Tech key in making cities smart, safe and sustainable, says UN Women’s Bachelet

21 Feb 2013

UN Women executive director Michelle Bachelet speaks at the WACAP forum in Dublin yesterday

Speaking at the 8th Forum World Alliance of Cities Against Poverty (WACAP) in Dublin yesterday, executive director of UN Women Michelle Bachelet explained how technology is helping the effort to build safer cities.

“One message that has been highlighted over and over again in looking forward is that we can no longer afford to hold back half the population,” she told delegates, as she mapped out the progress of the UN’s Global Safe Cities Initiative, which works to increase safety, reduce violence and mobilise and empower women’s groups, and youth and children’s advocates to shape their urban environment.

“We know that smart cities recognise that women’s equal participation, equal opportunities and equal rights are essential to eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development,” Bachelet said.

Technology is playing an important role in the initiative, which works in 20 cities worldwide. That number will now rise to 21, as Dublin Lord Mayor Mr Naoise Ó Muirí announced at the conference that Dublin is joining the UN Women Safe Cities Global Initiative.

“A targeted and effective response requires local diagnostics,” said Bachelet. “To make cities safer we place a strong emphasis on taking an evidence-based approach, and taking advantage of technologies that enhance data collection, monitoring and evaluation.

“We know that smart cities use technology for social innovation,” she continued. “And we know it is smart to provide concrete evidence to authorities to take responsive action.”

For this reason, UN Women has teamed up with Microsoft “to find ways to better use mobile technology to document, prevent and respond to violence, especially sexual harassment and violence in public spaces”.

Rio de Janeiro example

She cited the progress made in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where communities are using mapping technologies to identify safety risks in 10 of the city’s high-risk slums, the favelas.

“Trained women and adolescent girls used their smartphones to map safety risks, such as faulty infrastructure or services, obscured walking routes, and lack of lighting,” explained Bachelet. “These initial findings were presented to local authorities, and are currently being used to develop solutions.”

Bachelet explained that UN Women and the United Cities and Local Governments recently signed a co-operation agreement for further extension of the initiative. “We agreed to collect local data on women’s political participation and better track equality between men’s and women’s representation at the local level.”

“Safe Cities makes women’s full participation a priority because if communities are empowered today, if grassroots women can make decisions and co-operate with municipal and national authorities today, and if men and boys, and young people, are engaged in the Safe Cities actions today, then societies and communities can and will become safer – and they will stay that way,” concluded Bachelet.

On International Women’s Day, 8 March, Silicon Republic launches Women Invent Tomorrow, a year-long campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. Watch this space!

Ann O’Dea is the CEO and co-founder of Silicon Republic and the founder of Future Human