Launched in Cairo, Kigali, Quito, Port Moresby, along with Delhi, the safe cities programme of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) will specially focus on issues of slums and poor urban dwellers, besides sexual harassment in public places, a problem which a UN official said has been "neglected".
Under the cross-regional programme, each city will contribute to developing its own model to achieve the purpose of making cities safer.
This, of course, will be done with the involvement of a number of stakeholders, including relevant local authorities and civil society which reaches out to the grassroot levels.
These models and strategies can then be replicated across major cities of the world, said Anne F Stenhammer, Regional Programme Director, UNIFEM, South Asia.
"Based on available country data, 15 to 76 per cent of women in the world experience physical, sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. Yet... sexual harassment in public spaces remains a neglected issue, accepted as a normal part of women's lot and life in the city," Ines Alberdi, Executive Director of UNIFEM told a press conference.
She said solutions for issues of women can be effectively devised only when women are part of the decision making process.
In choosing the five cities -- the capitals of India, Egypt, Rwanda, Ecquador and Papua New Guinea -- the major factor was willingness of the governments in lending support to the programme and potential for strong partnerships with civil society organisations.
"All five cities show great promise. Their governments have pledged strong support, in partnership with civil society, specialists and other UN agencies," she said.
Rajiv Kale, Director, Delhi government's Department of Women and Child Development, said the women of the capital do feel insecure while using public spaces and crowded public transports, and the problem also needs a long term change in mindset.
"A baseline survey conducted by Jagori (government resource centre) very clearly highlighted that being a woman is itself a risk factor in the capital and that women feel insecure in crowded public places, due to poor lighting on roads and lack of clean public toilets," he said.
Kale said change needs to be brought about in every department and is possible with greater participation of women, as also by sensitising persons manning public transport like bus conductors and drivers.
He pointed out that Delhi's new Police Commissioner has made it very clear that the forces should be sensitive to women.
"Greater number of women in traffic police and the manning of reception desks at police stations by women are some important initiatives.... Our flagship schemes like Ladli aim to reach out to girls, to increase their participation in the society," he said.
Aberdi said the programme will roll out differently in different cities, and will involve ground level research with the help of local communities.
Almost half the world's population -- 3.4 billion people -- live in urban areas, hence the importance of the initiative in a rapidly urbanising world.
"A major section of slum dwellers in cities are women, and reducing urban vulnerability needs to be integrated with urban planning and policy making," said Axumite Genre- Egziabher, the Director of Global Division, UNHABITAT.