London Combats Sexual Harassment with UN Program

Women and girls can now feel a little safer when walking around the streets of London. This past summer, a UN Women’s program rolled out a digital mapping tool aimed at enhancing safety for women and girls in the city’s public spaces. It’s all part of the program’s Safe Cities Global Initiative, which aims to develop and implement policies and tools to help prevent and combat sexual harassment and sexual violence against women and girls in cities all around the world.

With more than 20 cities participating, London is the latest where women and girls can anonymously tag places where they feel safe or unsafe on the program’s website. The information is collected and evaluated by the Safe Cities Advisory Committee who will make recommendations through their partnerships with local politicians, national governments, women’s groups, community organizers and partners.

The program, launched in 2010 under the umbrella of the UN’s Safe Cities Free of Violence Against Women and Girls Global Program, has already seen positive steps that have been taken in cities where sexual harassment and violence runs rampant. For example, the National Capital District of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea has worked to improve women’s safety in local markets and the municipality of Quito, Ecuador has approved a local law to strengthen action against sexual harassment in public spaces.

The Realist Woman’s take:

This program is a great step in the right direction in promoting the safety of women and girls. Sexual harassment is something that every woman has experienced and unfortunately, young girls experience as well. Before the 1970s, every woman knew what sexual harassment was, but there wasn’t a term for it. Women’s activists came up with the term, and it was then used by women’s organizations to bring public awareness to the issue.

I personally can’t think about the issue of sexual harassment, without thinking about Anita Hill, who so vividly and courageously testified 27 years ago against the then-Supreme Court Judge nominee Clarence Thomas. Hill’s testimony didn’t keep Thomas from becoming a judge but it did shed a light on the widespread issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. Hill’s name has been brought up as of late due to the also courageous and utterly devastating testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault in high school by the newly sworn-in Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh. More likely than not, sexual harassment ends in sexual assaults. If this program can do anything to help prevent and discourage the harassment of women and girls, then I’m all for it.

My hope is that this program expands to every city all around the world so that women and girls can finally feel free to be themselves in public without feeling like prey just waiting to be hunted. I also hope that this program would go on to encourage men to inspire other men to treat women as people who have a right to their own personal space in public without feeling entitled to our attention. To some, this may seem hard to understand, but we owe men nothing. Not a hello. Not a goodbye. Not a smile. Not our time. Not our bodies. Nothing. We owe men nothing. And we also don’t deserve a nasty response when we respond to a man sexually harassing us. We don’t deserve to be verbally or physically assaulted when we politely ask for men to leave us alone, when we give men the silent treatment, when we try to ignore men or when we give men a dirty look for that harassment. We owe men nothing. Remember that.