The safe cities for Women Campaign aims to improve the safety of public urban spaces so that women and girls around the world do not have to live in fear and can enjoy the vast benefits of their cities. For women who are poor the opportunities they find in cities would have seemed impossible to the generations before them. yet for many of these women the realty of urban living is harsh dangerous and demeaning.
Over 3.3 Billion now live in ever growing cities and town and many are women. In rented rooms in slum communities many women rely on public toilets or open defecation and unsafe public baths where they risk getting molested. Inside factories they face sexual harassment and violence from supervisors. On their way to and from work in unlit streets they can be ambushed or even raped. Travelling on overcrowded buses and trains they are groped. Going to and from schools and universities they are pestered, harassed or attacked. Action Aid and photographer Stephanie Simcox teamed up with Action Aid Bangladesh and Cambodia to bring back women living in their city. The aim was to capture strength, the reliance and also the hard ships of the women within their enviroment.
A grandmother tells her grand children to always enter crowed spaces or rooms last. Know how to leave quickly and quietly and to alway 'lend a deaf ear' to passing male comments. 'Our houses are gated at night to protect our women and children'
Early morning in Phnom Penh
A woman walks home alone after a shift at the garment factory 5kms away. Most of the walk is in darkness and there is no footpath.
Many women are pressured to work long hours in order to make sufcient wages, which force them to return home late, along poorly lit and lonely streets, leaving them vulnerable. Workplaces often fail to provide transport facilities, and even on public transport there is no refuge, as harassment is common and often ignored by witnesses.
Most women try to stay inside after dark
Kou is a sex worker from Phom Phen. She sleeps in a hammock under neath the house pictured with her 9 month old baby. She lives here with about 20 other sex workers. Kou's child will be looked after by other women when Kou is working. You says she feels unsafe at night with no walls around her.
Buses are an affordable mode of transport in Dhaka making them extremely popular. Large crowds crush onto buses making and foul play hard to determine where it is coming from. One student tells me she keeps a sari pin at her wait and in her hair 'incase anyone tries to put their hands on me'. The front seats on buses are reserved for women and children but this is often ignored.
A girl and her brother heading home before night
Kids play on a vacant lot outside the slums of Narayanganj
Kids make dams at the local river to catch the larger fishing allow the smaller to breed down stream
Cambodia's sex industry is treacherous, workers face the dangers of sexually- transmitted infections, violence, exploitation and rape, all while barely making enough to live. Leang is a 37-year-old mother of three, who works as a sex worker and experiences its dangers every day.
Leang lives in a dark room just 2.5mx2m with her 18-year-old daughter, having not seen the other two of her children since birth. The shelves are lined with HIV medicine, which is free, although condoms are hard to acquire.
“If you have a condom in your bag, you are not a good girl,” states Leang. Due to anti-traf cking laws, Cambodian clubs no longer sell or supply condoms. Her daily rent is $2.50 – which is roughly what Leang makes a night – so she cannot afford her own, leaving her sexual health at risk. In fact, Leang doesn’t even know whether her daughter has HIV or not.
Leang makes an active effort to avoid the police, as they arrest her often and she cannot afford to miss opportunities for work. ‘Gangsters’, a term used in Cambodia to refer to dangerous men more than those in organised crime, also pose considerable threat towards her safety and livelihood.
“Sometimes the gangsters pay me for sex then beat me and take back the money,” Leang reveals. Earning such a low income and with a daughter to provide for, whatever money Leang loses threatens to put her and her daughter on the street.
For many women in Cambodia, the life that Leang lives is one of very few possible options. Only 5% of Cambodian women have completed less than a tertiary education, so many are living below the poverty line.2 The dangers that Leang faces are the dangers faced by many Cambodian women left abandoned by their society.
2 Gallup World Poll 2014
Crowed market place.
Many women are pressured to work long hours in order to make suf cient wages, which force them to return home late, along poorly lit and lonely streets, leaving them vulnerable. Workplaces often fail to provide transport facilities, and even on public transport there is no refuge, as harassment is common and often ignored by witnesses.
Residents gather around the local store with light
A garment work sits in her room
This room is shred by two garment workers. There is a shared public bathroom that the women hesitate to use at night preferring to keep a bucket inside.
Women and children board the 'womens only carriage' at Dhaka station. The women board up to an hour before the train leaves in order to secure a seat for themselves and their family.