To End Violence, We Must Build #CitiesforWomen

In the fight to end violence against women and girls, no real progress can be made without considering the role of the urban environment. Dark streets, unprotected public toilets, parking lots and mass transit are breeding grounds for violence. A placard we saw at a protest against femicide in Latin America a few years ago sums it up: “Walking home, I want to feel free, not brave.”

Since last fall, women in the United States have been speaking up as never before on the subject of violence, harassment, and abuse – at home, at work, in daily life. If #TimesUp for gender-based, on-the-job abuse, #TimesUp too for cities that fail to consider the daily dangers faced by half of their community.

A Global Problem
  • 2014 Reuters survey of 16 major cities worldwide found that women in Latin American cities suffered the highest rates of harassment, with about 6 in 10 women experiencing physical harassment on public transport. Additionally, 64% of women in Mexico City said they’d been groped or physically harassed on public transport.
  • In a 2009 UN Women survey in Delhi, 95% of women said their mobility was limited by fear of harassment in public places.
  • In a Kenyan survey from Women’s Empowerment Link, more than half of the 381 women interviewed in 2017 said they’d experienced gender-based violence while using public transport.
  • According to the World Bank-led partnership, Sustainable Mobility For All, 53% of women in developed countries feel “unsafe” or “very unsafe” waiting on a railway platform after dark.

By 2030, more than 60% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. With women representing more than half the world’s population, cities need to improve their urban infrastructure to discourage harassment and abuse.

A great deal of danger could be eliminated with more inclusive city planning and the creation of infrastructure sensitive to the needs of women and girls – better street lighting and broader streets, fewer dead-end alleys, safer public toilets. Safer cities enable every individual to move through their day without fear and with unfettered access to social, economic, political, cultural, and educational opportunities.

Photo Credit: Sydney Rubin

We must all do whatever it takes to create cities where women and girls can lead healthy, prosperous, and fulfilling lives, in dignity and peace. It will take cooperation and commitment from government at every level, multi-lateral institutions of all kinds, and non-governmental groups such as WomenStrong International.

How WomenStrong Helps

Members of the WomenStrong Consortium are supporting women and girls in a number of effective ways as they seek to build lives free from violence.

  • With our partner DHAN Foundation in Madurai, India – a city with a population of 1.5 million – we have established a Micro-Justice Clinic to teach women their rights, arm them with the resources they need to fight injustice and stand up for themselves. These women, who also are members of micro-finance self-help groups, discover that economic empowerment gives them confidence and the ability to press local officials to address some of the root causes of gender-based violence, including unsafe infrastructure.
  • Women’s Health to Wealth (WHW) in Kumasi, Ghana – population well over 2 million – works with women who rent stalls in the Bantama Market and who had been pressing local officials for years to install lighting and pave market alleyways so they could safely transport their wares at dawn and dusk. With WomenStrong’s support, women working with WHW struck a bargain with a local official, agreeing to clean the market in exchange for the government paving and lighting the market. The paving was completed, but the lighting was not, so WHW continue to press the market manager. Their concerns have spurred construction of a new, safe, enclosed market structure where plenty of lighting is promised.
  • In the Manyatta slums of Kisumu, Kenya, Alice Visionary Foundation Project (AVFP) has run a multi-year program on Positive Discipline in schools to help create environments where girls can learn, prosper and grow. Schools should be places of safety for young girls but are often places of harassment, verbal and physical abuse, and rape, by male students and even teachers. AVFP works with school administrators, teachers, parents, public officials and communities to help keep girls in school and flourishing in the face of the massive challenges of poverty.
  • WomenStrong Member H.O.P.E. in Borgne, Haiti – located in a commune with a population of under 100,000 – supports the work of local women who have formed a group to confront domestic violence, helping victims and filling the gap left by a lack of law enforcement. H.O.P.E. also runs clubs for adolescent girls, similar to those at the other WomenStrong sites, teaching girls their rights, building confidence, and providing safe spaces where girls can build friendships, gain mentors, and create a network of support.

