. Axumite Gebre-Egziabher, and Olenka Ochoa of the Huairou Commission; and the Government of Spain, whose support made possible the evolution of this Programme from local to global. In addition, I wish to warmly thank our host this evening — Anne Stenhammer, UNIFEM Regional Programme Director for South Asia.

Today, more than 50 percent of the world’s population lives in cities, about 3.4 billion people. Today’s cities are marked by wealthy developments alongside abandoned neighbourhoods and desolate public spaces. Many of the world’s urban dwellers, including the vast majority of the 1 billion slum dwellers, live in developing countries. According to UN Habitat, 60 percent of them have been victims of crime over the last five years.

For women and girls, violence or the threat of violence is a daily feature of urban life. Whether on city streets or public transport, in marketplaces or their own neighbourhoods, they are subject to abuse ranging from sexual harassment to sexual assault and rape — limiting their rights to education, work, recreation and participation in public life. This is particularly true for adolescent girls, who are largely unseen by public authorities and find it even harder to access services. Yet while gender-based violence in the private domain is increasingly recognized as a human rights issue, violence against women in public spaces remains unaddressed.

This is because in all countries, women still lag behind in political participation and decision-making. Women and girls tolerate sexual harassment and threats of assault because they too often lack the power and voice to contribute and participate equally in planning and decision making at policy and community levels. True democratic governance needs to be inclusive, of women and girls, men and boys from all walks of life.

As I said this morning, for UNIFEM, Global Safe Cities is a Programme whose time has come. It builds on the innovative initiatives of women’s groups, networks and local governments worldwide. It is also inspired by the work of NGOs in Latin America under a grant of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women that first spurred a multi-city initiative in Latin America and the Caribbean and has now gone global.

What distinguishes the five cities participating in this Programme — including Cairo, Kigali, Quito, Port Moresby and New Delhi — is that they combine a number of elements we considered necessary for success. They all have high level support from their governments and have built multiple level partnerships — with city authorities, urban planners, civil society groups and experts in combating sexual violence in public spaces. New Delhi in particular has been active in partnership-building, understanding the need to work on multiple fronts — ranging from installing streetlights and designing safer spaces, to training police and transport personnel, to engaging men and boys to prevent violence from occurring in the first place to adopting the new policies that would support these approaches.

The five cities have all committed to undertaking rigorous impact evaluation, in an initiative designed to create and test a model with the potential for replication nationally and globally. A key objective of this meeting today is to provide a forum for cross-regional learning, helping city participants to learn from each other and inspire cities around the world. In helping to ensure women’s safety in cities they will contribute to the growing momentum to end violence against women worldwide.

In closing, let me say that with this launch in New Delhi, and in the other cities taking part in this endeavor, Safe Cities becomes an initiative of UN Women — the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women — forming part of a global vision for gender equality and women’s rights worldwide.