Danger in the light of day
Urban infrastructure to protect women is important, and is being neglected. There have been several attempts to improve safety through physical infrastructure - i.e. increased lighting, police presence, etc. - but they are aimed at the general population, not women specifically, nor the concerns particular to them. Unfortunately, these solutions are simply not effectively protecting the personal safety of women.
Thus, women not only fear the same things men do (such as robbery), but they have the additional, very real fear of being raped or sexually assaulted, even in the light of day and/or by those who they supposedly should be able trust.
I am a U.S. expat living in Chile, a country that by most standards is considered to be relatively safe and developed. As housing prices are skyrocketing in Santiago, the poor and middle-class are migrating to less wealthy and unfortunately, more dangerous urban neighborhoods. I find myself living in one such neighborhood, where walking home or exercising in the evening is considered tempting fate, and increasingly, doing so during the day is also very risky. At this point, even though I live five blocks from the metro, I take a taxi to the metro stop.
Woman viewing the city of Santiago from the top of the hill.
Here are some reasons why I, and the women who live in this and neighboring urban areas, are fearful, concerned and angry:
At two in the afternoon, my sister-in-law was robbed at knife point, right outside the house.
Nearby, there is a hill that many foreign and local women climb on foot or bike up - where several women were kidnapped and raped during the day. As a woman, when I expressed that I would be exercising on the hill referenced above, I was strongly advised not to ever go there. Upon insisting (because I am not one to accept hiding in fear), I was all but forced to bring pepper spray on my run and now when I run there, I am constantly looking over my shoulder.
Urban break-ins also take place frequently, during one of which several men broke in to a private home and not only ransacked it, but raped the 16-year-old daughter of the family who lived there.
To top it off, women cannot necessarily feel safe reporting rape or sexual misconduct to their doctors, most of whom are male (including gynecologists) and surprisingly many of whom participate in moderate to serious sexual harassment and take inappropriate actions toward women. Not only have I been the victim of this, but I have heard several stories from close friends who have experienced the same gender-based discrimination and violence. Inappropriate touching, attempting to kiss or making sexual allusions, are all things that take place regularly between male doctors and their female patients.
Urban infrastructure to protect women is important, and is being neglected. There have been attempts to improve safety via physical infrastructure - i.e. increased lighting, police presence in the evenings, etc. - but they are not working to protect
women´s safety because they are aimed at the general population, not women specifically, nor the concerns particular to them. They also ignore a problematic social undercurrent: that women have to bring mace on a run, do not report abuses by their doctors, and women warn other women to put their heads down and hide because that is the safest way to prevent violence, all indicate a deeper, more meaningful gender-specific issue that needs to be addressed. The issue is that women are almost solely responsible for their own safety, and are expected to be constantly vigilant and cautious. Why is the general population not taking part in the effort to prevent violence toward women on a larger scale? Why is gender-based violence not recognized as a greater priority and concern?
I would love to have these concerns and questions to be read and considered, and to find some innovative solutions to the important safety concerns of women in Chilean (and global) urban communities.