City councils gather in Nairobi to learn from innovative experiences for making cities safer

Date : 08 May 2012

Municipal authorities from eight cities around the world meet in Nairobi this week to advance work to develop their concrete programmes to make cities safer and more sustainable, with a special focus on women, young people and children.

The meeting is hosted by UN Habitat, which together with UNICEF and UN Women lead the five-year programme “Safe and Friendly Cities for All, which aims to make public spaces safer, and more accessible for women, youth and children in local neighborhoods of 8 pilot cities: Beirut, Lebanon; Dushanbe, Tajikistan; Manila, the Philippines; Marrakesh, Morocco; Nairobi, Kenya; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; San Jose, Costa Rica, and Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

At the opening of the workshop, it was noted that “for the first time in history, more people are living in cities than not. Cities have the potential to make countries dynamic and prosper. The challenges of poverty, inequality, insecurity, declining environmental health, and climate change - all have a bearing to the safety of cities free from crime and violence which can be addressed through proactive urban planning and management, good governance and urban legislation.

Experts at the opening sessions shared two success stories. The Municipality of Quito which recently expanded the scope of the City Ordinance on gender-based violence by integrating sexual harassment in public spaces, and Quezon City, Metro Manila, where Gender and Development Codes as well as Local Children's Codes that localized the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against (CEDAW) have been enacted.

In Cairo, Women's Safety Audits have been mainstreamed into the planning processes of the Egyptian Ministry of Housing, Utilities and Urban Development, in Nairobi, young people are mapping their safety concerns, using them to negotiate successfully for increased safe, clean and healthy environments.

Representatives of the cities of Cape Town, Durban, Abidjan and Dhaka currently implementing successful ‘safe cities' initiatives are also taking part in the Nairobi meeting to share their experiences, challenges and solutions.

Municipal authorities from the 8 participating cities in the joint programme gathered in Nairobi to share their experience and learn from these promising and effective approaches as they advance the development of their own comprehensive and results-based initiatives.

Lessons learned so far include:

  • Holistic municipal policies and urban plans that adequately incorporate the needs of women, children and young people - safe streets, access to basic services and true ownership in their communities;
  • It is only when safety is seen as an integral part of the city functioning that there will be an impact in reducing crime and violence; therefore safety needs to be an integral part planning, management and governance of the city;
  • better street lighting, better signs, and cleaner and more women and child friendly public places can reduce and prevent crime and violence and increase a sense of ownership in communities;
  • community-led data collection, including innovative efforts such as mapping through text messaging of unsafe areas and the use of Geographic Information Systems, help local governments and cities to undertake targeted actions that make cities safer;
  • joint safety audits—with local authorities, police, women, and young people—can empower communities through generation of experience-based knowledge to inform policies and practical measures to address them.
  • women- and youth-led Committees to monitor responses to violence and crime, and encouraging greater involvement of female elected officials and urban professionals, produce results.

Scoping Studies conducted in 2011 by UN Women in five major capital cities show that women and girls experience sexual harassment or violence in public spaces on a daily basis with very few tools and resources to address it.

UNICEF's 2012 State of the World Children reveals that hundreds of millions of children and adolescents experience violence on a daily basis; chronic exposure to violence has been linked to high school drop-out rates, depression and hindrances to their development.

The report stresses that violence perpetuates the cycle of poverty, creating barriers to access the most basic of services necessary for women, children and young people to survive.

While the global challenge of urban violence is great, there are solutions, which the cities in this joint programme are unveiling and applying at the local government and community levels.