She Can: Addressing violence against women in urban contexts

The impact of our work on women's and girls’ safety

  • 75,361 women and girls are now actively involved in demanding safer cities
  • 101 community watch groups meet regularly to discuss and tackle gender-based violence (GBV)
  • 1334 local public service providers have been trained on how to deliver gender responsive public services
  • 70 public campaigns on safe cities were launched with outreach to over 100,000 people.

For more details you can read the project midterm review, published in March 2017, and our endline evaluation report, published in April 2018.

Our approach to addressing violence against women (VAWG) in urban areas

The She Can project’s global Theory of Change draws on ActionAid’s Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) that emphasises individual and collective action and works through the inter-linked components of empowerment, solidarity and campaigns.

  1. Empowerment: Supporting women and girls to understand their rights and know how to take actions to enhance their safety and access to justice.
  2. Solidarity: Mobilising women’s and girls’ networks and coalitions and supporting them to actively lead local and national solidarity movements to demand an end to violence against women and girls (VAWG).
  3. Campaigns: Campaigning for safe cities to generate discussion and mobilise public support for greater respect for women’s and girl's rights.

Read on for more detail on how we approached these three areas.

1) Empowerment

The She Can project puts women and girls and the realisation of their rights at the centre of interventions.

Through the project we have trained 3,425 women and girls on their right to live free from the fear of violence, and to raise their awareness of referral pathways for VAWG reporting.

  • In Bangladesh, 17 Community Watch Groups across slums in Dhaka and Gazipur undertook weekly safety consultation meetings with their communities. Through 20 girls’ clubs in Kenya, 600 girls have been trained and empowered to lead as peer-educators in their schools and communities on school related sexual and gender based violence.
  • In Myanmar, we trained 299 community paralegals who have provided survivor referral support, spearheaded safety mapping exercises, and lobbied local duty bearers to respond to emerging needs.
  • In Zimbabwe, we trained 156 community members who established 32 Reflection Action Groups to address VAWG and advocate for gender responsive public services to duty bearers.

Ma Ni Ni Win successfully lobbied local authorities to respond to VAWG

Ma Ni Ni Win is a paralegal in Dala Township, in Yangon, Myanmar.

After the paralegal training, I understood more about the work of government services and its weaknesses. The lack of services in Dala township are particularly bad, such as the lack of lighting, police patrol and transportation.

As well as providing direct support to survivors of violence to access services, Ma Ni Ni has been working to prevent violence. She successfully lobbied her local parliamentarian to establish better lighting in Dala, where harassment and sexual assault levels were high in areas with no street lights, and consequently crime rates in the area have reduced.

“Becoming a paralegal has given me authority in my community. Previously I could get no attention from duty bearers in my area, but now they assist me whenever they can. I also became more confident and learned how to communicate with people from different backgrounds.

"Initially my husband wanted me to stay at home, but after seeing my success as a paralegal I have the support of him and my family. Despite the problems we face, I won’t give up and will fight for the justice for women in Dala.”

Hle Hle Yee, 29, (far right) attended an ActionAid women's empowerment course. She was inspired to resign from her job in a private law firm and start a free legal advice clinic for survivors of violence, and has been a partner of the She Can project


2) Solidarity 

Building solidarity has been a key pillar of the She Can project’s transformative change agenda. Empowered community members have liaised with other like-minded groups and individuals to form coalitions to lobby duty bearers to design and implement safe and quality gender responsive public services.

  • In Bangladesh 47 engagements were facilitated between women's and girls' coalitions, policy makers and service providers, through which policies and budgets were reviewed for their gender responsiveness using budget monitoring and score cards.
  • In Kenya 76 public administrators were trained in Quality Gender Responsive Public Service (GRPS) design and delivery, and 26 stakeholders were trained on laws and policies on VAWG. In Myanmar 16 coalition groups with local rights based organisations have been established.
  • In Zimbabwe, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Gender and Transport was engaged by the national Safe Cities Campaign Network with the purpose of advocating for safe and gender responsive public transportation. Read a success story of women advocating for GRPS in the town of Chitungwiza: 'Woman speaks out on gender responsive public service'.

