Hii at CSW 2011: Re-imagining the Right to the City

As part of our United Nations Liason Program, the Human Impacts Institute will be participating in numerous 2011 CSW side events focusing on sustainability in the upcoming weeks. Please, join us in a community conversation about the topics being discussed: What are the factors that make women feel unsafe in an urban environment?


On Thursday, February 24th, the Human Impacts Institute (Hii) attended a panel discussion, Re-imagining the Right to the City: What is the Safer Cities Movement and Where are We Going?, hosted by the Huairou Commission, in partnership with Women in Cities International, Women and Habitat Network of Latin America, GROOTS International, and the Seoul Foundation of Women & Family. Panelists discussed specific examples from their communities of how fear and threat to well-being in cities affect women and girls’ potentials, as well as the potential for sustainable community development. As one panelist pointed out, “Safe cities for women are safe cities for all.”

Half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, with demographic trends indicating that this population shift will continue well into the future. However, cities also tend to have insufficient infrastructure to support existing, much less growing, populations. Issues of safe, affordable housing, transportation, sanitation services, as well as their high levels of crime and violence, make cities a threat to the health and long-term well-being of many inhabitants. As participants highlighted, this is particularly true for women and girls, who are often targets of violence and discrimination, and who many times face increased obstacles to necessary resources.

As panelists discussed, when women’s security is threatened–via violence, intimidation or other methods–their mobility within society is greatly reduced, limiting their access to sustainable livelihoods, as well as personal and community development opportunities. In effect, both fear of violence and actual violent acts constrain one’s capacity to live healthy lives and to have one’s voice heard. In a inspiring moment, Carmen Griffiths of GROOTS Jamaica, remarked that, “when women aren’t safe they can’t focus on livelihoods. Poverty is one root of violence. If we lessen poverty, we lessen violence for everyone.” Discussions repeatedly came back to the feedback loop of: Safe, accessible space in cities; women’s lack of adequate security; and poverty and violence. Panelists highlighted gender-based violence and intimidation as a major hurdle in achieving gender equality, particularly in our cities. This led to discussions of how we can create “safe spaces in our cities. Within this discussion, participants highlighted women not as victims, but as change-makers and experts in their own safety, and essential in the movement to create safer cities.

As Maite Rodriguez, of Fundacion Guatemala and Women and Habitat Network of Latin America, pointed out, “it is very complicated to talk about safety when you live in a place that you aren’t free to walk.” And while the creation of accessible space and safer cities is complex, several cross-cutting questions emerged, including:

  • What role does sustainable urbanization play in the issue of personal wellbeing and security?

  • How does resiliency and urban planning affect women’s ability to access space, as well as opportunities for sustainable livelihoods?

  • What are the structural inequalities that facilitate violence against women?

  • Do women of different socioeconomic, race, and other categories marginalize “other” women and what are the causal factors and effects?

  • What role do local authorities, systems, and infrastructure play in the marginalization of women?

  • What is their role in correcting these methods of exclusion?

Thursday’s panel discussion featured women leaders from around the world, sharing their experiences and expertise in the fight to create accessible, inviting, and safe urban areas for all citizens. Women’s right to our cities is challenged on many levels, from exclusion from political and socioeconomic participation to limited access to goods and services (such as sanitation, medical services, and other resources). As the discussion highlighted, the women right to live free of fear in our cities not only impacts women’s and girl’s quality of life, but also affects the health of the community.

The Human Impacts Institute will be participating in and reporting on more events at the CSW in the upcoming week. We look forward to the continued partnership with the Huairou Commission and our other international partners in supporting the re-imagining of our cities and safe, sustainable communities.

by Emily Gilbert, 2011 Human Impacts Institute Environmental Leadership Intern

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