A community of optimists hosted by Melinda French Gates

We can make the world safer for women

4 min
A woman wearing a camouflaged mask poses for a portrait in front of a purple wall. Domestic Violence Cases Surge In Mexico City As Result Of Families Quarantining : News Photo
A woman in Mexico City who sought therapy at a women's shelter in Mexico City after separating from her partner at the beginning of the pandemic. In the first three months of the pandemic, the shelter received the same number of visitors they typically see in a year.
Photo by Tony Sarno Jordan | Getty Images
“Too often peace is measured by the silence of guns. But is a woman at peace when she faces violence in her own home? Is a young woman at peace when she is living in fear of a harmful practice like female genital mutilation or being married off young?"
— Natalia Kanem, Executive Director, UN Population Fund

Imagine feeling fear all throughout your body every time you walked down the street, knowing how likely it was that you could be attacked. Worse, imagine knowing that if you were attacked — leaders in your community and the justice system would not care.

For women all over the world, that’s not an act of imagination—it’s daily reality. Globally, almost one in eight women has experienced violence at home in the past year alone. From street safety to domestic abuse to life in a warzone, violence is a constant presence in women’s lives; and, in the current pandemic, it’s gotten much worse.
One in eight women has experienced violence at home in the past year alone
It doesn’t have to be this way. Imagining a world that’s safe for women is the first step to creating it. In partnership with Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security, oral historian Maggie Lemere conducted dozens of interviews with women peacebuilders from around the world. Hear what just a few of these remarkable women had to say about what a safe world looks like, to them.
Professional portrait of ElsaMarie D'Silva
ElsaMarie D'Silva, Founder and CEO of Red Dot Foundation
Photo courtesy of Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace & Security

“I would love to...be able to explore my city, my country, and the entire world with abandon and with that childlike curiosity.”

ElsaMarie D’Silva, Mumbai, India Founder & CEO of Red Dot Foundation

“For me, a safe city would be one where I didn't have to worry about what I was wearing, where I was going, what transport I was going to use, what time I should be back home, or if that space is going to be safe or unsafe for me, or even (if) the people around me are trustworthy or not. I would love to never have to worry about these things and be able to explore my city, my country, and the entire world with abandon, and with that childlike curiosity, and go to as many places at all times possible and see how people live — how they experience their cities, as well.”

Fact: In India, approximately 1 out of every 3 women feels unsafe walking alone at night. 
Professional portrait of Rosa Anaya
Rosa Anaya, Coordinator at the Segundas Oportunidades Program
Photo courtesy of Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace & Security

“A safe world for women is a world without machismo.”

Rosa Anaya, El Salvador Coordinator, Segundas Oportunidades Program, Catholic Relief Services

"A safe world for women is a world without machismo. Many young men think they are already destined to mistreat and keep women down because 'that’s the way.' To change the idea of machismo, is to reinvent ourselves as new men and women in a world where they constantly tell us what our limits are and how far we can go. If one is poor, rich, female, male, young, in a gang or not, have tattoos or not, there are assumptions of what you are going to be. Education and positive role models are critical for showing young men and women new visions of what they could be and what they are capable of."

Fact: In El Salvador, less than half (49.1%) of women aged 15 and older feel safe walking alone at night.
Professional portrait of Josephine Nzerem
Josephine Nzerem, Director of Venture and Talent at Ashoka Africa
Photo courtesy of Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace & Security

“I'm not going to be abused. That's security.”

Josephine Nzerem, Lagos, Nigeria Regional Director, Ashoka Anglophone West Africa & Director Venture and Talent Ashoka Africa

“Let me go back to as a little girl, because it starts from there. Security for me as a little girl is being in a home where I'm loved, I'm not abused. I'm not looked down on, I'm given opportunity. And I'm protected. I'm not pushed out. That's security for me as a little girl.

Now, growing up, security for me changes, because now, I have developed. So security for me now becomes that I'm in a society where I'm not abused, whether sexually, emotionally, or verbally. I'm not abused. If I get to a working environment, I'm not looked down on. Promotions, special pays, and opportunities of growth are not denied me because I'm a woman. And also, I am safe in that environment. I don't feel that I can be attacked.

Security for me is being able to stay in a neighborhood where I don't have that fear that I'll be attacked. Or I don't have that fear that something can just happen to me — and then if that thing happens, nobody can come to my aid. I want to be in that place, in that relationship, where I feel safe, where I know in no way am I going to be abused. ‘I'm not going to be abused.’ That's security.”

Fact: In Lagos, where Josephine lives, 13% of women experienced intimate partner violence in the last year alone - compared to 40% in Benue, Nigeria.

Watch in-depth videos with women peacemakers. And learn more about the relative safety that women experience (or don’t experience) around the world, through both the global WPS Index and the U.S.-focused index, which highlights women’s safety by state.