According to the United Nations, a megacity is a metropolitan area with a population of more than 10 million people. London, with an estimated population of 10.4 million, just squeaks into the category. A staggering 38.8 million people live in Tokyo, while the urban sprawl encompassing Lagos in Nigeria has a population of over 21 million.
But while many megacities can be thrilling to visit, they’re not always safe or healthy places to live as a woman. According to a new report by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, infrastructure or policies should be put in place in megacities to ensure all women have access to healthcare, finance and education, and are protected from sexual violence, harassment and other harmful cultural practices.
However, in the context of rapid urban development, this doesn’t always happen – meaning that these cities can be dangerous for women.
Researchers asked 380 women’s rights experts which of the world’s megacities they considered safest for women, and which need to do more to ensure women at not at risk. Here are some of their key findings:
London is the world’s best megacity for women in general
If you live in the UK capital, rejoice. London was deemed the safest megacity for women in the world, coming top in two of the researchers’ key questions: whether women had access to economic resources including education and financial services, and good access to healthcare (including control over reproductive health).
That’s not to undermine the significance of London’s gender pay gap, or to obscure the fact that protests outside abortion clinics are a problem – but generally speaking, on a global scale we’re not doing too badly.
However, London didn’t do as well when assessed on its level of sexual violence against women. The report scored London at 14 on a scale of 1-19 (with 1 meaning ‘worst’ and 19 meaning ‘best’) when asked if women can live in London “without facing the risk of sexual violence including rape or sexual attacks and harassment”. In other words, there’s still work to be done to ensure that women feel safe on London’s streets.
Delhi and Sao Paolo are the world’s worst megacities for sexual violence against women
New Delhi in India is the world’s second most populous city, with an estimated population of 26.5 million. Alongside Sao Paolo in Brazil (population 21.3 million), it was ranked as the world’s worst megacity for sexual violence and harassment of women.
The problem of sexual violence against women in the Indian capital was thrust into the international spotlight in 2012, when 23-year-old Jyoti Singh died after being gang-raped on a bus. Women in Delhi made distress calls to helplines every nine minutes on average in 2016, according to data released by the city’s police force earlier this year, and a rape is reported every four hours.
In Sao Paolo, meanwhile, women have been using social media to campaign against a culture of sexual assault. The caption “I don’t deserve to be raped” went viral in 2014 after a survey showed many Brazilian men blamed women for sexual violence. In August, Sao Paolo-based feminist blogger Clara Averbuck launched the hashtag #MeuMotoristaAbusador (“My driver the abuser”) after she was assaulted by an Uber driver.
“What happened is what happens to hundreds of thousands of Brazilian women,” Averbuck told The Guardian. “This is a daily situation, it’s not just Uber.”
Kinshasa is the worst city for women’s access to economic resources
The capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (estimated population: 12 million) was identified by experts as the worst city for providing women with access to education, land and financial services such as bank accounts and loans. According to the charity Women for Women International, more than half of women in the DRC have no formal education, and many suffer from extreme poverty.
Sexual violence is also a major problem in the central African nation, which has been blighted by intermittent civil wars over the last several decades. This summer, The Guardian reported that thousands of people had been killed and more than a million displaced after violence broke out in the central Kasai region, and The Washington Post dubbed the DRC “the rape capital of the world”.
Moscow is apparently where women are best protected from ‘harmful cultural practices’
Experts perceived Moscow as the megacity where women are safest when it came to practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM)and forced marriages, and the second safest city (after Tokyo) when it came to women being at risk of sexual violence or harassment. However, given that this study looks at the perceptions of experts, rather than hard data, this could be because sexual offences often go unreported in Russia.
It’s also important to consider what is meant by the term ‘harmful cultural practices’. The practices cited in the Thomson Reuters report (FGM, child, early or forced marriage and female infanticide) may be more commonly associated with developing nations.
However, domestic violence kills 12,000 women a year in Russia, or one every 40 minutes, according to Human Rights Watch – and President Vladimir Putin signed a bill earlier this year to decriminalise certain acts of domestic violence. Call us old-fashioned, but that seems like a harmful cultural practice to us.
To see the full report, click here.
Images: Andy Lee / iStock