Seema*, 14, lives in a slum resettlement scheme in south Delhi.
“Sexual harassment is a daily reality for girls in my neighbourhood. We have to endure frequent incidents of boys and men flashing at us in public spaces. We feel safe nowhere.”
Her experience is frighteningly common among girls and young women in cities worldwide. On the streets and in most public spaces, they are often made to feel uncomfortable, unsafe and intimidated - just because they are young and female.
Girls and young women report widespread harassment
According to new research carried out by Plan International in five global cities - Delhi, Kampala, Lima, Madrid and Sydney - many girls and young women are harassed at all times of the day and night. Groping, cat-calling and abuse is perceived as normal.
Groping, cat-calling and abuse is perceived as normal. This cannot be allowed to continue.
This cannot be allowed to continue. What’s clear from this research is that men and boys are the reason so many girls and young women feel threatened.
Unsafe in the City, which was based on more than 21,000 online testimonials gathered via interactive online map called Free to Be, found that in Lima, 84% of the participating girls reported sexual harassment in public spaces, while even more remarkably, 11% of participants in Madrid reported public masturbation.
Men and boys need to change their behaviour. To recognise that sexist actions and words are intolerable and learn to respect girls and women as their equals.
Girls don't have faith in authorities
Our research shows that girls and young women are led to believe they are the blame for abuse and harassment, that most of the time witnesses just stand by and do little or nothing to help, and that tragically, many girls feel there is little point in reporting crimes to the authorities because they have neither the will nor the skill to do anything about it.
And we know this injustice isn’t limited to these five cities. A survey Plan International carried out in 22 cities across the world found that 78% of experts described sexual harassment as an extremely high or high risk for girls and young women in their city.
All girls have the right to feel safe in their city, which is why we’re going to use the data we’ve gathered to advocate on behalf of and alongside young women and girls so that their voices are heard by key decision-makers in architecture, urban planning, government and public transport.
It’s also why Plan International’s Safer Cities for Girls programme works in eight cities around the world to build safe, accountable and inclusive cities for adolescent girls. A vital component of this project involves working with men and boys to help change their attitudes.
Girls need male allies for gender equality
Seema has seen for herself how crucial this focus on male behaviour is.
“I got involved with Plan India’s Safer Cities programme more than a year ago and what I like the most is that it involves working with boys and men,” she says. “They are a big part of the problem and without getting them on board we can’t make our neighbourhood safe. They need to be educated and engaged.”
Boys have started to challenge other boys in the community if they see them mistreating girls.
Plan India has trained 2,585 boys in gender equality and girls’ rights. Boys have started to challenge other boys in the community if they see them mistreating girls.
“The programme has educated many boys and men in my community to behave in a responsible way and respect girls,” says Seema.
But she’s right when she observes that there’s still a long way to go.
“There are still many more boys and men that need to change their behaviour so girls can also move freely, go to school, college and be with their friends, without any fear for their safety.”
There’s no time to waste. Let’s take action now.
Girls Get Equal is the brand new, girl-led, global campaign for gender equality.