From Kigali to Quito, Cities Work to Make Public Spaces Safer for Women
Cross-posted from UN Women
At first glance the inhabitants of Quito, the capital of Ecuador, may have little in common with those in the Rwandan capital of Kigali. However, they share with each other as well as with many other cities in the world, the global challenge of women’s and girls’ experience of or fear of sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence in public spaces.
Quito and Kigali are two of the five cities that in 2010 worked with UN Women to develop and implement innovative strategies to make their public spaces more secure for women and girls under the Safe Cities Free of Violence against Women and Girls Global Programme. Both cities are implementing comprehensive and evidence-based initiatives in partnership with the UN, women’s groups and other civil society partners to prevent and respond to sexual harassment and sexual violence against women and girls in public spaces.
Three years later, these two cities are now working closely to learn what has worked and how they can further collaborate. In the first south-south exchange under the Global Programme, in October 2013, Hope Tumukunde, Vice Mayor of Kigali, and Benon Kabera, Kigali Safe City Coordinator, UN Women, visited their counterparts in Quito.
“This exchange has been most rewarding. I am taking with me valuable first-hand information to share with my colleagues in Kigali City office and beyond,” said Ms. Tumukunde after an official visit to Quito to learn about specific interventions in the metropolitan area and two of its municipal zones, Quitumbe and Eloy Alfaro, in southern Quito.
Quito offers an important case study since it was the first participating city in the Global Programme to include safety for women and girls in public spaces in its municipal legislation, within just one year of the programme’s implementation.
Rwandan delegates learned about Quito’s Safe City Plan, a roadmap that includes implementing a city ordinance that allocates a specific budget to bolster police training in urban public spaces, among other actions. The plan has also identified existing municipal programmes and projects that would benefit from integrating a gender approach and the issue of violence against women and earmarked them for additional funding in 2015.
In Quitumbe, project leaders highlighted that participatory planning is one of the best tools to ensure safer cities safer for all.
“Thanks to this approach, we realized that people feel ownership and take care of public spaces when urban planners engage them and hear their voices,” explained María Hernández, Administrator of Quitumbe. “Participatory planning has identified a major demand to reclaim parks, with lighting being one of the main requests. Women have asked for a sports complex, with recreational spaces, to be implemented in 2014–2015.”
In the municipal zone of Eloy Alfaro, the delegation visited the Equity and Justice Centre (CEJ), which provides comprehensive psychological, social and legal support to survivors of gender-based violence. After the city ordinance was adopted in March 2012, the centre expanded its services to deal not only with survivors or domestic violence but with cases of sexual harassment and other forms of violence in public spaces.
The visit also provided the opportunity for Rwandan officials to share their experiences with implementing One-Stop Centres, which offer holistic services similar to that of the CEJs, but which also have a physician available to perform expert-witness examinations, which is very important for legal admissibility of the evidence of violence.
The Kigali delegation was also interested in Quito’s Observatory on Citizen Security, established over nine years ago, which compiles and analyzes statistics and trends on crime and public safety. Helping city officials and their partners better understand the degree and nature of crime and violence, it has become a useful mechanism that feeds into public policy and decision-making on security issues. As a result of the Quito Safe City Programme, the Observatory will now include data on the prevalence of sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence against women in the city’s public spaces that was not previously available.
In the coming months, the Global Safe Cities initiative will continue to facilitate global exchanges on Safe City programmes, including through south-south cooperation visits such as these.
For more information on UN Women‘s efforts to end violence against women, please visit our special In Focus compilation for 25 November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
 In Quito, a scoping study conducted in 2011 reveals that 68 percent of women experienced some form of sexual harassment and sexual violence, at least once in the previous year. In Kigali, a baseline study conducted in 2012 reveals that 42 percent of women said they are concerned about going to educational institutions during the day, and 55 percent after dark.
Photo: Ms. Hope Tumukunde Vice Mayor of Kigali, visiting the old town of Quito. Courtesy of UN Women