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Safe cities not merely about technology, say experts

Jun 15, 2015

According to experts, the idea of a ‘safe city for women’ has to do with the mindset, and not just infrastructure.

New Delhi: “Smart cities have to be safe for women and girls, and must reduce inequalities between women and men,” India’s Minister for Urban Development M Venkaiah Naidu said at the inauguration of a three-day United Nations conference on ‘Safe Cities for Women and Girls – Implementation Essentials’ in New Delhi.

“Urban life poses a number of risks with regard to the safety and security of women. It is important for urban policies to be guided by women’s perspectives, to provide not just a safe environment but a whole ecosystem that places the needs of women and girls at the centre of urban development,” the minister said.

Underlining one of the aims of the conference, Adriana Quinones from the UN Women, Panama, said that the evidence based approaches, practice tools should be incorporated for advancing the existing international knowledge based on safe cities for women and girls.

The conference also laid special focus on issues like important roles of different partners in safe cities’ policies and programming; building safe and inclusive cites; global initiatives; use of technologies like mobile phones; policy oriented advocacy; community mobilization and participation of grassroots women; policy linkages, coordination and governance, strategies for global advocacy and policy exchange of safe cities and public transport free of sexual harassment and other forms of violence against women and girls.

Speaking on the issue of public transport that is free from sexual harassment, Ranjana Deswal of Delhi Transport Corporation, said, "In the last two years, things have started to change in Delhi and a lot of initiatives have been taken. Closed circuit television cameras (CCTVs) in 200 buses have been deployed on 24 routes on a trial basis and more are to be added soon. All public transport vehicles are GPS enabled and the Delhi police is more co-operative today."

Acknowledging that most of these security provisions were incorporated after the infamous Delhi gangrape incident in December 2012, she said, "All we need is a cultural change for gender equality. It is sad that all these steps were taken only after the sad (gangrape) incident, but the people have changed over this period. The Delhi Police is more active today on sexual harassment cases and actions are taken immediately. There has been an emphasis on public dialogue on this issue and soon things will change for good."

The UN Women consultation included more than 120 participants from 24 countries, including from cities where the Safe Cities Global initiative is being implemented. The initiative, launched in 2010, facilitates global commitment to make cities smarter, safer and more sustainable through partnership and collaboration – between residents, government, the private sector and civil society. In New Delhi, one of the first cities to join the initiative, the programme has entered its third phase under a renewed Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Delhi.

In an endevour to enhance the feeling of security among women and motivate them, Fernanda Rivera from the Ministry of Environment, Mexico City Government, said, "If we have to make the city safer for women, we need to focus on the services that we provide to them. Apart from the technological solutions, we have motivated women to use cycles for transportation and today around 12 per cent women use cycles for transportation, which is increasing day by day."

Commenting on the technological innovations, Suneeta Dhar from Jagori said, "Women can only be safe when technology reaches the grassroots and people are benefitted by it. Else, like every other policy, it will be just on papers."

Lalitha Kumaramangalam, Chairperson, National Commission for Women, and Preeti Sudan, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India, both of whom emphasised that ‘safe cities’ were not merely about better technology and facilities.

“We must deal with culture, which sometimes suppresses women, if we want to have safe cities, and we can address this in large part through education,” said Kumaramangalam.

“The idea of a safe city has to do with the mindset, and not just infrastructure,” observed Sudan. She also referred to the setting up of one-stop crisis centres in hospitals in all districts of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, the universalisation of the ‘181’ hotline, and the integration of the two services.

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