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.

girls-sdg

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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Confronting Patriarchy: Women of the Revolution

By Danielle Bonner

girlpower1International Women’s Day is upon us once again and around the world people pay tribute to women while raising awareness to the challenges women continue to face. Last year I wrote a feature entitled ‘women’s equality let’s make it happen’ which outlined why we need to celebrate women’s day and the inequalities women faced in 2015 which  included;

  • Employment Pay Gaps– “Women earn on average 15% less than men and at the top of the pay scale, 21% less.
  • Restricted Economic Opportunities– there are 128 countries with at least 1 legal difference restricting women’s economic opportunity.
  • Psychical and Sexual Violence– Global statistics show that 35% of women have experienced sexual violence in their life time. Only 52 counties criminalise rape within marriage. 2.6 Billion Live in a country that doesn’t.
  • Under Political Representation– Only 22 per cent of all national parliamentarians were female as of January 2015 (UN Women)
  • Lack of Access to Education– 1 in 5 girls of lower secondary age is out of school, 1 in 3 girls in the developing world is married by the age of 18.

A year on and it’s still the case that these inequalities remain in the lives of women. This is despite the fact research clearly shows women’s equality and sustainable development goes hand in hand. It therefore makes no economic or development sense to hold women’s equality back. With this unjust reality it’s important to ask why these inequalities remain for women.

Last October I attended the ‘Peace, Power and Patriarchy’ conference hosted by the Foyle Women’s Information Network in Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland, which discussed the social system of patriarchy which underpins women’s inequality.

IMG_4851Maureen Hetherington a community leader and peacebuilder, stated in her opening ‘I’m happy to have a voice here today, not every woman has this’. A statement reflecting the fact that millions of women in our world find they do not have a voice in their own society because of patriarchy.

IMG_4861By definition patriarchy means ‘rule of the father’ with origins dating back a thousand years, influencing the way in which we think and act within society. Dr Cathy Higgins outlined a society or social system is patriarchal to the degree that it promotes male privilege by being male dominated, is male identified and centred. While it also involves the oppression of women through structural violence.

Over the day we heard the experiences of women who’ve challenged patriarchal systems. Like guest speaker Lilian Seenoi, who spoke of the male dominated culture which created hostility towards her when establishing a girl’s education programme in Kenya, hostility forcing her to seek asylum in the UK. IMG_4874

She highlighted too the situations refugee Syrian women are finding themselves in from sexual exploitation, increased domestic violence and child marriage, consequences of a war created by men in their society. Lilian ended by saying “It took me a while to find my voice and now I’ve found it I’m not going to lose it”.

Mona Eltahawy a reporter and author of the book ‘Headscarves and Hymens’ was the keynote guest speaker, who I also had the opportunity to interview before the conference which can be read here. In her conference talk she spoke candidly about the need for a sexual revolution where women solely controlled their minds and bodies. She shared her experience during the 2011 Arab Spring in Egypt, when she was detained had her arms broken and sexually assaulted by government security forces.

IMG_4882Mona recalled how people have labelled her an angry women for speaking out, but as she said with pride “An angry woman is a free woman”.  She spoke of the need for women to write their own narratives and talk about their lives because they matter. And then posed the question, ‘What would a sexual revolution look like in Ireland?’

The conference highlighted the need for all women to feel free to claim their voice, challenge injustices and be equal partners within society without fear of violence, it delivered an empowering message that women should feel ‘I can and I will’.

To end this patriarchal system which hold women’s equality back requires a united effort for change.

There is a need for men to recognise that they have to do things differently, that it should not be women who change to fit into an unhealthy culture. Women also need to support other women and those women at the top need to leave the ladder down for other women to rise up and join them.

Women should feel free to claim their voice and be equal partners, we must keep striving for this goal locally and internationally. As women we must transform our frustration and anger at current structures and turn them into empowerment that will help us drive for change. We must make ourselves agents of change because we know what has to happen we just need to implement it.

RosieTheRiverterI firmly believe the more women are empowered and their voices are heard the more things will change for the better, both for women and the wider society. So ladies and gentlemen let’s start this revolution and end Patriarchy.