Creating Safe Public Spaces

Sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence in public spaces are an everyday occurrence for women and girls around the world—in urban and rural areas, in developed and developing countries.

Women and girls experience and fear various types of sexual violence in public spaces, from sexual harassment to sexual assault including rape and femicide. It happens on streets, public transport and parks, in and around schools and workplaces, in public sanitation facilities and water and food distribution sites, or in their own neighbourhoods.

This reality reduces women’s and girls’ freedom of movement. It reduces their ability to participate in school, work and in public life. It limits their access to essential services, and enjoyment of cultural and recreational opportunities. It also negatively impacts their health and well-being.

Although violence in the private domain is now widely recognized as a human rights violation, violence against women and girls, especially sexual harassment in public spaces, remains a largely neglected issue, with few laws or policies in place to prevent and address it.

Our Solutions

UN Women’s Safe Cities Global Initiative includes two main flagship programmes. In 2010, with UN-Habitat and 50 other global and local partners, we launched “Safe Cities Free of Violence against Women and Girls” in Quito, Ecuador; Cairo, Egypt; New Delhi, India; Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea; and Kigali, Rwanda.It is the first-ever global comparative programme that develops, implements, and evaluates tools, policies and comprehensive approaches on the prevention of, and response to, sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls across different settings.

In 2011, UN Women, UNICEF, and UN-Habitat launched the “Safe and Sustainable Cities for All” joint programme in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; San José, Costa Rica; Tegucigalpa, Honduras; Nairobi, Kenya; Beirut, Lebanon; Marrakesh, Morocco; Manila, Philippines; and Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

UN Women’s Safe Cities Global Initiative has generated a number of innovative results through partnerships with mayors’ offices, national Governments, women’s groups and other community partners. The municipality of Quito, for example, has amended a local ordinance to strengthen action against sexual harassment in public spaces. New Delhi has integrated Safe Cities approaches in social protection schemes, while Egypt’s Ministry of Housing, Utilities and Urban Development adopted women’s safety audits to guide urban planning. Port Moresby’s National Capital District has taken steps to improve women’s safety in local markets.