Around the world, women face sexual violence and harassment when accessing public spaces. Bangladesh is no different, with an estimated 90% of women and girls between the ages of 10-18 having experienced sexual violence and unwanted physical contact in streets, markets and public transport. Government policy in Bangladesh does not adequately tackle this issue, with no specific laws to combat sexual harassment in public spaces.
Bangladesh’s urban landscapes have also been constructed without women, or women’s needs, included in the design process. As a result, vital safety measures like adequate lighting, sanitation and hygiene facilities, safe recreational areas and transport facilities, and ‘women friendly’ police have been undervalued, or ignored. With an estimated 70 out of every 100 people in Bangladesh expected to live in a city in 2050, the lack of safe urban areas for women will become an even more critical issue.
The Safe Cities campaign is bringing women together from the urban slum community to advocate for basic amenities that keep women safe, such as street lights and public toilets. They are undertaking trainings and workshops on gender, sexual rights, feminism, leadership, and negotiation skills. The ‘She Can’ project is, at the same time, trying to hold government at the local and national levels accountable for women’s rights and demanding proactive work to make public services more gender-responsive.
These women-led campaigns in Bangladesh are lobbying for policies that protect the rights of women and girls, building women’s movements that are demanding more gender-responsive public services, and strengthening women’s engagement with local, national and international platforms to advocate for safer urban spaces.