An exhibition at the University of Technology Sydney this November by global justice agency ActionAid, which works in over 40 countries, hopes to create awareness about the prevalence of sexual harassment and discrimination towards women in cities around the world.

The exhibition is part of the agency’s ‘Safe Cities for Women’ campaign, which showcases photographs by Stephanie Simcox that share the stories of the women she met on the ground in Dhaka, Bangladesh and Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

“First and foremost we wanted to share the women’s stories of violence and exploitation in cities with viewers,” Campaign Manager of ActionAid, Rachel Colbourne-Hoffman, told the International Business Times Australia.

“We also aimed to encourage Australians to come together as part of our Safe Cities Campaign – to act in solidarity with women in cities and hold our government to account to stand up in real ways for women’s rights to safe cities here and around the world.”

Stephanie’s images, sweeping and authentic, capture the essence of fast growing metropolises and how women experience life in Bangladesh and Cambodia.

Soraya Isham, a 22-year-old international student from UTS, who has been to Bangladesh four times, recounts frequent verbal harrassments while in the country, such as men whistling at her on the street.

“We would never leave the house by foot. It is unsafe for women to walk alone on the street no matter what time of day. Bangladesh is also a very corrupt country with the government and police not helping the people but being easily bribed...I think the campaign is great in face of the fact that there are many Bengali students at UTS.”

Although rape is illegal in Bangladesh and punishable by life imprisonment or death, a 2014 Vice report found that local authorities in rural areas had little enforcement of the law. The publication also claimed that local authorities were bribed by perpetrators to deny rape claims.

Acid attacks are also used as a form of extreme violence against women in Bangladesh. UNICEF stated that “since May 1999, there have been almost 3,000 reported cases of acid throwing, the vast majority against girls and women, however many cases remain unreported.”

The organisation believes legislation and enforcement are weak in preventing these attacks - a sentiment echoed in a report by The Guardian, which stated that “millions of women and children who are domestic workers in private homes receive no legal protection.”

According to the Human Rights Watch, 80 per cent of Bangladesh’s export earnings come from the garment industry, where worker abuse and poor working conditions are common.

Although the statistics aren’t as high back on local shores, sexual assault and harassment in public areas is not an unfamiliar topic for Australian women. Here, around 17 per cent of Australian women (1.49 million) aged 18 years and over have experienced sexual assault since the age of 15, according to ABS records in 2012.

Twenty-year-old Sydneysider and women’s rights activist, Kirra Thompson, is familiar with everyday sexual harassment, whether it is at a bar with her friends, walking down the street in the middle of the day, or even in class.

“Often it is more subtle things that make me question myself, such as what I am wearing and the way I am holding myself,” said Kirra. “But other times it makes me feel violated and unsafe . . . such as when men touch me inappropriately, when they yell about how they are going to sexually assault me, and following me in their car.

“Regardless of how subtle these actions are or not, they always leave me uncomfortable, intimidated and unsafe.”

These experiences of sexual violence and harassment can cripple victims with fear and prevent them from living freely in their cities, noted Colbourne-Hoffman. “This impacts their ability to get an education, earn an income and thrive in urban environments,”

However, Thompson said the harassment doesn’t always come from strangers, or when she is by herself. In fact, she has experienced some form of sexual harassment from her friends, family, and romantic partners - again, an account many would be familiar with.

The ABS found that victims who had been sexually assaulted ‘since the age of 15 “were most likely to have been sexually assaulted by someone they knew than by a stranger.”

Although Sydney is ranked the world’s sixth safest city in 2015 by the Economist’s Intelligence Unit’s Safe Cities Index, more still needs to be done by the Australian Government, both for women in Australia, as well as globally.

“Anecdotally many women – including our photographer Stephanie Simcox – have said they felt unsafe walking home alone at night in Sydney,” said ActionAid’s Colbourne-Hoffman. “There must be greater resourcing for the public services that create safe environments in their own cities – their homes . . . Governments are responsible for ensuring the safety of all citizens and cater to the needs of women and girls by providing adequate public services, such as transport, infrastructure, public lighting and healthcare.”

She argues that from an international perspective, the Australian Government must take action “rather than offer empty rhetoric and fulfil their commitment by financing women’s rights programs in Australia and around the world.”

Kirra also considers the fact that people still get sexually harassed and assaulted on a daily basis, both in Australia and in other countries, is not good enough:

“It is important to recognise that we do have it a lot better here than in other places . . . but it is important for everyone to know that ‘having it better’ doesn’t mean that it’s good. A lot of the time, campaigns such as these are used against feminists in Australia to say, ‘Hey you’ve got it so much better here, there isn’t really a problem.’ It’s also probably why I’m so hesitant to say ‘we should be grateful how good we have it here,’ because that is exactly what anti-feminists say to us when we talk about issues such as street harassment.

“[But] It’s a very important message to send – that we women in a high GED country, with less tolerance towards sexual harassment and assault are much luckier than those who don’t live in these countries. And while it’s important to still tackle the problems that face us at home, it is important to be actively working towards equality throughout the world,” said Kirra.

“I really like this campaign as it brings light to the issues that women in lower GED countries face, an issue that is often left out of mainstream media.”

The exhibition was sponsored by the University of Technology Sydney’s Equity and Diversity Unit. It is open to the public Monday to Friday, 9am-9pm, and runs until Nov. 30 at the Tower Building of the University of Technology Sydney on 18 Broadway, Ultimo.

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