Women and girls at all our sites demonstrate every day that they have the determination, smarts and willingness to stand up for their right to be free from violence. It is now up to the rest of us to provide the support they deserve and need by building #CitiesforWomen.

Fight For Girls, Not Against Them

It feels like just yesterday I was huddled outside my school classroom with five other pigtailed girls, swapping cards or singing along to good old Gwen Stefani. (Shoutout to Gwen for being my fashion inspiration and role model for pretty much my entire childhood.)

Female friendships start off as innocent, symbiotic relationships. As little girls, we seemingly have no worries and – if your childhood was anything like mine – days are filled with endless dress-up parties, goofy sing-alongs and formidable-fort-building. But at what point do we blur the lines and turn these innocent relationships into carnivorous competitions?

Welcome to the world of female competitiveness, where beneath the sisterly front runs an undercurrent of tough rivalry.

I think one of the reasons some of us fight so hard for women’s empowerment among women is because of personal experience of competition and backlash from fellow women. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to be sucked in – especially for young women. You may not even realize it’s happening, as it begins very subtly throughout teenage years. Whether it’s someone degrading you in front of others, talking about you negatively behind your back, trying to delay your success in order to accelerate their own, or doing something to make you look bad on purpose – you are a victim. It’s like a competition you never signed up for and didn’t agree to take part in – but the good news is, you don’t have to be part of it.

RULE NUMBER ONE: Don’t let negativity take over your teenage years – I can’t stress this enough! There are far more important issues that need your valuable time and attention. People who want to succeed by seeing you fail just have selfish motives – it’s their problem – not yours. It’s easier said than done, but try to focus your attention on yourself rather than worry too much about what others are doing.

RULE NUMBER TWO: Whether or not you’ve ever been guilty of any of the above (most of us have, even if we weren’t aware of it at the time), it’s the responsibility of all women and girls to focus on empowering & uplifting each other. It’s such an important skill to be able to admit to our own mistakes and then actively try to change our behaviour. Don’t let pride prevent you from growing.

One question I’ve been thinking a lot about is whether we are actually competing with other women or, ultimately, with ourselves – with how we think of and perceive ourselves. For many of us, we look at other women and see a ‘better’, smarter or prettier version of ourselves. Do we even acknowledge the other woman as an individual? It’s like a mirror that reflects an inaccurate version of who we are, but we turn on the mirror itself because it’s easier than exploring the real insecurities behind the reflection we see. And so…

RULE NUMBER 3: You are enough. Don’t let anything or anyone make you believe otherwise. You don’t need recognition from others to believe it. You don’t need to pull other women down to believe it either. When we each focus on being the dominant force in our own universe, rather than invading other universes, we all win.

As women, we experience enough unfair competition, backlash and discrimination in our lives. We certainly should not experience it from fellow women, too. We are here to support, appreciate and encourage each other.

Our fight should be for, not against one another.

Time to Talk Numbers

Women play a key role in the reconstruction and development of a country’s infrastructure, in particular after a political or economic crisis, as well as during the aftermath of a natural disaster. In recent years, this has been most notably observed in post-genocide Rwanda, where women have a significant presence within the parliament and other legislative bodies.

Although the presence of women in decision making positions throughout the government is important, it is just as important for women to play a key role in the financial and daily operations of the household.  In a recent Foreign Committee Affairs Hearing entitled Beyond Micro-Finance: Empowering Women in the Developing World, the CEO of Women’s World Banking, an Associate Professor of Applied Economics and the Executive Director of Georgetown Women, Peace and Security discussed the importance of economic inclusion, national security and innovation.

It has been statistically shown that women have a higher tendency to invest in education, health and the general well being of their family and community members. As a result, providing economic independence, resources and education to the women in a community has the potential to lead to high levels of sustainability and prosperity.

