Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, during her opening address last week at the third annual Women and City Summit held in Santiago, announced that nearly half of women in cities across Latin America have faced at least one sexual assault in their lifetime. This haunting fact, along with women reporting feeling particularly unsafe on public transportation and city streets, became a large focus at the annual conference that is designed to promote new practical visions for the future of cities that promote justice and gender equity.
“The main problem we women suffer in the world is the insecurity in transport and in public spaces that are supposed to be places of safety and coexistence and that end up being discriminatory and violent places,” Daniela Chacon, deputy mayor of Quito, told AFP.
Women who live in the outskirts of large Latin American cites and have long daily commutes are particularly susceptible to harassment while traveling on public transport. Chacon said countries should display political will and allocate financial resources for organizations trying to curb violence against women. Ecuador, for example, has launched a program to help women feel safe in public places. In just over a year, in the capital of Quito, more than 600 cases of assault have been reported.
According to a related study conducted by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), four out of 10 women in the region have suffered physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. The United Nations agency suggests that countries gather relevant information and punish the perpetrators to curb the crime.
Claudia Pascaul, a Chilean minister representing the nation’s National Women’s Service, said that getting more women into elected positions of power was key to ensuring policies that promote gender equality and curb violence against women become priorities in Latin American cities and nations. “Women ask for better street lighting in cities while men demand for increased numbers of soccer fields,” the summit was told.
The summit was represented by the Latin American Municipal Union (UIM), UN Women, ECLAC, the Chilean Association of Municipalities, the National Women’s Service, and the municipality of Santiago.