To walk the streets of Quezon City without fear of violence against women

Date: Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Teresita Longcanaya, 51, accompanies her daughter, 26, to the tricycle (rickshaw) terminal early every morning, on her way to work. She then meets up with her again at the same location in the evening, to accompany her home safely. A mother of five, Teresita says she has overheard men loitering around the terminal say: “There is a beautiful lady who is always accompanied by her mother, if only her mother was not around.” She is afraid her daughter may be sexually harassed or held up in their community, Payatas, an impoverished area in Quezon City, The Philippines.

A poster being used in Metro Manila to raise awareness of the Safe Cities #FreeFromFear campaign.
A poster being used in Metro Manila to raise awareness of the Safe Cities #FreeFromFear campaign.

With more than 3 million inhabitants, Quezon is one of the most populous of the 16 cities that make up Metropolitan Manila. It also has one of the largest rates of urban poverty and a high population of informal settler families. Sexual harassment is prevalent in many public spaces, including in the neighbourhood of Payatas, which has a high level of poverty, unemployment, drug use, trafficking, and robberies. When women and girls are robbed in Payatas, they are often grabbed from behind and groped by male perpetrators during the robbery.

Aware of this, many girls may fear leaving home. “I’ve been asked for my name and number by strangers,” said a young secondary school student in the neighbourhood of Bagong Silangan, Quezon City. “When I notice a group of men on the street and I am [about to pass them], I get scared. I make a turn to avoid them. Even if it means taking a longer walk going home. I also get scared of our community because a lot of fights happen there. So I rarely leave the house.”

To confront this reality, in 2010 UN Women launched a global flagship initiative to prevent sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls in public spaces, which now spans 24 cities, including Quezon.

This video showcasing interventions in Quezon City, has been produced by UN Women with support from the Spanish Agency for Development Cooperation (AECID), which is currently funding its Safe City programme.

In joining the Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces Global Initiative, Quezon City committed to conduct a scoping study, to collect information about sexual violence against women and girls, on in public spaces in two local areas (Bagong Silangan and the Payatas barangay).

Completed in 2015, the scoping study cited insufficient legal protection against sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence in public spaces and that women often do not report incidents, mainly out of fear of stigma of being violated in this way, and fear of retaliation by the perpetrators. It also found that Quezon City lacks systematic data on sexual violence in public spaces. For example, police reports for Payatas and Bagong Silangan do not list forms of sexual harassment in public spaces as a crime category, most likely because the current Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 is focused on sexual harassment in employment, education and training environments, and does not include harassment of women in public places.

A city official is paired with a young girl to survey the night markets in Barangay Bagong Silangan as part of a Women’s Safety Audit on 4 September, 2015. Photo: UN Women/Hubert Tibi
A city official is paired with a young girl to survey the night markets in Barangay Bagong Silangan as part of a Women’s Safety Audit on 4 September, 2015. Photo: UN Women/Hubert Tibi

Through the Safe City Metro Manila programme, Quezon City will seek to set an example with improved data collection and trailblazing local legislation on sexual harassment against women in public spaces.

As part of the scoping study, six women’s safety audits were carried out, which involved collecting and assessing information about perceptions of safety in public spaces. Such audits bring women and men together to walk through public spaces in their neighbourhood, evaluate how safe they feel, and identify ways to make it safer (such as better lighting, and improved visible sightlines). Women's Safety Audits have become a consistent methodology used in cities that have joined the UN Women’s Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces Global Initiative.

In its six first months of implementation the programme has already succeeded in drawing the attention of local officials to the need to change laws and policies.

“What I like about this programme with UN Women is that now we are reviewing our local policy and updating it to make it more attuned with the times, making public harassment also a crime that should be penalized,” says Aldrin C. Cunha, City administrator, Quezon City.

In September 2015, Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista also led officials in joining UN Women’s HeForShe initiative, saying: “With the city’s continuing thrust to become gender-fair, we are making sure that we create a safe city for everyone.” Photo: UN Women Philippines/Alamid

City officials have been active in raising awareness around the need to improve safety for women and girls in public spaces, particularly during a recent a visit UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, as well as during this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign. They organized a variety of online and public events, including a Safe City Advocacy Expo co-hosted by UN Women with the Quezon City Government and the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and Development (AECID), featuring a photography exhibit, music, dance, short film features, and a mini-bazaar of goods made by women’s organizations.