ActionAid, a global organization that works to promote human rights, launched the Safe Cities for Women campaign on August 8th during FNRU’s (the National Forum for Urban Reform) National Conference in Rio de Janeiro.

The campaign was organized by women from various locations and communities in the states of Pernambuco, Rio Grande do Norte, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, who were tired of living in places where the masculine is considered as a universal guiding principle and where public policies are not directed at women’s issues.

The logic of capital has long understood the importance of women for its functioning. Women, as producers of its most valuable asset, labor, have been  treated as those who need protection. Hence, in this sense, they have been regarded as fragile and incapable, second class citizens[M2]  who, therefore, should stay at home. Thus, public spaces were considered in light of established social roles: women were designated to the domestic or the reproductive; men were designated to the public or the productive. Women suffer the consequences of this every day: verbal and physical harassment, an educational system that reproduces gender roles and limits women’s behavior, dark streets, police authorities who are poorly instructed to deal with cases of aggression, etc.

Throughout the years, women have conquered more space in society and to a certain extent, cities have followed this progress. However, according to research conducted by ActionAid, the manner in which authorities frequently deal with issues that affect women’s security in cities today is based on a context of naturalizing violence and harassment. This is due to the idea that they believe things are as they are and that “combating” such problems should primarily be done through preventive measures, which suggest that women should not fully enjoy the city. Some of the recommendations for women include not leaving the house after a certain time of the day, going out in groups and not walking by determined areas.

As a result, it is still necessary to deepen the discussion and think about measures that handle the issue without limiting women’s mobility. Violence and harassment against women should be denaturalized. Such issues need to be understood as a structural matter. This is what the campaign offers society: it proposes changes that seek to solve the problems and simultaneously guarantee women full access to cities.

In order to do so, ActionAid spent two years listening to women from different locations in Brazil with regard to the limitations on the right to the city they suffer on a daily basis. Part of this listening process was creating a Baseline, which systematized the perception of these women regarding the relation between their vulnerability to violence in public spaces and the inefficiency of public services offered in the cities.

Among the accounts, there is the declaration made by Neusa Helena, or “Neusinha”, who lives in Jardim Clímax in São Paulo and talked about the precariousness of policing: “There are moments when we are afraid of asking the police for help because of the stories we have heard, (…) of asking for help and being treated with disdain, with disrespect. I think there should be more policing, yes, but with a different police than that which we see today, a police [force] that has a different training, another way of thinking.” While this is a serious problem, the case at hand is much more common than one imagines. The research resulted in a Public Letter, called Women’s Political Letter. Here ActionAid pointed out the problem and presented a solution, demanding greater efforts from public service providers with regard to basic services such as transportation, street lighting, policing, housing and education. A copy of the letter was delivered to Minister Gilberto Carvalho, Chief Minister of the General Secretariat of the Presidency of Brazil, at the end of the meeting on August 8th.

Read the Baseline, with a systematization of the perception of the women who participated in the research, here

Read the Women’s Political Letter here