Women from ActionAid's partner organisation, Sauti, pose for a photo in a slum in Mombasa, Kenya

Alice Whitby/ActionAid

Sauti ya Wanawake Kisauni lead solidarity efforts on VAWG

The availability of drugs combined with high youth unemployment has increased threats of VAWG in Ziwa la Ng’ombe, Kisauni sub-County, Mombasa. In partnership with local organisation Sauti ya Wanawake, ActionAid established safe spaces in the community so that women felt empowered to discuss their experiences.

The Sauti Kisauni chapter has been instrumental in adopting a multi sectorial approach and has engaged various government and non-governmental organisations in providing psychosocial support, medical and legal support to survivors, including in cases of child related violence.

The group has worked with Sauti women, local leaders, police, and other stakeholder groups to address emerging threats to women's and girls’ safety, drug use and crime.

“It’s a process, but we are determined to help keep our children and us safe,” says Elizabeth Misigo, a member of the GBV working group and Chairperson Sauti ya Wanawake Kisauni chapter.

3) Campaigns

Public campaigns on safe cities at the local and national level have been crucial in raising public awareness on the safety experiences of women and girls, as well as have provided a solid platform for advocacy.

  • In Bangladesh, 14 public campaigns on safe cities were held.
  • In Kenya, ActionAid and implementing partners reached 13,000 community members in safe cities public campaign events using various media and social media platforms, dissemination of IEC materials and through events such as the girls and boys school debates, community sports days, and community festivals.
  • In Myanmar, seven regional and seven community level campaigns on public awareness raising were held which received wide media coverage.
  • In Zimbabwe, public campaign events targeting various stakeholder groups were held, including commuter omnibus “Kombi” dialogues, market place dialogue, clean-up campaigns, male engagement campaigns and roadshows. In December 2016, 157 commuter omnibuses in the town of Chitungwiza participated in the awareness campaign. See an article on the omnibus awareness campaign here: Commuter operators in campaign on violence against women.

Sabita Rani leading a training session on women’s leadership in Southern Bangladesh - one of the most disaster-prone areas in the world

Turjoy Chowdhury/ActionAid

Community fights back against rape in Bangladesh

Nipa was 13 years old when she was raped in 2015 by her 48-year-old neighbour while she went to a local shop to buy eggs. The local Community Watch Group was alerted of the incident and took immediate action.

Their first priority was to support the survivor and her family. The survivor was taken to a one-stop crisis centre for medical treatment and psychosocial support. Angered by the incident, the local community caught the perpetrator and handed him to the police for due process.

In support with the survivor’s family, the local She Can Community Watch Group and community organised a street campaign to ensure the perpetrator was punished and justice for the survivor was delivered.

Approximately 150 people participated, including Nipa’s classmates, teachers, school principal, local child protection civil society organisations, ward councilors, and lawyers.

The perpetrator was awarded a prison sentence, and Bangladesh’s social welfare department supported Nipa’s recovery, including all costs associated with support services.

What we’ve learnt: What works in addressing violence against women and girls?

Learning has been a major component of this project as we have sought to build on our understanding of addressing violence against women and girls in urban spaces. Learning workshops, webinars, review meetings and evaluations have all helped us develop the She Can learning brief which highlights six key areas of learning:

  1. The most effective interventions are localised, context-specific and driven by women and girls
  2. Community volunteers and human rights defenders are amongst the most effective agents of change, but their needs also need to be considered
  3. Addressing issues of violence in public spaces in this way also impacts on, and is impacted by, other issues such as Intimate Partner Violence, drug and alcohol abuse, unpaid care work, economic empowerment and political participation
  4. The importance of institutional uptake and working with local government and service providers to deliver gender responsive VAWG services
  5. The power of mass campaigning and how we can work with the media and local women’s rights networks
  6. Effective approaches to measure change in violence in urban spaces

For more details our She Can Learning Brief will be available here in January 2018.

Thank you

None of this would have been possible without the generous donations from our incredible supporters – which were doubled by DfID's Aid Match initiative – and also the amazing local ActionAid staff, partners, volunteers and communities in Bangladesh, Kenya, Myanmar and Zimbabwe. So we'd like to say a huge thank you to everyone.

We are really proud of what we achieved together and look forward to building on this going forward, to end violence against women and girls, for good.

Pauline, 18, at school in Kenya. Pauline lives on a dumpsite, and has experienced boys threatening to rape her, but the installation of lights in her area help her feel more safe. Jennifer Huxta/Actionaid

Page updated 26 February 2021