Creating safe public spaces

The Issue

Sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence in public spaces are an everyday occurrence for women and girls around the world—in urban and rural areas, in developed and developing countries.

Women and girls experience and fear various types of sexual violence in public spaces, from unwanted sexual remarks and touching to rape and femicide. It happens on streets, in and around public transportation, schools and workplaces, in public sanitation facilities, water and food distribution sites and parks.

This reality reduces women’s and girls’ freedom of movement. It reduces their ability to participate in school, work and public life. It limits their access to essential services and their enjoyment of cultural and recreational opportunities. It also negatively impacts their health and well-being.

Although violence in the private domain is now widely recognised as a human rights violation, violence against women and girls, especially sexual harassment in public spaces, remains a largely neglected issue, with few laws or policies in place to prevent and address it.


UN Women’s Solutions

UN Women’s Global Flagship Initiative, “Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces,” builds on its “Safe Cities Free of Violence against Women and Girls” Global Programme, launched in November 2010, with leading women’s organisations, UN agencies, and more than 70 global and local partners. It is the first-ever global programme that develops, implements, and evaluates tools, policies and comprehensive approaches on the prevention of and response to sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls across different settings.

It began with founding programmes in Quito, Ecuador; Cairo, Egypt; New Delhi, India; Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea; and Kigali, Rwanda, and now spans more than 20 cities.

UN Women’s Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces Global Initiative continues to generate a number of innovative results through partnerships with mayors’ offices, national governments, women’s groups and other community partners.

The municipality of Quito, for example, has amended a local ordinance to strengthen action against sexual harassment in public spaces.

In Cairo, Egypt’s Ministry of Housing, Utilities and Urban Development adopted women’s safety audits to guide urban planning, and more than 100 youth agents of change (50 per cent young men and 50 per cent young women) have been engaged and are leading transformative activities in schools and other settings in the programme intervention sites to promote respectful gender relationships, gender equality, and safety in public spaces.

Port Moresby’s National Capital District has taken steps to improve women’s safety in local markets, including budget allocations which ensure that the needs of women and men are taken into account across different municipal departments.