From providing an architectural blueprint for gender-separated bathrooms in schools to harnessing the power of the Olympic Games to draw attention to children’s right to play, UNICEF is at the forefront of policy making and programming that provides safe urban spaces for women and children.
At a Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) panel in March 2013, Christian Salazar, Deputy Director of Programme Division at UNICEF, joined Executive Director of UN Women Michele Bachelet, Deputy Director of UN-Habitat, Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, and civil society leaders from Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, to highlight the significance of reclaiming urban public spaces for women and girls. Within UNICEF, innovative programming and policy-making in this arena is taking place. The solutions are low-cost, yet incredibly effective.
“Something as simple as building [separate] toilets for boys and girls in schools …is a really high impact intervention,” said Salazar at the event, referring to UNICEF’s transitional learning space initiative, led by the Education Section. “We know how to do it. We are promoting specific architectural plans [that show] how to do this in a safe and respectful manner.”
Panelist Suneeta Dhar of Jagori, an NGO working in New Delhi to eradicate violence against women, singled UNICEF out for praise at the event, saying that the organization was able to cut through rhetoric with concrete solutions.
UNICEF is working on dynamic policies and programs that facilitate and encourage equitable access to basic services, transportation, and safe spaces, and provided concrete design and planning solutions to urban inequities.
For example, in Nairobi, baseline assessments that were carried out as part of the Safe Cities programme revealed a lack of basic sanitation facilities, water, and access to electricity in informal settlements. Recognizing that the absence of these basic services contributes to increased vulnerability to violence for children, community-led plans for improved hygiene and sanitation, disease surveillance and access to affordable energy sources are currently being developed.
Access to safe city streets is also key in the prevention of violence against women and children. At the panel, Salazar highlighted Bogota’s Ciclovia – where streets are closed to cars and other motorized vehicles and opened up to cyclists and pedestrians – is a shining example of an initiative to make cities safe for children and everyone.
“It creates such a change in the environment of the citizens, women and men alike, the old and the young: they move around the city, they identify more with the city,” said Salazar,” adding that it “creates a different attitude towards the public and the public spaces and how to behave in those public spaces.”
The impact of public city spaces on the security and well-being of children and adolescents mentioned by Salazar is one of the reasons why UNICEF is currently partnering with the city of Rio with Vamos Jogar, an initiative for cities in the region that will harness the power of the upcoming World Cup and Olympic Games in Rio. Through Vamos Jogar, UNICEF aims to help shape public policies and programmes, to ensure that children in the region have access to safe spaces to play. While the programme is open to all children, accurate surveying of slum areas by local authorities as part of Vamos Jogar will play a key role in bringing access to sport and play to the poorest of the urban poor children. UNICEF is holding a workshop in April to develop indicators for the local authorities to use in their surveys, and cities that participate will make a public commitment to improve children’s access to sport and play.
At the panel, Salazar stressed the need for strong partnerships with municipalities and civil society. He mentioned UNICEF’s current partnership with the World Bank’s Global City Indicators Facility (GCIF); together, they are launching the first urban child development index for the Child Friendly Cities global initiative. The index provides an established set of indicators that measure city services for children and adolescents—such as health, safety, and transportation – as well as quality of life issues, including safety and air pollution rates and pairs these indicators with a globally standardized methodology.
With urbanization on the rise, UNICEF is working to ensure that the lives of urban women and girls are not limited, but rather expanded, with policy and programming that is sustainable, scaleable, wide ranging and far reaching.
(This article originally appeared on ICON).