It’s almost a year to the day since I first mentioned female-friendly urban spaces in Guatemala as I wrote about gender inequality in Guatemala. Earlier this year I experienced female-only carriages on Delhi’s metro for myself and enjoyed the opportunity to avoid the gazes and opportunistic gropes I suffered every now and again on overloaded buses and trains. A UN-Habitat survey (Global Assessment of Women’s Safety, 2009) identified violence in public spaces as one of the three most widespread forms of violence against women, so at first glance these female-oriented urban initiatives seem like a welcome solution to such incidents.
Similar schemes have also been rolled out in Mexico and Brazil, and El Salvador has taken further steps to combat the recent rise in sexual violence and femicide in creating the first of seven planned ‘Cities for Women’. The Ciudad Mujer provides women with access to various free services, including health care, counselling and child care. Whilst such schemes sound like a great idea for improving living standards for women in countries with great levels of gender inequality, an article I found today sheds a little more light on the topic and suggests that these initiatives may not be as effective as they first seem.
Certain groups have spoken out to question the effectiveness of such schemes in the face of entrenched ‘machismo’ and extreme gender asymmetry in Latin American countries. These critics suggest that projects appealing directly to women will only serve to further separate the sexes and will fail to affect the prevailing attitudes of men in Guatemala which would help to further improvements in women’s rights in areas such as domestic violence, femicide, and discrimination in the workplace.
The majority of abuse against women happens in the home, so it can therefore be argued that focusing resources on domestic environments and not in female-friendly public spaces would be more effective. There is also a case for arguing that it is the men who should be targeted by any campaigns in order to solve the problem at its root, rather than making the current situation of widespread violence and discrimination more ‘bearable’ for women.
In my old RWI post on gender equality, I emphasised the importance of fighting impunity to reduce femicide and mentioned the CICIG as a key organisation in the fight against impunity. Until this fight is won, it will be hard for justice to be served for women who suffer at the hands of men.
To conclude, I echo thoughts from my previous post on gender equality in Guatemala when I say that although it might not be as fast as we would like, progress is being made. Creating female-friendly urban spaces in Guatemala is a public declaration that women are suffering and that this is not acceptable. Rather than drawing a line between men and women, I believe that gender-based urban schemes serve as a starting point to introduce other schemes that over time will break down gender barriers as men learn to recognise the importance of women and see that discrimination will not be tolerated. It will be interesting to see how female-friendly projects expand, and looking at projects around the world – such as the provision of affordable housing for women in Uganda – it is clear that there is a lot of scope for projects that will most definitely change the lives of women who are currently discriminated against in Guatemalan society.