A call to tackle violence against women and girls in urban spaces
It’s time to turn the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity to free our communities, cities and metropolises from gender violence
International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November, Metropolis, United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), and Cities Alliance are raising awareness on the need to end violence against women and girls (VAWG) in urban spaces.
Violence against women and girls is one of the most serious, and most tolerated, human rights violations worldwide. It takes place at home, at work, in public squares, parks, markets, streets, city restrooms, and on public transport, as well as in our own governments, institutions, and even online, on social media and other platforms.
The COVID-19 pandemic: exarcebating pre-existing inequality
According to UN Women, gender-based violence is increasing exponentially as the COVID-19 pandemic deepens economic and social stress and social isolation measures restrict movement. Numerous reports on VAWG have detected an increase of 25%, even doubling in some urban areas.
Many women and girls are being forced to ‘lockdown’ at home with their abusers, while services to support survivors are disrupted or inaccessible. And with fewer people on the streets during lockdowns, women are at a heightened risk of sexual harassment, which further affects their autonomy and access to employment and essential services.
As women and girls are at the forefront of the crisis generated by the Covid-19 pandemic should be at the centre of the recovery, with feminist leadership as a driver.
Violence against women grassroots leaders and political representatives remains one of the main barriers preventing women from full and effective participation and decision-making. Around the world, women are persistently under-represented in public and leadership positions, including in local spheres of government, in which the participation of women is estimated at 36.3% in local deliberative bodies.
Women’s digital rights and protection in online spaces is also an urgent need. Compared to men and boys, women and girls have less access to technology and the internet. Moreover, women’s voices and participation as active digital citizens may be censored and limited by increasing harassment and violence online.
This joint initiative targets VAWG in public and private spheres, in politics and online spaces. Metropolis, UCLG and Cities Alliance deliver a vital message that urges local, regional, and metropolitan political representatives to integrate a gender-responsive and gender-sensitive approach into all their Covid-19 responses and towards a resilient and inclusive recovery. This awareness raising action also sheds light on the fact that violence is the result of existing gender inequality in urban areas, multiplied and exacerbated by the pandemic (and in particular in metropolitan spaces, where urban inequality is more evident). Women’s safety is a multi-layered issue and interventions should address the underlying causes of VAWG, including gender-biased social and cultural norms. Such an approach needs to consider private, public, and political spheres, spatial, social, and economic dynamics, and their intersections.
At the same time, we need to rethink cities to be more inclusive and support women’s autonomy, their sense of connection to their communities, and ensure equal access to public life and basic services, making progress on the 2030 Agenda.
Only a gender-sensitive approach to urban planning, using sex-disaggregated data on urban issues as well as an increase in funding and essential services, can provide us with the tools to promote and enhance women and feminist leadership and gender-oriented decision making, reducing inequality and, as a consequence, gender violence.