Safe Cities for Women a Local and Global Challenge

By Danielle Bonner

MDG : Gender violence against women : International Day Against Gender ViolenceThe world we live in is increasingly becoming more urbanised, today more than 54% of the global population live in cities and towns and by 2030 it is predicted that this percentage will rise to 60%[1]. Indeed such spaces offer new opportunities economically and socially but from a gender equality point of view it’s important to ask the question how safe are such spaces for women?

While advances have been made to support women’s equality it remains a reality that in 2017 women and girls can often face gender-based discrimination which increases their risk of experiencing poverty, violence, poor health and a lack of an education.

Gender-Based Violence can happen to both men and women because it is “violence that is directed against a person on the basis of gender or sex and includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other denials of freedom”. The reality is however that it’s women and girls who are the main victims of this violence. (cosc.ie)

In 2016 I became involved in the ActionAid Ireland’s ‘Safe Cities for Women campaign’, when I attended their campaign training in Sweden.  safe-cities-action-aidThe ActionAid Safe Cities for Women campaign highlights the diverse social structures which must be addressed to end the violence experienced by women. Campaigning to ensure that the issue is visible, that violence towards women in any form in not tolerated by society from political to community level. While further empowering women to realise that their voices matter and that they have power to speak out for change.

In Ireland 1 in 5 women experience some form of violence while globally this is 1 in 3. In cities street harassment, sexual assault and fear of other forms of sexual violence is a reality faced by women. Therefore with the population of urban living spaces rising there is an argent need to ensure that such spaces offer and provide women a safe environment in which they can live, develop and fulfil their potential.

Sexual harassment from cat-calling, to groping in public spaces is a particular problem experienced by women coupled with a social culture which often lays blame to women whom experience such sexual violence, because they are viewed not to have taken steps to avoid such situations or have given the perpetrator the wrong signal!

The impact of such violence on women is overwhelming and can effect many areas of their lives, The United Nations observes that such violence reduces women’s and girls’; freedom of movement, ability to participate in school, work and public life, limits their access to essential services and their enjoyment of cultural and recreational opportunities, and negatively impacts their health and wellbeing.

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Research shows too there is a link between development, poverty eradication and women’s equality. When women face gender based violence this poses a threat to their potential to fully engage in society. Therefore to uphold women’s human rights, support development and end poverty we must insure women are fully engaged and free from any form of violence that poses a threat to their participation. woman-and-girls-sdg

To prevent such violence collective community action is required to both raise awareness, combat attitudes, cultures and policies that contribute towards the violence faced by women.

We must too support and ensure that any planning of public spaces is gender proofed, and that laws and policies which have been created to prevent such violence and support gender equality are implemented. While decision-makers also must provide the resources for monitoring and for any potential gaps in policy that need to address to support gender equality objectives.

danielle-bonner-safe-cities-womens-lives-featureIn support and to raise awareness to the issue of safe cities and public spaces for women I’ve developed an interactive workshop, for the education development project Donegal Changemakers, it’s my hope that in 2017 communities groups and people across the county will engage in this awareness training to learn about the issue and the actions we can take as a community to create safe cities and public spaces for women and our society as a whole.

[1] http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/news/population/world-urbanization-prospects-2014.html

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Democracy should never be taken for granted

Picture vote

Much focus is placed on the importance of holding elections in societies dealing with the aftermath of conflict because it is seen as a positive step in the development of democracy, which is held as the political way to move on from conflict to peace. As a person who supports the development of peace and democracy in post/conflict societies I thought it was about time I engaged in my own local politics and observe just how elections happen in a society that is considered stable and at peace!

An edited version of this feature entitled “Tea, Laughs and Politics” was first published in the Donegal Democrat Paper on Thursday 5th June 2014.

For a number of years I’ve gained a growing interested in politics yet I’d failed to use my democratic right to vote, in 2014 however I learnt to no longer take my right for granted.

My awaking came from over 3500 miles away through enthusiastic friends in Afghanistan who were getting ready to vote in the April 5th presidential elections, the first time in 12 years that Afghan’s had the opportunity to elect a new head of state. For months friends had expressed excitement at having the opportunity to be voting as for many it would be the first time they would be voting. And when Election Day arrived my facebook newsfeed was filled with friend’s pictures showing queues of Afghan’s outside polling stations and ink dyed finger indicating that they had voted.

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Afghan’s proud to show they voted

I was inspired by such scenes and compelled to think about my own civic duty, realizing I was taking my own democratic right for granted and leaving others to decide who would represent me in local government. I therefore decided no longer could I be an absent voter when many of my friends in other parts of the world were putting their lives at risk just for expressing a democratic right.

Having worked on the NCCWN-Donegal Women’s Network Election Special I knew I wanted to vote for candidates that understood equality and the issues faced in Donegal. Five of the sixteen Donegal electorate area candidates had responded to the networks equality questions which first made me pose the question do candidates who already hold some level of power and influence care or even hold other people’s equality in high regard? It was sad to see equality didn’t seem to be high on the agenda of many candidates, but it did make me realise who I wouldn’t be voting for on Friday 23rd May.

On Sunday 25th May 2014 I was then given the opportunity to observe the Donegal vote count at the St. John Bosco Community Centre, a new and insightful experience. There were 37 council seats to be filled six of which were to come from the Donegal electorate area.

I wasn’t sure what to except arriving at 3.30pm I thought I‘d missed everything but the count was yet to start. The first count was read at around 4.20pm with a vote quota of 1984 however no candidate had reached the quota. Because local elections in Ireland work by Proportional Representation the candidate with the lowest votes was eliminated and their votes carried over to the second preference candidate, a process carried out until the six candidate’s seats were filled.

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Counting Votes

NK blog

Leading Lady, Niamh Kennedy

The first elected candidate came at count 8 with Niamh Kennedy, for me her election was a positive boost to local politics, not simple because she is a woman only 1 of 3 elected in Donegal but also because she was a first time candidate elected receiving the highest votes over candidates who were sitting councillors. Her election serves as a positive example to any budding politician thinking about running for future elections. The same could be said of Candidate Tom Conaghan who had ran in the last local election and only lost by a few votes, yet he came back and received the second highest vote preferences.

What have I learnt?

Elections are challenging, exciting and every vote counts. While we also have to take the bad with the good, the fact is people won’t always 100% agree on who’s elected but the point is we must ensure that the way people are elected is fair and democratic which therefore requires the public to vote.

In Donegal the voting turnout was 58.21% representing 73,096 out of an eligible electorate of 125,830 (Irishtimes, 2014). This means 41.79% of the electorate did not vote, I ask myself what is the reason for this absence? And how can people complain about governance and the need for change if they don’t vote?

It’s common to hear complains about the lack of good governance and the need for change in our political systems yet in order to achieve this change we as the general public need to make that change happen through the ballot box. And OK while some may say “but my vote won’t make a difference” yet if people continue to act to this belief then certainly nothing will ever change and the people who do vote will dictate who governance your society.

People therefore need to get involved in politics, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea! Yet politics is part of our everyday lives whether we like it or not, be it our ability to access public services, health care, even down to getting those pot holes in your road filled, the list is endless. This is your community so make sure you have people in government that are those who will work for the positive development of your community.

JC

John Campbell re-elected

On a final note I’d like to thank John Campbell for giving me the opportunity to come along to the count and to his mother and sister for entertaining me with a few laughs in between the very long count waits!