Interview: Valongo is a safe place for women

Valongo woman
23 October 1923
Interview: Valongo is a safe place for women

This interview with PES Group member José Manuel Ribeiro, mayor of Valongo (Portugal), is part of our #SafePlace4Women campaign and of our series “#ProgressiveLocalStories”, aimed at raising awareness on the many positive initiatives implemented by progressive cities and regions in Europe when it comes to promoting a social, fair and sustainable Europe.

How is your city a frontrunner in combating violence against women?

Local and regional authorities play an essential role in addressing this issue effectively, as they are the closest to the citizens.

Valongo is strongly committed to comprehensively addressing violence against women, from legal and policy perspectives to practical actions and cooperation at both local and European levels.

This work is not new to us. Gender equality efforts began almost twenty years ago, when Valongo was one of the first municipalities in Portugal to establish a municipal equality advisor and an internal municipal equality plan. This document was later updated to include an external perspective.

We have carried out sustained work to fight gender stereotypes that perpetuate harmful beliefs and expectations about the roles and behaviours of women and men that lead to gender-based violence.

This work was carried out with municipal workers (training, adopting gender-neutral language, etc.), with the general population (with a comprehensive action plan) and with stakeholders, since fighting against gender-based violence is a shared responsibility.

Our efforts have been widely recognised at national level, earning us two "Living in Equality" awards from the national equality mechanism.

Which concrete actions did you successfully put in place to make Valongo a safe place for women?

I am proud to say that Valongo was the first municipality in Portugal to declare itself a safe space for women.

As far as measures are concerned, we have set up a Local Security Council which is tasked with analysing local and national data and presenting proposals for actions that contribute to preventing and reducing this crime at local level. It plays an advisory role in coordinating, sharing information, and formulating proposals for solutions to crime and social exclusion issues. It looks into prevention, fosters broader discussions, approves security-related opinions and contributes to a deeper understanding of the security situation within the municipality. Domestic and gender-based violence are two fundamental topics on its agenda.

Regarding domestic violence, Valongo has set up a Support Office for Victims of Domestic Violence, supporting victims of domestic violence with free psychological, social and legal support. Emergency housing is also available for victims.

Your city has just adopted the resolution #SafePlace4Women. What further steps do you envisage in the near future?

We are planning new measures such as the "safe streets for women" initiative to improve the safety and accessibility of public spaces for women. This project aims to address the specific challenges women face while moving in and around the city, and will include improved lighting, increased police presence, and the promotion of women-friendly urban planning and design, as well as public awareness campaigns (including information on how to report harassment or violence). There is also a strong focus on combating cyberviolence.

We wish to continue to expand and improve support services for survivors of gender-based violence, which means ensuring they have access to safe shelters, counselling and legal assistance. We will also continue to raise awareness about gender equality, consent and the importance of respectful behaviour. These programmes are aimed at schools, workplaces and community organisations.

Valongo is committed to addressing violence against women through a combination of practical measures, education and community engagement. The municipality's efforts have resulted in safer public spaces for women and greater awareness of gender equality and women's rights in the community.

How could the European Union contribute to making your city/region a safe place for women?

The European Union plays a vital role in supporting our efforts to make our city and region a safe place for women. To further these efforts it could allocate funding and grants specifically earmarked for initiatives aimed at improving the safety and well-being of women in our city/region. These funds could be used to support projects that address gender-based violence, promote gender equality, and enhance women's access to support services.

It could also facilitate the exchange of best practices and lessons learned by creating platforms for cities and regions across Europe to share their successful approaches to addressing gender-based violence and promoting women's safety.

Training and capacity-building programmes for local authorities, law enforcement, and service providers to enhance their ability to respond effectively to gender-based violence and to support survivors are fundamental.

By leveraging EU funds, partnerships, initiatives with other European cities, and advocacy efforts during EU elections, the European Union can play a pivotal role in supporting our city and region's commitment to creating a safe and inclusive environment for women. Together, we can work towards a future where women can live without fear of violence and discrimination.




© Photo credits: Valongo Municipality