Rosy Senanayake, Mayor of Colombo, Sri Lanka; Clara Luz Flores, Mayor of Escobedo, Mexico; and Nan Whaley, Mayor of Dayton, OH, USA, joined forces to reaffirm why Peace in Our Cities is possible in their communities.
The three of us speak different languages. We preside over city administrations of varying sizes and political cultures in different corners of the world. Yet, we also share something in common: we all believe that ensuring a safe urban environment for our residents is central to our role as mayor.
As women tasked with running our cities, we bring unique perspectives to city hall. We know the barriers to education, equal compensation, and access to leadership positions for women and girls in each of our countries. While these barriers vary in degrees, the cumulative effect keeps millions of women “small,” placing roadblocks on the path of achieving their aspirations and realizing their full potential.
We also know that when women are politically involved, violence reduction is prioritized differently than when women are excluded. The research shows that women’s leadership in local government results in better outcomes on issues of safety and security for marginalized communities. Women lawmakers are more responsive to the needs of all populations and tend to invest more in cities’ education, health, and infrastructure policies.
The scope of violence challenges we face is real. Much of the violence we see is fueled by inequality, and it is enabled by guns, substance abuse and a sense of impunity. The disproportionate burden of lethal violence is felt by our young men and boys. While our women and girls are often most at risk within their own homes, the threat of violence also keeps many women away from public spaces and ultimately hurts our economies.
Thankfully, we do and are doing something. We know, as Oakland, CA, USA has demonstrated, that violence can be effectively reduced, lives saved and architecture of more peaceful, resilient cities built.
These insights and facts, coupled with lived experience and a deep commitment to the safety, wellbeing, and prosperity of each individual in our cities, called us to action. Together, we signed a pledge to explore ways to prevent and reduce violence by 50 percent in the next ten years. We know that we can, and must, do more to bring peace to our cities.
By signing onto the global mobilizing campaign Peace in Our Cities, we joined 12 other city leaders and over a dozen partner organizations for whom peace and safety are priorities. We committed to exchanging best practices, building political support, and jointly advocating for evidence-based policy solutions that will effectively reduce violence and improve the quality of life of our residents.
Our commitment at this moment in time is no accident. This year marks the beginning of a new decade in which the United Nations Secretary-General called on all of us to deliver and take action on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which promise a better world for us all by 2030.
As mayors, we see value in linking our efforts locally with a mass global mobilization that will radically transform our world. We have much to learn from others and teach them what we are doing right to prioritize peace, including:
In Colombo, we are taking concrete steps to improve the safety of our city including interventions in public transport and public spaces. We are working with the World Bank to gather data, including crowd sourced data, to identify areas of higher risk and then apply evidence-based solutions to enhance safety. We have been also working with the UN to create public awareness regarding women and safety in public spaces.
In Dayton, following the tragic events of 2019, we began to promote new approaches to combatting gun violence — both in high profile events like mass shootings and the sadly routine instances of violence that take place on our streets.
In Escobedo, we are reforming our civic justice space to demonstrate fair and equitable delivery of justice for our residents, including the provision of child-friendly spaces and protection of women experiencing violence within the home. For example, in 2018 we worked with the local civil society organization to open the first women’s only shelter, Puerta Violeta, for victims of domestic violence.
Our violence challenges look different. Our streets, economies, city centers and communities look different. But our collective commitment to peace unifies us. We recognize the power inherent in saying not only can we do better, but we must do better. And we recognize the power in acting collectively to achieve a common human goal — to live free from fear and in the presence of peace.