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Around the world, in both low and high income countries, girls and young women feel that cities are not safe places for them to be. Girls and young women frequently feel uncomfortable, unsafe and intimidated on their city streets and in public places (including public transport).
The consequences of street harassment run deep. When girls and women are frequently made to feel afraid, to the point of avoiding public places, they are being denied the space and opportunity to work, study or play in their own cities. When they feel excluded from public spaces, they are excluded from the opportunities the city offers to everyone else.
For example, Plan International’s research shows that street harassment or abuse causes some girls drop out of education or paid work. Some avoid the city altogether, confined to their home or neighbourhood. This affects their future employment prospects and ability to lead independent lives and become active and engaged citizens.
To be groped, cat-called and abused in public is too often regarded as ‘just a normal part of being a girl’. Girls are led to believe it is their fault. Many feel that there is little point in reporting harassment, abuse or violence to the authorities, perceiving that they have neither the will nor the power to do anything about it.
The problem is widespread, 45% of girls in Kampala reported sexual harassment when using public transport.
The Safer Cities for Girls program goal is to build safe, accountable and inclusive cities with and for adolescent girls through increasing their safety and access to public spaces, enabling their safe mobility in the city; and increasing their active and meaningful participation in the design of urban environment.
Preventing and addressing gender-based violence and sexual harassment in public spaces and transport sectors is a key focus and the program aims to transform pervasive social and cultural norms that allow for unequal power dynamics, gender based discrimination and violence against women and girls.
By engaging adolescent girls as active agents of change, building their individual capacity and collective agency to engage with decision makers we can identify and address issues for girls’ safety and inclusion in cities like Kampala.
The program works at multiple levels: with institutions and organisation to make services and environments receptive and inclusive of girls’ safety and interests; and with families, communities, adolescent girls and boys to promote gender equality, and girls’ rights, safety and inclusion.
At present there are five cities taking part in the project including Kampala, Hanoi (funded previously by the Footprints Network), and Delhi. Our ambition is to expand the program to 20 cities by 2020.