Creating safe cities and public spaces for women and girls

The Safe Cities programme started in Egypt in 2012 as a global pilot initiative to empower, raise awareness and create safe public spaces, neighbourhoods and communities. Today, “The Safe City and Safe Public Spaces Programme” aims to strengthen legislative and institutional frameworks to ensure effective prevention and response to violence against women and girls, while improving the availability of services for survivors. The programme also works to transform negative social norms and to create safe and economically viable public spaces for women and girls.

The main achievements of the UN Women programme in Egypt include:

  • Supporting the developing the National Strategy to Combat Violence against Women, which came into effect in April 2015.
  • Conducting baseline study and women’s safety audits conducted in three underprivileged informal settlements to inform change in local infrastructure and support behaviour change so as to increase women’s safety and use of public spaces.
  • A network of over 200 young volunteers and a coalition of 45 local NGOs were formed and trained to deliver measures that protect women and girls from violence and/or reduce risks.
  • Public prosecutors can now more effectively prosecute violence against women, and provide support and protection to survivors, after specialized training.
  • The Women’s Complaints Office of the NCW improved its abilities to receive and resolve complaints about discrimination and violence against women, and to provide thousands of women with free legal advice, assistance and referrals to service-providers.
  • Women’s mobility and accessibility were improved through a gender-sensitive design of the Cairo Bus Rapid Transit project, shaped by multiple surveys capturing women’s travel patterns and preferences.
  • The Zenein marketplace in Boulaq El-Dakrour was made safer, more hygienic and more accessible after a gender-sensitive redesign and training to improve vendors’ livelihoods.
  • An inclusive, community-owned space was developed in Ezbet El-Hagganah, made safer for women and girls through community engagement, participation and trust.
  • A public space located near a girls’ school in Imbaba, where sexual harassment was frequent, was upgraded into a ‘women-friendly space’, which now provides quality, cost-effective services to the local community, with a focus on activities promoting the rights of women and girls.
  • Coordinated community activities engaged more than 20,000 people – through interactive theatre, graffiti art, door-to-door campaigns, etc. – to develop a common understanding of violence against women in public spaces and to change negative attitudes that perpetuate discrimination and violence. For example, outreach with tuk-tuk drivers helped change perceptions while improving safety for women and girls using this popular mode of public transport.
  • Supported the launch of communication campaigns including: With 57 million total billboard views and ads on major TV channels, the “Speak up” campaign, launched under the programme in partnership with NCW in 2015, contributed to changing the culture of victim-blaming, advocating for social responsibility in preventing and reporting forms of violence against women, and promoting the Women’s Complaints Office (WCO) hotline (15115).
  • Additionally, and confronting the veil of silence was launched in 2014 and garnered over 5 million views on various social media platforms.

Building on these successes, the ECO is currently scaling up efforts to develop comprehensive tools and approaches to prevent and respond to sexual harassment and other forms of violence against women and girls in public spaces in Alexandria and Damietta governorates. These interventions aim at reducing sexual harassment and other forms of violence against women; reducing fear and increasing feelings of safety among women and girls; improving the autonomous mobility of women and girls to access public spaces; and increasing women’s economic participation and empowerment. To implement these interventions, and in partnership with the NCW, the programme is working in collaboration with: the Damietta Governorate, the University of Alexandria, Al-Shehab Foundation for Comprehensive Development, the Women and Development Association, Khair Domiat Association, the Institut européen de coopération et de développement (IECD) in addition to a multitude of communities and community-based organizations.

The Safe City and Safe Public Spaces programme is currently supported by the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and has also been supported in Egypt by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Government of Spain. Previous donors in the early years of implementation include the European Union and as well as the Government of Spain.