Gender inequality is a global issue that affects men and women in every country. As such, it requires a global response.
The #GirlsTakeover is a day of coordinated, collective action across the world on International Day of the Girl – 11th October. The #GirlsTakeover is an opportunity for girls and young women to step up into positions of power, to speak for themselves and their peers on issues they are passionate about and the changes they want to see.
#GirlsTakeover for meaningful results
The takeovers allow girls and young women to highlight issues that are significant in their communities in a meaningful way with the aim of creating real change. For example, last year Luciana from Timor-Leste secured a commitment to gender training for village chiefs, teachers, police and other public sector workers to make them more attuned to girls’ specific and unique needs.
It doesn’t matter whether the takeovers are of politicians, CEOs or board members in a large corporation or village chiefs, it’s about ensuring that young women feel as though they are being represented and that what they have to say truly matters to their society. It also encourages girls to find confidence in their own abilities - to envision themselves as future leaders.
Opportunities for girls and young women to be heard at a high level are few and far between. They are vastly underrepresented in leadership roles across the globe. This highlights the power and importance of global solidarity in the fight for gender equality.
Taking matters into our own hands
Last year I took over Metro Trains in Melbourne with two other female activists to highlight the safety risks and girls’ concerns about using public transport in Melbourne, especially at night.
I see so much power and strength in collective youth-led action and I believe we have the ability to construct the world we want to live in tomorrow.
Public transport plays a large role in our everyday lives in the city and is something that all of us use every day to get to work, school, university and social events. However, women in Melbourne often don’t feel safe using public transport.
Our goal was for girls and women to feel able to access these public services safely. The collective action of the #GirlsTakeover gave us the perfect opportunity to talk to the executive team at Metro that has the power to make these changes.
Girls must be consulted on the issues that affect them
On the day of the takeover, we took Metro staff on a safety walk of Flinders Street Station, sharing our experiences as young women. In exchange we learned about what Metro are already doing to ensure the safety of their passengers and how they respond to reports of violence or incidents on the train lines. I spoke with public transport officers who work on the train platforms at night, as well as senior officers at the Victoria Police who work on cases involving sexual harassment and assault.
Metro and the Victoria Police acknowledged the major issue of gender-based violence in our city and it was great to learn they are actively working to change this. To be consulted for our opinions and advice on these issues felt like a meaningful step.
Later that day we addressed the CEO and Executive Board of Metro on what we thought could be done to improve the service. It was quite daunting as it was to a board of eight men and only one women, all significantly older than us. They said that they had never really consulted young women in the design and functioning of the safety features of their rail network and agreed that this needs to change. In order to ensure that they are running a service that is truly beneficial to the entire city and all its people, they need to include young women in the conversation.
How the #GirlsTakeover makes a real difference
As a result of this takeover, and the wider Free to Be initiative that piloted in Melbourne, Metro Trains are now developing a safety app that can be used to report incidents of sexual harassment. It will allow young women to seek emergency assistance in a discreet manner if they need it and report incidences of sexual misconduct, which currently go largely unreported.
Free to Be is an interactive map of a city which allows girls and women to drop ‘pins’ on the map – good or bad – on places they love, avoid, feel safe in or think can be improved, and leave their comments. It was piloted in Melbourne in 2016-17. Following the success of the pilot project in Melbourne, Free to Be has now launched globally in five cities across five continents: Sydney (Australia), Lima (Peru), Delhi (India), Madrid (Spain) and Kampala (Uganda).
The safety app that is in development in Melbourne will also increase the opportunity for bystanders to report incidents to authorities without having to become directly involved. People often see things happening on public transport but are too afraid to step in and become involved for fear of their own safety. We want to change this narrative and create a cultural shift away from the normalization and acceptance of sexual harassment in our city. Public transport is a huge part of city life, and change here will hopefully ripple out to other public spaces.
The power and potential of girls
I see a lot of potential for change in my generation of youth as we grow up and become the next generation of leaders. I see so much power and strength in collective youth-led action and I believe we have the ability to construct the world we want to live in tomorrow.
Engaging responsive, enthusiastic partners like Metro Trains is a significant step, but the #GirlsTakeover is a way for girls to get their foot in the door and learn how to broach important conversations with those who can assist them in making positive changes.
I can see that youth today, both young men and women, are not willing to except the status quo or the way it was for our parents’ generation. For this reason, I’m thrilled to be a part of the gender equality movement!