LONDON, Nov 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Harassment and violence against women in cities too often go unreported because many women fear reprisals by their attackers or that authorities will not take complaints seriously, urban and gender experts said on Tuesday.
"When you survey women, safety is the major issue for women in cities," Carol Robles-Roman, head of Legal Momentum, a U.S.-based legal defence and education advocacy group, told delegates at the Trust Women Conference in London.
In New York, for example, over a two-year period 70 to 75 percent of murdered women had never reported violence against them to the police because of a lack of trust in the justice system, shame or fear, Robles-Roman, a former deputy major of the city, said.
As a result of that study, the mayor's office set up family justice centres in New York, helped by a $1 million grant from the federal government, to provide support to domestic violence survivors, a simple but effective solution that contributed to a drop in murder rates, she said.
Even when the abuse is less serious, women often see harassment as an intractable part of society, said Laura Bates, founder of the U.K.-based Everyday Sexism Project.
A culture of impunity means men feel they can get away with harassing women on a daily basis, said Bates, whose team of volunteers has collected more than 85,000 incidents of everyday harassment since the project kicked off in 2012.
"Women need more awareness that harassment in public spaces is a crime they can report," Bates told delegates. "There is still a tendency to diminish the issue, like it's not something that's important enough to tackle."
Today, with 54 percent of the world's 7 billion people living in cities, the issue of women's safety is also becoming increasingly important for urban economies, especially as that figure is expected to grow to 66 percent by 2050.
"For private players to be part of solutions for cities, they need a business rationale - they treat women as an opportunity," said Jean-Patrick Marquet, a director at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
"Women are key users of infrastructure, therefore as financier and developer you need to design the infrastructure so that it's women-friendly ... you will increase the usage, thereby increase revenues and cash flows," he said.
Safe public transport is particularly important, not only to make women more secure, but also to strengthen a city's economy, panellists said.
Studies repeatedly show a link between safe transport and women's economic empowerment and ability to work and study. Women tend to rely more on public transport than men, but this is not yet part of the fabric of urban planning.
A 2014 Thomson Reuters Foundation poll on the most dangerous transport systems for women found that women in major cities such as Moscow, Paris and London lacked confidence that authorities would investigate reports of abuse or that other passengers would help a female in trouble.
Bates said cost-effective solutions, such as using closed-circuit television on buses and trains and better training of police officers, can go a long way to improving women's safety - as seen in Britain where police have installed cameras on public transport across the country.
(Reporting By Astrid Zweynert; Editing by Tim Pearce)
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