Creating safer cities

For the first time in history, there are more people living in cities than in rural areas. Each month, 5 million people are added to the cities in developing countries, many of them adolescent girls looking for a better life in the city.

Girls take part in safety walk in a Cairo suburb.

Creating safer cities with and for girls

Girls in cities are faced with increased risks as well as increased opportunities. On the one hand, girls face sexual harassment, exploitation, and insecurity as they navigate the urban environment, but are more likely to be educated, less likely to be married at an early age, and more likely to participate in politics.

Girls feel unsafe in public spaces, irrespective of their geographies, cities or cultures. There is a breakdown in accountabilities towards adolescents and young girls in cities.

Pictured: Girls take part in safety walk in a Cairo suburb.

Our Safer Cities for Girls programme has been developed with partner organisations UN-Habitat and Women in Cities International.

The programme goal is to build safe, accountable, and inclusive cities with and for adolescent girls (aged 13-18). We want to see increased safety and access to public spaces, increased active and meaningful participation in urban development and governance and increased autonomous mobility in cities for girls.

The programme is currently being implemented in 20 cities across the globe.

Unsafe in the City: the everyday experiences of girls and young women

Plan International’s ‘Unsafe in the City’ research interviewed thousands of girls and young women across Delhi, Kampala, Lima, Madrid, and Sydney. The report shows a worrying level of sexist behaviour, sexual harassment and insecurity in public spaces and on public transport.

Girls and young women tagged 80% spaces accessed by young people as unsafe.

unsafe, city, urban, girls, women, experiences
Our goal is to build safe, accountable, and inclusive cities with and for adolescent girls like Donia, 15, from Cairo.

How do we work to make cities safer for girls?

  • We strengthen young people’s agency through girl-centred programming, progressive skill building, and movement building using tools like safety walks and community mapping
  • We foster enabling ecosystems for gender equality through knowledge generation and socialisation, prioritising girls’ concerns and rating progress
  • We strengthen the frameworks that act as enablers of gender equality and girls’ safety through joint actions, intergenerational dialogues, local influencing and the reclaiming of public spaces
  • We create multi-level, multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral partnerships for an integrated approach to girls’ safety in cities by continually measuring results and community-led monitoring for improvements

Girls’ voices are crucial for safe cities

Our Safer Cities for Girls programme recognises that sustainable change is only possible by working across different levels of change and hence works to influence:

  • Governments, institutions and policymakers to make inclusive and responsive laws
  • Families and communities to create an empowering and inclusive ecosystem
  • Adolescent girls and boys to become champions of change

By doing this, the programme strives to build safe, accountable, and inclusive cities with and for adolescent girls in all their diversity by increasing girls’ safety and access to public spaces, active and meaningful participation in urban development and governance and autonomous mobility in the city. Underpinning all this is the belief that girls have a right to feel safe and be safe where they live and learn. 

End VAWG, girl with sign, activist, gender equality

How can you help make cities safer for girls?

  • Connect with adolescent girls and young women, strengthen their agency and engage them in designing and planning safer public spaces and cities. Make sure you include all young people – those who are from ethnic, racial, or religious minorities, have a disability, identify as LGBTIQ+, are quiet or are outspoken, everyone!
  • Create sustainable, holistic ecosystems that work to make spaces accountable through inclusive public services, mobility, transport, markets and communities. Become change agents instead of mute bystanders to reduce sexual violence in public spaces
  • Collaborate to advocate for inclusive legislations and policies that make spaces accessible to everyone and create responsive reporting mechanisms that provide clear pathways to report gender-based violence. Use joint actions, intergenerational dialogues, and local influencing to reclaim public spaces.
  • Cultivate networks of positive change agents to thwart the root causes of gender-based violence – toxic gender norms, negative masculinity etc. Spread awareness of the harmful effects of gender-based discrimination 
  • Co-lead innovations with young people and share resources for upscaling, especially for child and youth-friendly safe spaces.

Violence in the City: Insights from young people across six cities

This report examines young people’s experiences of violence across six major cities.

Urban violence is an increasingly frequent and complex issue which disproportionately affects young women and girls.

This report examines the evidence generated as part of the evaluation of Plan International’s Safe and Inclusive Cities programme and investigates how young people witness and experience violence in cities.

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