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Safe spaces for youth: How girls transform their cities

13 August 2018
On International Youth Day, 12th August 2018, the United Nations underlined that youth need safe spaces where they can come together, engage in activities related to their diverse needs and interests, participate in decision-making processes and freely express themselves. This is exactly what our Safer Cities programme is trying to do. This initiative, in collaboration with Women in Cities International and UN-Habitat, aims to ensure the implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (more specifically SDG 11) to ‘Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable by 2030’. In 10 different cities across the world - Cairo, Alexandria, Assiut, Delhi, Hanoi, Kampala, Nairobi, Lima, Asuncion and Honiara – we strive to create sustainable change by working across three levels of change: with governments and institutions, communities and families, and girls and boys.

Through the many conversations we had with girls in the different cities, we came to understand that they rarely feel safe in their cities. In 2030, there will be more than 700 million girls living in cities. The growing number of girls living in urban areas opens up opportunities in their lives, as they are more likely to be educated, less likely to be married at an early age and more likely to participate in local politics. On the other hand, they are more likely to face sexual harassment, exploitation, and insecurity: for example, in Kampala, 45% of adolescent girls reported sexual harassment when using public transport and in Delhi, 96% of adolescent girls do not feel safe in the city.

“Safer Cities” strives to:

Increase adolescent girls’ safety and access to public spaces. The programme ensures that policies and laws are more receptive to and inclusive of adolescent girls’ safety, increases the capacity of government stakeholders to promote girls’ safety in the cities through training, mobilises support and action amongst families and communities, and increases girls’ understanding of their rights to safety in the city by building their capacity through training workshops and establishing girls’ clubs and safe spaces.

Increase adolescent girls' active and meaningful participation in urban development and governance. The programme enhances the participation of girls in local governance and increases the capacity of girls to take a leadership role in their communities around safety issues. It also increases the participation of families and communities in girl-led initiatives and ensures that forums are in place to facilitate girls' participation in urban development.

Increase girls' autonomous mobility in the city. The programme ensures that transportation authorities, managers and staff promote and support the safety of adolescent girls by providing sensitivity training and by establishing guidelines and regulations that reflect the priority of girls' safety, and increases the willingness of staff and by-standers to protect and support girls when faced with insecurity in transportation systems by implementing an awareness-raising campaign.

Building on the programme, Plan International has developed a web app called Free to Be. Through this interactive map girls and young women are able to map out places they love, places they avoid and places that need to be improved. It is free to use, it’s fun and easy and importantly, it has been designed by other young women and girls. Girls and young women are encouraged to use the web-based map of their city by dropping a purple ‘good’ pin on areas where they feel safe and an orange ‘bad’ pin on the locations where they feel unsafe or uncomfortable. They can then provide a description as to why they like or dislike that part of the city, including details any incidents they experienced there. All responses are anonymous. All data collected through the application will be analysed, in collaboration with Australia’s Monash University and CrowdSpot, to influence local policy-makers to ensure safer cities for girls.