Opening remarks of Michelle Bachelet at the 8th Forum of the World Alliance of Cities against Poverty (WACAP) “Smart, Safe and Sustainable Cities”


Opening remarks of Michelle Bachelet at the 8th Forum World Alliance of Cities against Poverty (WACAP) “Smart, Safe and Sustainable Cities”. Dublin, Ireland. 20 February 2013.

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Good morning,

I am happy to join you here in Dublin for the 8th Forum of the World Alliance of Cities against Poverty. I thank the city of Dublin for hosting this important forum and for extending a warm welcome to all of us.

It is great to be here with so many local leaders from cities around the world, leaders like you who are committed to making their cities smarter, safer and more sustainable.

As we meet, there is a global conversation happening about the future of global development. I just came from Copenhagen where we talked about the importance of addressing inequalities to make greater social and economic progress around the world.

Now one message that has been highlighted over and over again in looking forward, is that we can no longer afford to hold back half the population.

We know that smart cities recognize that women’s equal participation, equal opportunities and equal rights are essential to eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development.

The many burdens of urban poverty take a heavy toll on women, who often spend hours each day doing unpaid work, taking care of children and the household, under demanding circumstances. They struggle to balance these demands with paid employment, often in the informal sector, and face a struggle for survival when budget cuts are made to social services.

These challenges are compounded by the fear and threats of violence. No city could be considered safe, smart or sustainable unless all of its population can enjoy public spaces without the fear of violence, whether on their way to schools, places of work, recreation, a community meeting or to a voting booth.

Yet women and girls – face particular risks in their cities. Whether walking city streets, riding public transportation, going to school, or selling goods at the marketplace, they are subject to abuse ranging from harassment to sexual assault and violence. This daily reality limits their freedom to participate in education, work, recreation, and in political and economic life—or to simply enjoy their neighbourhoods.

However while gender-based violence in the private domain is now increasingly recognized as a human rights violation, violence against women in public spaces remains a largely neglected issue, with few laws or policies in place to address it. The costs of violence against women and girls – to shattered lives, community harmony and economic development– can be averted by strengthening our collective efforts.

That is why UN Women and UN Habitat launched the Safe Cities Global Programme more than two years ago, in 2010. Together with leaders like you and civil society organizations, we work to increase safety; prevent and reduce violence and to mobilize and empower women’s groups, youth and children’s advocates to shape their urban environment.

We initially launched the programme with five pilot cities: Cairo, Egypt; Kigali, Rwanda; New Delhi, India; Quito, Ecuador;and Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

One year later, UN Women and UN Habitat partnered with UNICEF on the joint programme “Safe and Sustainable Cities,” which is underway with eight cities: Greater Beirut, Lebanon; Dushanbe, Tajikistan; Metro Manila, Philippines; Marrakesh, Morocco; Nairobi, Kenya; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; San José ,Costa Rica; and Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

There is so much enthusiasm and thirst for Safe Cities that we are now working in more than 20 cities throughout the world, and we have the potential to reach 35 cities far ahead of our goal to reach this number by 2017. This work would not be possible without our trusted partners. At the global level these include UN Habitat, UNICEF and now UNDP as our main UN partners, and key international networks – Women in Cities International, Red Mujer y Habitat Latin America and Caribbean, the Huairou Commission, and most recently, UCLG (United Cities and Local Governments), and ActionAid International.

I am delighted that some of our city partners have come to this Forum and will be sharing their experiences in the upcoming sessions. Their efforts have already brought some important insights. All these cities conducted alocal diagnosis as a first step in developing their concrete action plans to end violence and harassment against women and girls.

I would now like to share with you what our partner cities learned first-hand from women and girls: that sexual harassment and fear of violence in public spaces deeply influence the way they live their lives, where they go, when, and for how long. Women report that fear of sexual harassment and violence is, without exception, a part of being in public spaces.

How do women, girls and their families deal with this fear? We learned that one of the common strategies is to limit time spent outside of home and not to go out at all after dark. Some girls are just not allowed to leave home alone. They are also often blamed for the harassment they experience. As a result, they often keep the fear of violence to themselves.

One girl explained: “If we tell our parents about boys harassing us, they would blame us only and say that it is our fault…Our parents might even stop us going out of the house.”

Another girl said, “Once a girl went missing from school, did not come back home, and nobody knew where did she go and what happened to her. After that many parents stopped sending their daughters to school”.

For many girls, this is the first time they have ever spoken out about sexual harassment and violence. But I submit to you that as more and more women, men and young peopleraise their voices, as more women become engaged in municipal decision-making, and as more and more local leaders take action for the safety and well-being of women and girls, change will happen.

That is why Safe Cities works with authorities and in local communities to build strong partnerships. Partnerships that build, trust, raise awareness, and take action so that women and girls are not afraid to voice their fears or to report cases of harassment or violence and can live free of violence.

One example of success is in Quito, where women were encouraged to break the silence about their experiences through a public awareness campaign called Cartas de Mujeres or “Letters from Women”. These 10,000 letters from women, and the results of a study prompted, the city government to amend the city ordinance to include violence against women in public spaces.

A targeted and effective response requires local diagnostics. To make cities safer we place a strong emphasis on taking an evidence-based approach, and taking advantage of technologies that enhance data collection, monitoring and evaluation. We know that smart cities use technology for social innovation. And we know it is smart to provide concrete evidence to authorities to take responsive action.

This is why UN Women is partnering with Microsoft—to find ways to better use mobile technology to document, prevent and respond to violence, especially sexual harassment and violence in public spaces.

Progress is being made in Rio de Janeiro, where communities are using mapping technologies to identify safety risks in ten of the cities’ high-risk slums, or favelas. Trained women and adolescent girls used their smartphones to map safety risks such as faulty infrastructure or services, obscured walking routes, and lack of lighting. These initial findings were presented to local authorities, and are currently being used to develop solutions.

In all that we do, the Safe Cities Initiative aims to be sustainable, so that preventing violence against women becomes an integral part of municipal governance, and community engagement. To do this, Safe Cities works with women to increase their participation and leadership in local government.

I am happy to welcome the representative of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, who is here today. Together we are working to improve women’s safety in the markets, where 55 percent of women buyers and vendors reported experiencing some form of violence there in the past year.

The women reported no guaranteed protection from police or security guards and pressure to pay off potential perpetrators to avoid confrontation. With the local government and support of the Safe Cities programme, the women organized a market vendor association to hold discussions and directly voice their concerns. And the government invested in improvements to ensure a safer and cleaner working environment.

So much more can be accomplished when we work together. I am pleased to report that UN Women and the United Cities and Local Governments recently signed a cooperation agreement. We agreed to collect local data on women’s political participation and better track equality between men’s and women’s representation at the local level.

Safe Cities makes women’s full participation a priority because if communities are empowered today; if grassroots women can make decisions and cooperate with municipal and national authorities today; and if men and boys, and young people, are engaged in the Safe Cities actions today, then societies and communities can and will become safer—and they will stay that way.

I am most pleased that the Lord Mayor of our host city, Naoise O Muiri, has announced today that Dublin is joining the UN Women Safe Cities Global Initiative. We look forward to working with you to make the beautiful city of Dublin smarter, safer and more sustainable and we applaud you for your leadership.

I would like to invite all of you to consider joining the Safe Cities Initiative so that we can all work together to make cities safer for women and girls.

I wish you a productive and informative conference. I am confident that the discussions over the next few days will inspire more innovation and action to end violence in our cities and to build a safer, smarter, more sustainable world, one city at a time.

To watch a video of Michelle Bachelet delivering her speech, click here >>