Night in the urban tropics of Rio de Janeiro. With the onset of darkness, this city ceases to be friendly to residents. The streets are really scary to walk. Especially if you are a woman. Especially if you're alone. It is almost impossible for men to feel this. When you hear a whistle in your back. When a chill runs down your back and you want to flee. When it's just incredibly scary to return home after sunset. When they tell you: "Be careful!" - but you don't want to live in a world where you need to be afraid simply because you were born in a female body and someone considers you to be the weaker sex.
That evening I went out for a walk until dark and went into the wrong street. Someone was shouting something in my back, but my knowledge of Portuguese did not allow me to understand what it was. It was clear from the intonation that they were not invited to the theater. But then a couple of young guys appeared. The girl came up to me herself, told me where it is better not to walk in Rio alone, took me by subway, then she got out with me at my stop, waited until I caught a taxi, and asked me to unsubscribe to her on Facebook that I had arrived home. She also told me about the Brazilian social women's movement "Vamos juntas?" ("Let's go together?"). It is now very popular in the big cities of Brazil like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
Its creator, a young Brazilian journalist, often returned home after dark after class. She has repeatedly noticed that some women take the same route as her, but still move one by one. She created a Facebook page, offering a simple help scheme: if a woman returns home alone in the evening and sees another woman, they just walk together, communicate and thus protect each other. Attacks on two women are extremely rare, and even if there is no specific threat of attack, when women walk together, they do not feel fear, they feel more comfortable. In two days, the page got 10 thousand likes. Girls began to share life stories when they were afraid to go out for fear of being attacked, or were abused by men.
Now at the page "Vamos juntas?" there are more than 300 thousand likes on Facebook, the project has a functioning website, and soon there will be an application that collects data on poorly lit streets and areas where women have been attacked. Its creator has published a book about the movement and spreads the idea of uniting women based on simple human mutual assistance. Having ceased to rely on the state, people begin to believe in themselves and act independently, realizing that in this case the solution to the problem will come faster and will be more effective.
Even if there is no specific threat of attack, when women walk together, they have no fear, they feel
yourself more comfortable
I was interested to know what is being done to make it safer for women to appear on the streets. In the United States and most European countries, there are special organizations for the protection of women's rights, as well as divisions of international organizations involved in the protection of women's rights. Some of them, such as Women in Cities, deal directly with the safety of women in public spaces. One of the sensational European initiatives aimed at protecting women on the streets is special parking lots for women, which are available in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. They are better lit and located closer to busy streets. The initiative has been taken up by China and South Korea in hopes of making cities more women-friendly.
But most of the projects to protect women on the streets and in public places are concentrated in developing countries.The UN has a structure called UN Women, which deals, in particular, with the protection of women on the streets. The Safe Environment for Women Program operates in Quito (Ecuador), Cairo (Egypt), New Delhi (India), Kigali (Rwanda), Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea). UN Women works with city mayors, women's communities and organizations, schools, businesses. They are engaged in educational activities, lobby for the criminalization of gender discrimination and toughening penalties for sexual violence, and sponsor women's initiatives. Basically, reports on the activities of UN Women are studies of the causes of discrimination, seminar materials with a discussion of the problem, statistics and general conclusions.
But the solution of the problem without "going out to the people" is impossible. One of the projects working in this direction is in Cairo - "Harassmap". One of its co-founders worked for a local non-profit organization. She was amazed at the harassment women in Egypt face on a daily basis and concluded that society considers discrimination against women as a matter of course. Together with her friends and the first volunteers, she launched a campaign against discrimination against women: the guys talked with local residents about their rejection of violence, talked with women, and created a page on the social network.
In 2008, the Center for Women's Rights in Egypt drew attention to the project. After successful anti-discrimination campaigns, organizations began to pressure the government to tighten legislation that protects women's rights. Together with UN Women, the Harassmap project in Cairo lobbied for changes to local government regulations that strengthen protections against sexual harassment in public places.
Harassmap is now addressing violence against women in general and addressing the safety of public spaces. Activists are working to ensure that offenders stop feeling impunity, that sexual harassment is considered unacceptable in society, so that a tolerant attitude towards rapists changes to a sharply negative one. They have two specific areas of activity: educational work with local residents and increasing the number of “street eyes”.
"Eyes on the street" is a term that comes from urbanism. The international organization Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design creates such design of urban spaces, which in itself reduces the likelihood of crime. When streets, sidewalks and parks are visible from windows and balconies of houses, and there are enough lanterns and seating on the streets, potential offenders realize that their actions will have a lot of witnesses - as a result, the crime rate drops dramatically and pedestrians feel safer. Residents can also increase the number of "eyes" on the streets by organizing various activities in public places: joint dinners, Saturday volunteers, evening games, which people can watch from the windows. Cairo activists demand the installation of additional street lights, and also talk with taxi drivers, owners of restaurants, shops and small shops on the streets of Cairo so that they too become “street eyes” and, when communicating with customers and customers, show that they strongly oppose discrimination. and also promptly reported to the police if they witnessed violence.
