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Attack Fears Create Off-Limit City Areas for Girls, Says Study


Fear of sexual attack and violence are creating ‘no-go areas’ for girls in major cities across the world, says new research from child rights organisation Plan International.

The study conducted by Plan in 5 capital cities across Africa, Asia and Latin America found that girls daily run the gauntlet of sexual harassment, insecurity and attack as they navigate the streets of their urban environments.

The report: Adolescent Girls’ View on Safety in Cities says that although girls are more likely to be educated and marry later in cities, they face regular threats to their safety, from accessing basic facilities such as toilets, to using public transport and marketplaces.

The report comes following a number of high-profile cases of violence against young women globally, including the brutal rape and murder of a student on a Delhi bus.

Millions held back

“These findings paint a dire picture of many girls being forced out of the public sphere in their cities simply for fear of their own safety. Millions of girls and young women are being held back from their right to vital opportunities by fear of violence, lack of safe spaces and facilities. It cannot be tolerated.”

“For the first time in history there are now more people living in cities than in rural areas. There is an urgent need to assess every aspect of urban spaces to make them safer for girls and the particular challenges they face,” said Plan CEO Nigel Chapman.

As part of Plan’s unique participatory study, over 1,000 adolescent girls in Egypt, India, Peru, Uganda and Vietnam assessed their neighbourhoods and mapped out major obstacles to their safety and inclusiveness. The findings show that experiences of sexual harassment and places considered ‘off-limits’ are shared by girls across these 5 countries.

Living in fear

In Delhi, adolescent girls said they lived in a constant fear of violence and sexual harassment. They avoided being alone, especially after dark, and asked family members or friends to accompany them to community toilets, schools, markets and shops. Only 3% of girls said they felt safe using the city’s public transport.

In Hanoi, nearly 60% of girls said they seldom or rarely had access to emergency services such as the police. About 8 out of 10 girls in Cairo said they never or only sometimes felt safe.

Victims of sexual harassment in the Egyptian capital believed that they were to blame for it. Similarly, in Kampala, 80% of adolescent girls felt unsafe in the city centre and many felt uncomfortable to approach security guards or the police, saying that they sometimes were drunk on duty. In Lima the majority of girls said they were living in a very dangerous city. Just 2% felt safe in using the city’s public transport.

Abandoned opportunities

“It will undo the efforts of governments and communities if girls are abandoning opportunities to progress for fear of sexual harassment and violence in cities. It defeats the efforts to realise their full potential and also shuts avenues to those facing additional risks at home,” said Deepali Sood, Director of Plan’s Because I am a Girl (BIAAG) campaign dedicated to lifting millions of girls out of poverty.

The BIAAG Urban Programme has been developed in partnership between Plan, Women in Cities International and UN-HABITAT. The overarching goal of the programme is to build safe, accountable and inclusive cities with and for girls, and to increase girls’ meaningful participation in urban development and governance.

First consultation

Many of the girls said it was the first time they had been consulted. One girl in Cairo said: “There is no co-operation with others in the community, no-one loves or helps us.”

Despite their varied cultural and political environments, girls in these 5 cities shared a common vision for future cities which are well-lit, well–planned, have access to clean toilets and provide space for them to participate and make their way safely to education, work and leisure facilities.

In the next phase of the programme, girls, supported by Plan, will lead on finding effective solutions to common safety concerns with agencies responsible. In Delhi, for example, girls have proposed working with the local municipalities and elected members of the local government to address issues like poor sanitation and public transport that are barriers to their safety.

Editor’s notes:

-The BIAAG Urban Programme works across all 3 levels of change: governments and institution; families and communities; and girls and boys themselves.
-The expected outcomes of the BIAAG Urban Programme are to:

1.Increase girls’ safety and access to public spaces
2.Increase girls’ autonomous mobility in the city
3.Improve girls’ access to quality city service
4.Increase girls’ active and meaningful participation in urban development and governance.

-Founded 75 years ago, Plan is one of the world’s oldest and largest child-centred community development organisations operating in 69 countries worldwide, including 50 developing countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas.
-In 2012 Plan worked with over 90,000 communities covering a total population of 174 million people, including 84 million children.
-Because I am a Girl is Plan’s campaign to fight gender inequality, promote girls’ rights and lift millions of girls out of poverty.
-Since 2007 Plan has been producing a global report on the State of World’s Girls with a different theme each year.


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