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Working for 'safe cities' for women, girls in India: UN Women Rep. Rebecca Reichmann Tavares
Updated:Apr 13, 2017
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On the occasion of International Women’s Day, UN Women, the newest body of the United Nations, has called on everyone to ‘Step It Up for Gender Equality’ so that all women can work as equal participants. 
The theme for International Women’s Day, 8 March 2017, is “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030”. The world of work is changing, with significant implications for women. Globalization and technological changes bring unprecedented opportunities. But the growing informality of labour, unstable livelihoods and incomes, and new fiscal and trade policies also impact women’s economic empowerment.
Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work will be the focus of the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 61) from 13-24 March. Global leaders, civil society and government representatives, private sector and activists will meet to mobilize and strategize, share new initiatives and commit actions to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Dr. Rebecca Reichmann Tavares is the Representative of UN Women’s Multi-country office for India, Bhutan, the Maldives and Sri Lanka. She graduated from Yale University and holds a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 
In conversation with Rashmi Saksena of INDIA REVIEW&ANALYSIS, a SPS publication, Dr Tavares 
 outlined the achievements and challenges for UN Women in India. 
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: What is UN Women and what does it do?
A:  UN Women was created in 2011 by bringing together four existing UN agencies which worked on gender. We are a combination of all of those. UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women) was the representation of the U.N. in the field offices.  We look at various countries and their commitments to gender equality outlined in various treaties and conventions.  We are the newest U.N. body, and the only one that has the "combined mandate". We do operational world work by supporting organizations in the field - both government organizations and private sector and not-for-profit organisations. We also work with governments on their normative commitments, at the policy level. 
Q: What are the priority areas for UN Women? 
A:  We have six areas of priority. 
One of them is the coordination across all U.N. bodies to engender the work that they do. 
We work to end violence against women and to increase women's participation in public life. We work directly with different government bodies or agencies within the government to plan and budget for programs that improve gender responsiveness and gender awareness. 
We also work on women’s peace and security. We work with countries that contribute troops for peacekeeping missions, to increase the number of women in peacekeeping and peacemaking operations. 
We also do economic empowerment. Economic empowerment can be anything from grassroots, small self-help group projects and networking of women farmers for example all the way up to procurement policies of the public sector to take into account more women owned businesses in their supply chains. Our ‘governance program’ supports training programs for women at panchayat level.  We worked with State Institute of Rural Development and the NationaI Institute of Rural Development and ministries of Panchayati Raj and Rural Development to strengthen the capacity of elected women officials at the grassroots level.  
We're working to incorporate more gender responsive awareness in the government sector in its planning and budgeting and training officials for gender responsiveness. 
We work with state governments on gender budgeting. That's one area that has been a strong priority in 2016. 
Then the other focus area is ending violence against women. We work on "safe cities" for women and girls. We are working in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai with municipal authorities and NGOs (Non-government organisations) to improve safety of women. It's a crowd-sourcing platform where women can identify which parts of the city they perceive to be dangerous and then working with the municipal governments and the police to improve safety in those areas. 
Our Global Flagship Initiative ‘Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces’ involves scoping studies to elicit a deep understanding of local forms of sexual violence against women and girls in public spaces. We work to embed the ‘Safe Cities’ concept into the government of India’s Smart Cities Project.  
Our Initiative, ‘Safe Cities Free of Violence against Women and Girls’ global program develops, implements, and evaluates tools, policies and comprehensive approaches on the prevention of and response to sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence against women across different settings.
As part of the program, UN Women works with UN Habitat, Jagori (an NGO) and the Delhi Government to make New Delhi safer for women. Seven safety audits in New Delhi have helped women underline their own safety issues. Audits are also underway in Mumbai and Bengaluru.
In 2015, UN Women trained more than a thousand Delhi government marshals deployed in public transport buses to prevent sexual harassment of women on buses.
Q: Women in panchayats in India are no longer a novelty. But have we in reality come a long way since the time when these representatives were merely rubber stamps of their husband or father-in-law? 
A:  Yes. We have a lot of anecdotal evidence through research and evaluations that show that the women have come into their own. They talk about specific things that they've been able to bring to their community be it a water pipe or road.   We have worked with 57,000 women elected officials but that's just a tiny little drop in the bucket. With this you can't really generalize across country and besides we've worked only in select states. However we know that attitudes and mindsets are changing.
Q: We still don't have reservation for women in the Parliament. What are your efforts in this direction?
A: It is something that we really are concerned about; we are exploring opportunities to work with women parliamentarians and to look at means and mechanisms for enhancing women's candidacies. We do believe that "reservations", what we call in the UN as "temporary special measures" which is basically an affirmative action, are necessary to increase women's participation and the system has worked very well at the Panchayat level. 
Q: In the year gone by, what have been your major achievements?
A: It was to get the Ministry of Renewable Energy to commit five million dollars to work together with UN Women on increasing opportunities for women to develop and promote smart kit sustainable energy solutions. We're looking first at solar lamps and other forms of solar energy to really reach the last mile with solar technology. We are partnering with the Ministry to implement the flagship program ‘Women’s Entrepreneurship for Sustainable Energy’ in Madhya Pradesh, Nagaland, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. It will address gender specific barriers faced by women and women entrepreneurs in their participation and leadership in energy policies, program and schemes.  
Q: What are the areas that you would like to focus on in the current year? 
A: Major areas of focus will remain making cities and public spaces safe for women, prevention of trafficking of women and girls, ending violence against women, and rights of women farmers. We will help women entrepreneurs access finance and skills.
Q:  What about domestic violence?  
A:  Public safety and domestic violence remains areas in which we make the biggest investment. We also do police training and we work with all public officials to improve women's access to justice. 
Q:  'Gender budgeting' is a core area of concern for UN Women. How do you rate the latest Indian budget? 
A: On gender, the budget has maintained a status quo. The Nirbhaya Fund shows a constant allocation of Rs. 500 crore. We look forward to initiatives and efforts to ensure that the Fund is utilised to the fullest.
The overall allocation for the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) has seen a modest increase on account of allocations to schemes such as the National Nutrition Mission and the Maternity Benefit Scheme. The Maternity Benefit Scheme would be helped by the removal of conditions attached to it – as it stands, this cash transfer scheme will only apply to women aged 19 and above and for up to two children.
Continuing investments in schemes such as MGNREGA, the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana (which will provide funding to the non-corporate small business sector) and the Stand Up India scheme (to support Dalit, Tribal and Women entrepreneurs) are welcome steps. 
Q: Has UN Women taken any projects to assist men in dealing with patriarchal structures, norms, practices and the likes that still exist?
A: The best way to change mindsets is through media and especially social media. So we're using the ‘He for She campaign'; it's a big international campaign on social media. Each country has a number of ‘He for She’ champions. India is now number one when it comes to them. In India, 214,000 men and boys have signed the pledge. We have taken the campaign to schools, universities, companies, literature fests and concerts. ‘He for She’ is about taking action wherever you are – whether it is addressing gender biases in schools, empowering educators, addressing gaps in health care for women and girls, respecting the diversity of sexual orientations and identities, refusing to be bystanders when encountering violence against women and girls, ensuring equal opportunities and wages in the workplace, and making sure women are represented in elections, in Parliaments and legislatures, in peacemaking and peace building. 
 (Transcripted and researched by Chayanika Saxena)
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