It’s clear that women have an important role to play in the reconstruction and developement of infrastructure and socio-economic institutions, and these are critical towards creating greater stability and eventual prosperity within a country. Selly Kerim, an economist and research engineer, points out the importance of health, education and employment among individuals from varying socioeconomic backgrounds.

Why is it important to focus on human stories when we discuss economic, political and social global issues? Can’t we simply rely on statistics and analysis to provide accurate measurements? After hearing Selly explain one of her many projects in the sparsely populated country of Mauritania, I was intrigued by the level of passion in her voice as well as her clear explanation of the intertwining roles of human development and economics. She is a Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) fellow, holds a PHD in finance and development economics and has a sincere passion for empowering women and children through education. Selly explained why she decided to create the first academic survey of governance and living conditions in Mauritania, and for a brief moment economics made complete sense to me.

I decided to follow up on my interest in the sphere of economics and watch the Council on Foreign Relations Women & Foreign Policy Facebook discussion on Inclusive Economies. Rachel Vogelstein, Director of CFR’s Women and Foreign Policy Program and Jeni Klugman, a development economist, discussed the report entitled Building Inclusive Economies. They highlight some of the major benefits of the full participation of women within economies as well as various indicators which influence this such as employment, pay range, types of work, education as well as cultural, religious and legal barriers.

Women not only shape the economy. Women are economists with a unique ear for the human voice and a mind to measure what matters.

The Importance of Educating Girls

Blog post by Lisa Öhman, intern at Flickaplattformen

This text is based on my final thesis for my bachelor in Development Studies. My thesis is a discourse analysis of texts collected from governmental development agencies, analysing their call on the importance of girls’ education.

During the past decades, gender and education have become central elements in debates about development aid. Today, almost all international development organizations have included a gender perspective in their work. The reason why education for girls and gender equality have become such central parts of development aid can be traced to the many direct effects it has on economic growth and human welfare. It is often argued in development discourses that educating girls and women is an investment that is worthwhile. This view of girls’ education as a tool for development is often described as instrumentalism.

This instrumentalist view on girls’ education has received criticism. The central argument against it is that girls’ education is only seen as being of importance due to its effect on development. I argue that the instrumental theory is flawed, because if it would be proven that it is instead women’s oppression and lack of education that would lead to economic growth,  the logic of the instrumental theory would then lead to actions taken against girls’ education. It is therefore worthwhile to consider the moral aspects of instrumentalism.

In my view the discourse on gender equality is an important part of creating equality. The way a problem is formulated affects the actual solution to the problem. We can therefore not only focus on what practically is being done for girls’ education but also why it is presented as an issue in need of a solution. We must also critically scrutinise solutions that are presented in public and academic discourses. If we constantly argue for gender equality and women’s presence in the public sphere in instrumentalist terms and argue that it is important because of what effects it can have, real gender equality will not be reached, as women’s presence only becomes valued when it has a positive effect on others.

By using instrumentalist arguments, women are continuously being told what to do by others than themselves. Instead of being controlled by a patriarchal society where they are told that they should become wives and mothers they are instead being told by development advocates that they should become a part of the economy and strive for employment in specific sectors. We need to focus more on strengthening girls and giving them autonomy to decide what they want to do with their lives instead of telling them how to act. Instrumental arguments creates the image that women’s education is only important when it has a positive effect on development, and education is thus of no use if girls do not use it for something that has an economic or human welfare effect.

In my thesis I found that the most dominant view of the importance of girls’ education was the instrumental one. I wanted to focus on the discourse on girls’ education because it is often viewed as the solution for developing countries that will change everything. One cannot argue with the fact that girls’ education can have a lot of positive effects, but it is also of relevance to analyse why these effects are the main focus of organizations that invest in girls’ education. I believe that the main focus when claiming that girls should be educated should be the rights of the girls themselves – instead of the effect their education can have on their family, community and country’s economic development.

Cover image: Hungerprojektet