The Safety Gap with Urban Thinkers Campus in the time of Covid-19


Red Dot Foundation is an Associate Member of the UN Habitat’s World Urban Campaign and is a working committee member of the Urban Thinkers Campus. Red Dot Foundation hosted a COVID19 Urban Thinkers Campus on The Safety Gap on 11 May 2020. 

Over 60 participants along with many community experts were gathered to engage in interesting debates on the same and to also address the challenges faced. The main aim of these webinars was to analyze the strategies of response to the COVID-19 crisis and accordingly make recommendations for strengthening resilience within the communities.

The session hosted by Red Dot Foundation consisted of four panelists in the following orde: 

  1. Ms. Rekha Sharma, National Commission for Women, India.
  2. Mr Pablo Aguilar, CNJUR International Association of Urbanistic Jurisprudence.
  3. Ms Jane Anyango, Polycom Development (Huairou Commission), Kenya
  4. Ms ElsaMarie DSilva, Red Dot Foundation, India.



As the COVID-19 pandemic has been progressing around the world, incidences and reports of domestic violence have shot up in many countries. According to UN Women, one in three women globally, become victims of violence at least once in their lifetime. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity for domestic violence to manifest itself within families, most commonly targeting women and girls. All the participants spoke of the same observation and concluded that the crisis has exacerbated the situation of domestic violence as this pandemic has forced people to stay within their homes, thus providing room for greater abuse, and lesser opportunities for the victims to seek refuge. 

The United Nations Population Fund also recently reported that pandemics increase the risk for gender based violence; the report says that during the time of crisis, women and girls may be at higher risk of intimate partner violence and also other forms of domestic violence due to increased tension within the household. During such situations, the community structures help, protect and support women and girls against the same. 

Ms. Rekha Sharma, Chairperson for the National Commission of Women, India, explained in detail, the practical measures that are in place to aid women in receiving support against domestic violence during this pandemic. One of such measures includes various helplines that provide the necessary help that is required during these periods. Along with the various call centers that have been established, an effective response also relies on the level of collaboration with communities and police personnel and building their capacity to support the victims.

Mr. Pablo Aguilar, President of CNJUR, an association working on urban jurisprudence in Latin America, also emphasized the fact that urban systems and functions have somehow collapsed with the COVID-19 crisis. He explained that the pandemic has brought in a new problem and that is in regard to one of the basic human rights. He has observed that in many countries, people are not only worried about the violation of their privacy with the increase in State controls but also have experienced a drop in their rights to property, culture and economic activities. Therefore, it is of his opinion that during the post recovery period, it is necessary that we promote a new legal urbanism with protection for citizens, in order to safeguard their future rights in cities. His proposal was largely accepted by participants who agreed that it is crucial to reflect on the impacts of the pandemic in terms of human rights in order to propose targeted revisions of current policies, based on the promises of the New Urban Agenda endorsed at the Habitat III conference by member states and their partners.

Ms. Jane Anyango, from Polycom Development, a grass-root organization working in Nairobi and Kisumu, Kenya, explained the current scenarios of increased domestic violence in slum areas where women and girls are particularly affected. With family members being deprived of their daily income as casual labourers, women are looking for alternative methods of survival.  Due to this, they’re unable to cope with the children, and these children are hence left alone to roam around in unsafe neighbourhoods. Also, slum areas do not have access to a continuous supply of clean water and are potential breeding grounds for the virus. Although support is being provided, clean water, masks and hand sanitizers do not always reach the most vulnerable. “The need for better data on communities in the slums has never been so clear as we face the COVID-19 crisis” she said. Without proper mapping of informal settlements, it is difficult to figure out where to deliver food, water, mask and sanitizers in the most effective manner. She outlined the importance of community knowledge and the need for partnering with grass-root organizations in order to provide better support to the most undefended populations during such pandemics.

Ms. ElsaMarie D’Silva, Founder and CEO of the Red Dot Foundation and Safecity, a platform that crowdsources personal experiences of sexual violence and abuse in public spaces and based in Mumbai, explained that the solution not only relies on spreading awareness but also on acquiring better data and organized safe anonymous reporting for victims. “We should not wait for a crisis such as the COVID-19 crisis to act on better knowledge and education on sexual violence. The current pandemic is just revealing the safety gaps women and girls face” she said. This can not only be done by expanding safe reporting mechanisms for the victims and using open-source data, but also by building trust between institutions and community-based services.

Furthermore, a roundtable discussion was held and moderated by Christine Auclair, and this encouraged various questions and discussions regarding the same. Similar scenarios were described by women groups of Latin America, as presented by Huairou Commission representatives, Sara Valadez from MIRA México, Ingrid Ciego from Huairou Guatemala, Haydee Rodríguez (President of Las Brumas Cooperative of Nicaragua), Nadine Gasman (President of INMUJERES Mexico), Relinda Sosa (Coordinator at GROOTS-Peru), and Vanessa Villegas from Argentina. Olenka Ochoa, President of FEMUM Peru, who moderated the session, brought together a lively discussion around the impact of the quarantine and the effect of lockdowns put in place in those countries, severely impacting livelihoods and creating spiralling effects on domestic violence. All participants outlined the crucial role of organized communities and the importance of women’s networks to strengthen their capacity to cope with the multiple challenges. Also, those communities have been able to pressurize the governments to obtain better support and services in the most vulnerable communities.

These two Campus sessions on safety gaps have allowed an in-depth conversation on a crucial aspect of this pandemic in terms of it affecting the informal settlements in the global South and also about the increased incidences of domestic violence. Domestic violence is a pervasive issue in all countries in times of pandemics like the COVID-19 crisis. More sessions of the COVID-19 Urban Thinkers Campuses series will be held online in May to discuss current actions on ground in different contexts, analyse good practices and solutions, extract lessons from the crisis and make recommendations for building resilience. 

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