I was recently asked this question: How do we ensure that cities and human settlements are effectively inclusive and safe?
For me, the answer is obvious: we need to view cities through the lens of women and girls. If we’re talking about the Sustainable Development Goals, SDG 11 explicitly refers to making cities inclusive, safe, resilient, sustainable. This can ONLY be done by viewing cities through the lens of women. If a city is safe for women and girls, it will be safe for all.
In fact, we know that gender equality and women’s empowerment are intended to be applied across all 17 goals. Goal 5 is explicitly focused on women and girls, but equality is also prerequisite to achieving all other goals. Women’s rights are the barometer by which all SDGs must be assessed. That’s how we’ll know if what we’re doing is actually working!
By 2030, the majority of the world will occupy cities. This is true for the Arab region as well – we’re becoming increasingly urban. This creates opportunities for women for economic opportunity, income, independence, mobility, autonomy. But – women and girls are not fully benefiting from opportunities that urban spaces provide. And – vulnerable women and girls – lower-income, refugee, displaced, disabled, minority, etc. – are even farther from equality in terms of benefiting from city life. More than 50% of urban women and girls in developing countries live without at least one: access to clean water; improved sanitation facilities; durable housing; sufficient living area.
Feelings of insecurity in cities do not stem from crime and violence alone – we need to examine insecurity through women and girls – including social, economic, cultural, domestic issues. We need to recognize the risks for women if cities are NOT safe. This means paying attention to things like what prevents women and girls from moving around freely. Most of the time, this is about violence against women. Even the FEAR of violence restricts women’s mobility, reduces their space, curbs their freedom.
Urban conflicts and criminal activity still affect women differently – they may be targets as an affront to men of the opposing group. Poverty and inequality increases exposure to insecurity and the risk of experiencing violence. Insecurity increases isolation for women, weakening their social networks, decreasing their mobility, and therefore reducing the possibility that they can access support.
In terms of support and services, this needs to exist, and be of good quality. And women need access to this support. This means affordable transportation, contextual and culturally-appropriate services, language, and much more.
Urban housing presents risks for women, rendering them more vulnerable to risk. Further, examining all this through an intersectional lens reveals that racism and other forms of discrimination compound women’s risks. Marginalized and vulnerable groups – migrants, refugees, ethnic or religious minorities, women with disabilities, adolescent girls, elderly women – all risk being left behind if they are not specifically taken into account.
In short, a city that is unsafe for women is unsafe for everyone…