Programme to ensure safety for women hinh anh 1A discussion on safe cities for women was held in Hanoi on October 22 (Photo: VNA)

Being free to reside, travel and enjoy city life in safety is a legitimate right of all people, especially women who have reason to worry about the possibility of sexual harassment or abuse, a policy and campaign manager at ActionAid Vietnam has said.

Nguyen Phuong Thuy from the NGO introduced the "Safe cities for women" programme in Hanoi on October 22.

The programme works with citizens and management agencies to make cities places where women and girls can feel comfortable and confident instead of worried, vulnerable and highly vigilant.

In many of Vietnam's bigger cities – on city streets, public transport and even work offices – it can be unsafe for women. Around the world, women are subjected to physical assaults and mental suffering in public spaces on a regular basis.

Speaking from personal experience, Vu Thanh Van, a third-year student who takes public transport to the Academy of Journalism and Communication every day, says, "On the crowded buses, sexual harassment and pick pocketing is very common. Many passengers witness these cases but ignore them."

A survey of over 2,000 locals in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi reveals that 87 percent of women and girls have experienced sexual harassment in a public space.

Discussing what factors make cities safer, journalists and gender experts agreed that factors such as trees, public lighting, transport culture and housing quality are all important. But, they agreed, the most important factor is public awareness.

"In Vietnam, awareness about what sexual harassment is and identifying sexual harassment is very poor," said Huu Viet, a journalist from the Nhan Dan (People) newspaper said.

Nguyen Van Anh, director of the Center for Studies and Applied Sciences in Gender-Family-Women and Adolescents (CSAGA), said that it is necessary to educate people who are vulnerable to harassment about how to defend themselves, as well as make people who violate others understand that it is a crime with consequences.

In 2013, Hanoi and HCM City installed parts of the programme. Cameras were placed in public busses in HCM City in an effort to mitigate acts of sexual harassment and other crimes.

This year's programme will take place in Hanoi, HCM City, Hai Phong, Uong Bi, and Tra Vinh.

Several awareness-raising activities such as street music festivals, a cycling race and banners on buses will take place in the cities.-VNA