Public space must be safe for women
20 September 2022
It is necessary for women to feel safe and protected in the places where they live. One of the ways to achieve that is to adapt public spaces to their needs. This message was sent last week during the women’s exploratory walks with women from Banjaluka, a town in the north-west of BiH.
Is the space lit at night? Is the passage wide enough to accommodate a baby stroller? Are there security cameras in less crowded places? - these are some of the questions that Banjaluka women tried to reflect on during their women’s exploratory walks organized as part of the wider initiative “Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces in Banjaluka”, implemented by UN Women in BiH with support of Sweden and in partnership with the City of Banja Luka and local nongovernmental organizations. A first-of-its-kind initiative in BiH, in addition to changing attitudes about sexual harassment, it also focuses on inclusive and gender sensitive urban planning.
One of the walks took place during the night around the central train station and bus terminal, and the other was conducted during the day, in the vicinity of university buildings. It is expected that walks will result in concrete findings and recommendations for improvement of safety in these public spaces. UN Women will present the recommendations to the City of Banja Luka, explains Nađa Hasanović, Prevention Coordinator from UN Women BiH EVAW team.
“Our intention is that the City of Banja Luka recognizes the importance of the document and follows up by including budget resources for the implementation of certain recommendations in the following years. We will develop Guidelines on the use of walks as a safety assessment tool for adapting public spaces to women’s needs. The goal is for these Guidelines to be used in a long term by the city administration and other urban planning stakeholders in their everyday practices in designing public spaces.” Hasanović adds that there are plans to replicate the initiative in other cities in BiH.
Representatives of nongovernmental organizations and students of the Faculty of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy of Banja Luka took part in the walks. One of the participants, Jelena Mamlić, 22, believes that architects can do a lot to create safe spaces for all citizens. However, the segment of gender sensitive planning is often neglected in studies at her faculty.
“We discuss this topic every time we start a project, but then it gets overlooked, or forgotten, as the work progresses. We mostly focus on the building aesthetics and forget to think about what kind of a space it is for a woman.”
Cities were built by men for men
The training for representatives of the city administration, non-governmental sector and the Faculty of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy was delivered to targeted stakeholders prior to the walks as a way of informing them in more depth about the gender inclusive urban planning. The lead trainer- Kathryn Travers who is an expert in gender, safety and urban development currently working as a Policy Specialist at the UN Women New York EVAW section, explains that gender sensitive planning primarily requires more women in decision-making positions.
“It is important to understand how male dominated the urban and transportation planning sectors have been and continue to be, whether engineers, architects, transport workers, or decision makers. Thus, cities were built by men for men.”
Travers explains that it is important that the transformation of cities into safe and inclusive communities should be accompanied by the empowerment of women and girls, as well as other important stakeholders.
“We should build capacities of the local stakeholders and decision makers, including elected officials, to understand why it is so important to include women and girls. This is indeed a parallel effort, which leads to the point where we will have communication and openness to change”, says Travers.
Marija Dejanović Vilhelm, a participant in the training from the Department for Communal Affairs of the City of Banjaluka, believes that the needs of all public space users are an immutable element of the planning process. In her previous work in planning, urban planning, design and, currently, supervision, she had the opportunity to highlight the importance of general safety and revise spatial elements in line with the general safety criteria.
“The training was interesting in the part of open discussion and group work where we could demonstrate how we deal with these issues as a public institution, and other participants spoke from their perspectives as an educational institution and common citizens.”
Banjaluka was selected to be the first city in BiH to pilot the initiative, due to its commitment of the city to public safety, gender equality issues, institutional mechanisms for protection from gender-based violence, and a strong network of nongovernmental organizations working on women’s rights. Two important documents were developed in partnership with the Foundation Women United Banja Luka (Udružene žene Banja Luka) in the earlier stages of the initiative: Guidelines for service providers to address sexual harassment and violence in public spaces and Mapping of needs, services and available support services in Banjaluka.
Activities implemented in Bosnia and Herzegovina are a part of the UN Women Global Flagship Programme Initiative “Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces”. By taking part in this important initiative, Banjaluka has joined over 50 cities around the world sharing the vision of inclusive public spaces of the future which will belong to everyone.