Women face constant fear of violence in public spaces says ActionAid

New research from ActionAid reveals that poor quality public services are leaving women and girls vulnerable to violence and harassment in public spaces.

The report, Women and the City II: Combating violence against women and girls in urban public spacesis based on research from six cities in Brazil, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia and Nepal. It reveals that women face a constant threat of violence, including rape and sexual harassment, in public spaces, preventing them from living and working in cities without fear of attack.

Lack of access to public services such as transport, street lighting and electricity, along with proper housing and sanitation, were found to make women more vulnerable when moving around the city for work or education. For many women, the pressure to earn money for themselves and to send home to their families leaves them with no option but to accept unsafe conditions when travelling to and from markets or factories.

The report also reveals that inadequate policing places women at greater risk of violence and sexual harassment. In many of the cities, ActionAid found that the police do not patrol the dangerous neighbourhoods where poor people live, with attacks often going unreported. Poor women in particular, reported having to travel long distances to report attacks where they often face police who are unable or unwilling to process their claims.

Ramona Vijeyarasa, ActionAid’s Head of women's rights said:

"The way our cities are designed and how governments decide where to spend public money could mean the difference between fear and violence and safety and opportunities for women. Urban planning must be based on women’s rights and experiences.

"But quality, accessible public services alone are not enough. Efforts to make our cities safer will only work if they help create social and cultural change and challenge tolerance of violence against women."

ActionAid is calling for:

•    Legislation by the state to address all forms of violence against women and girls in public spaces
•    A proper complaints procedure within the justice system, accessible to the poorest and most excluded women
•    Governments to fund essential public services (street lighting, safe public transportation and safe housing) to reduce violence against women
•    Governments to implement public policies on service provision and to ensure that all service providers receive the necessary training to prevent, identify and report harassment and violence against women
•    Women to organise and demand their rights on issues related to their safety, cultures that allow violence to continue and victims to be blamed

ActionAid is working to make cities safe for women and girls through its Safe Cities Initiative, which works with local communities to understand and claim their rights to access and enjoy all that cities have to offer and to change their cities for the better.

>> See some of the women tell their stories

>> Download the full report

Notes to Editors:

Key findings by country:

Brazil: In Recife, government-led evictions for large development projects such as the Port of Suape have led to the eviction of many families from their homes, forcing them onto the streets. Women spoke of the harassment and violence they face in their communities, violence which has been made worse by the presence of drug trafficking and traffickers.

Cambodia: In Phnom Penh, garment workers live in rented rooms at high costs, sharing cramped quarters with very basic facilities near the factories. Mostly migrant workers, many have left their children in their villages to be cared for by elderly parents. Many women work overtime to earn more money and the roads from the factory, which are dark, dirty and muddy, with a lack of police patrols, put the workers at risk of being attacked, abused and robbed by criminal gangs.

Kenya: Women and girls living near and around the dumpsites of Mwakirunge in Mombasa lack access to the most basic services, including water, electricity, healthcare or any forms of security and protection while working at the dumpsites or passing through them. Lack of public services has led to extreme forms of violence, such as young children being sexually harassed and raped and facing the consequences of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies.

Ethiopia: In Addis Ababa, women vendors fear negotiating deserted roads, especially early in the morning or late at night. These women workers lack access to a proper marketplace and sell their goods on the street so are at constant risk of robbery. In Addis Ababa, the police patrol main streets during the day. However, they are not around at night and rarely present in the places where robberies are known to occur. The police do not patrol side streets and dangerous neighbourhoods, or even marketplaces, especially at night. Robbers attack women as they leave for home in the evenings assuming they carry money with them.

Nepal: In Kathmandu, women constantly face various kinds of sexual harassment in public places such as streets, markets, parks, temples, bus stops and on different types of public transport. Harassers are male travellers, as well as drivers and conductors. Although the problem of sexual harassment is widespread, it is not openly acknowledged.

Liberia: In Monrovia, women students are approached for sex in exchange for grades and the atmosphere on campuses does not encourage women to resist or complain. Some students say that campuses lack basic services like toilets and running water for women as well as access for female students to sexual and reproductive health care services.

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