Harassmap activists say that thanks to the activities of their organization, issues of discrimination and gender-based violence have moved from the category of taboo to the category of discussion at the state level. But they still pin their hopes not on the police and politicians, but on ordinary people. Therefore, activists write articles about violence, communicate with local residents, and conduct lessons in schools. They are also working on an interactive map of discrimination. Women can anonymously talk about how they faced discrimination and point out where it happened.Visitors to the site can see what incidents have taken place in the city and read women's statements. The intelligence is passed on to police officers who can intensify surveillance in specific areas, and activists can assess which streets require closer attention. Similar projects exist in Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines.
One of the other measures to protect women in public spaces is to create places free of men. At one time, in Indian cities, in particular in Mumbai and Delhi, women’s trains, women’s carriages and women’s taxis were launched. In India, trains and taxis have become very popular, since, in principle, they provided a woman with a relatively safe way to move around the city. In addition, views on women's rights gradually began to change in society: before such trains and taxis, it was assumed that women simply should not go somewhere if it was dangerous. The same trains and taxi services exist in the Arab world, in Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico. In Russia, separate compartments on long-distance trains have not gained popularity. By itself, this method is far from ideal, since it does not solve the problem and does not change the attitude towards it: harassment and harassment remain the norm, and the responsibility for violence is still placed not on the perpetrator, but on the victim.
The problem of rape in India is very serious. According to statistics for 2013, 92 rapes occurred daily in the country. In 2012, thousands of rallies were held in the state, demanding the safety of women. The reason was the gang rape of a twenty-three-year-old girl who later died from her injuries. As a result of the rallies, the Indian government made systemic changes to the legislation, increasing liability for sexual harassment, making voyeurism and stalking a criminal offense, and clarifying the legal concept of consent - lack of resistance does not mean consent to sex. In some cities, special courts have been set up to deal with rape cases on an expedited basis. Hot lines for victims of violence have been launched in a number of cities.
But the streets of India's big cities are still unsafe. Rape often occurs when women go to public toilets that close after sunset, and they are uncomfortable and scary to be in. During my travels in India, like most local women, I only felt relatively safe in supermarkets and the subway. The infrastructure of India's cities requires significant improvements.
In the area of urbanism in India, there is a small but successful project called Let’s Color, which was launched by a paint manufacturer in India and other countries six years ago. The company, together with local residents, paints entire neighborhoods of houses, making the space more comfortable and cleaner. How does wall painting affect street safety? In criminology, there is a theory of broken windows: according to it, the reason for the criminogenic situation is connivance and a calm attitude towards minor violations of order. If we do not pay attention to littered streets, fights, stowaways in vehicles and broken lanterns, we ourselves doom ourselves to exist in a more criminogenic society. People are becoming less sensitive to violations of law and order, in principle, the norms of the law in the minds of impunity begin to erode. “Let’s Color” acts in accordance with the conclusions of this theory: they ennoble yards and districts, remove garbage from the streets and paint the shabby walls of houses in beautiful bright colors.
Also, after a high-profile incident in India, private initiatives have intensified in the country. Indian developers have created VithU smartphone app.In case of an emergency, it is enough to double-click on the application icon, and the smartphone will call the phone numbers of friends or family members specified during registration and send them the current location of the smartphone owner. In Russia, a fundraiser was launched for a similar project Nimb - a ring with a built-in panic button, which is synchronized with a smartphone. The measures of this and other similar projects are aimed at minimizing the consequences of an attack.
If we don't pay attention
to littered streets and broken lanterns, we doom ourselves to existence
in a more criminal society
In Russia, public spaces are also still unsafe for women. According to the official statistics of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, in 2016, from January to May, 1,683 rapes and attempted rapes were registered in Russia - and this is only official data that does not take into account how many women do not contact the police after attacks. Residents of Russian cities also unite to help each other. Since 2013, there has been a Brother for Sister project in Moscow, the goal of which is to ensure the safety of women in the dark. Girls can write to the project coordinators with a request to meet them at night at the metro or train and escort them home, and they connect them with volunteers. Male volunteers are pre-screened by coordinators. Later, the girl can contact the volunteer directly. There are similar projects in Volgograd, Krasnodar, Yekaterinburg and some other cities.
Another project dealing with ensuring the problem of women's safety on the streets operated in Petrozavodsk and three other cities of different countries with the support of the UN and the already mentioned organization "Women in Cities". The project was completed in 2011.
The issue of women's safety in Russia is still not actively discussed. But this does not mean that it does not exist - the project #I'm not afraid to say showed how great it is. Should Russian women wait for changes in urban infrastructure, or is it better to create conditions for their own security themselves? Are we strong enough not to be afraid and to act? Are you ready to overcome doubts and embarrassment in order to walk up to another woman on the street and say, “Let's go together,” instead of looking around and quickening your steps? I would like these questions to quickly become rhetorical.
Photos: 1, 2, 3 via Flickr, HBpictures - stock.adobe.com