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Women and the City II: Combating violence against women and girls in urban public spaces - the role of public services

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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 spaces’ is 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.