January 23, 2017
Women and girls have a fundamental right to safety. This safety is a precursor to development and growth, in order for girls and women to be able to build more prosperous lives for themselves, their families, their communities and their country. Safety includes not just a safe community and shelter, but also places that are safe emotionally, wherein women and girls can feel fully respected and free to express themselves. In this Girls’ Leadership Forum, we will hear from girls and women around the world, in WomenStrong sites and beyond, about what safety means to them, where they feel most safe and the barriers they still face as they strive to lead safe and fruitful lives. Girls’ Leadership Forum Guest Curator Clara Molot leads off the series, with this introduction.
Safety is a human right
Safety is a human right. We should be born with this innate right to be free from physical, emotional and mental harm. Yet, for so many women, safety feels unobtainable. In gathering the thoughts of girls and women from India to Kenya to the United States, universal patterns of fear are brought to light.
We asked each girl to respond to the following prompt:
As a woman in an urban environment, what does safety mean to you? Where’s your ‘shelter/home,’ and is this where you feel safest? What contributes to your feeling safe? Where do you feel most vulnerable in our society?
For some, safety hinges on physical security. Feeling safe relies on an environment devoid of violence and drugs, one made up of supportive females, or one that shelters women from treacherous streets at night. For others, however, safety takes on a much more abstract identity – to feel safe depends on feeling free to be oneself. For these women, a safe environment was one that affirmed personal identity and aspirations.
As a young woman in the United States, I, like many other young women, grew up being mindful of the inherent discomforts of being a female in our society. I have long known that there were certain kinds of situations that I had to avoid, and, while safety is a human right, that doesn’t mean it is always guaranteed. However, I also had the privilege of always feeling secure in my identity. At this moment in the United States, though, identity feels particularly under siege. Safety for women is often intensified by intersectionality. Whether it is because of one’s religion, heritage, citizenship standing, sexual orientation, gender, race, or other, there is a new element of fear that has risen from the rejection of difference. This trend is not particular to the United States. So, as we enter what promises to be a tumultuous period in history, revisiting the concept and issues surrounding safety through the lenses of girls from across the globe seems particularly relevant and significant.
See and hear some reflections on safety by girls and women around the world, in WomenStrong sites and beyond, in the weeks to come.
Reflections on Safety by Women in Southeast Washington, DC
To kick off the series, women from WomenStrong’s DC site reflect on safety in their home, where they feel most safe and where they feel vulnerable. Their collective responses have been coded in the word cloud below, which reveals some fascinating specificity about what “safety” connotes for women in Southeast DC. For instance, while some identified their homes as the place where they feel safest, they also emphasized the need to have locks on their doors and they treasure having their own keys to their own apartments. For someone who may have once slept in a shelter, in the streets or in prison, the sense of safety goes well beyond having any bed to lie on.
This word cloud also highlights the sense of safety that comes from the power within one’s self, one’s community and the resources available. This Girls’ Leadership Forum will explore all of these themes in greater detail over the weeks to come, with the WomenStrong DC participants, with some DC high school girls, Africa Leadership Academy girls, and with girls and women from our WomenStrong sites in Haiti, Kenya, India and beyond.
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In the fight to end violence against women and girls, no real progress can be made without considering the role of the urban environment. Dark streets, unprotected public toilets, parking lots, and mass transit are breeding grounds for violence.