By: Cristal Espejo, UN Youth Representative
After the Delhi bus case, where a 23-year-old female physiotherapy intern was raped and murdered on a bus, the need for reports such as Plan International’s latest, Safer Cities: Adolescent Girl’s Eye View on Unsafe Spaces, has increased greatly. On March 8th, a side event for the 57th Commission on the Status of Women, entitled, A Girl’s Eye View on Unsafe Urban Spaces, brought together a distinguished panel to discuss the global issue of unsafe urban spaces and how this affects the livelihood of young women. On the panel were Plan International’s Global Gender Advisor, Sarah Hendriks, UN-HABITAT’s Deputy Executive, Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, and Women in Cities International’s Director of Programmes, Kathyrn Travers. Two young delegates were also on the panel, one from Kampala, Uganda and one from Hanoi, Vietnam.
According to Plan International’s 2010 report, Because I am a Girl: The State of the World’s Girls, “For the First time in history, there are more people living in cities than in rural areas. Each month, five million people are added to the cities of the developing world, and it is estimated that by 2030, approximately 1.5 billion girls will live in urban areas.” While the increase in the number of girls in urban areas should lead to an increase in girls receiving more resources, the situation is much more complex for young women in many developing countries. Girls face sexual harassment and live in fear of being raped, kidnapped, robbed, or hurt when walking through urban areas. As a result, some families are so fearful for their daughters being alone in the streets that they limit the times that they can be outside and sometimes limit them from going out at all. This fear largely limits young women.
Some of the aims of UN-HABITAT, Plan International and Women and Cities International, is to increase access to public space and improve girls autonomous mobility in cities. This leads to their ability to receive a quality education. Plan International’s Sarah Hendriks, reported that some of Plan’s research findings in, Because I am a Girl Urban Programme Study, conducted in Cairo, Delhi, Hanoi, Kampala and Lima, concluded that girls felt excluded from policy and legislation. One of Plan’s goals is to help adolescent girls feel less excluded from policy and legislation and have their voices heard.
Hakima (shown above) from Kampala, Uganda definitely had her voice heard when she spoke to audience members about her experiences in her urban city. Hakima articulated that women should not be limited because of their gender and had just as much rights to urban spaces as men did. She proposed solutions such as an increase in streetlights and safer public restrooms in her city in order for girls to roam more freely. At just 9 years old, Hakima had strength in her voice that all panelists and audience members acknowledged.
Young women such as Hakima and the hard work of the panelists mentioned, show that much has to be done to help make urban areas safer for young women. Acknowledgment of the problem is the first step. In addition, more data has to be available about young girls in urban environments, in order for governments to acknowledge the magnitude of this issue. Some short-term solutions would be to increase the number of streetlights and create a safer haven for public restrooms, as Hakima mentioned. Some long-term solutions mentioned, were bringing men into the conversation and changing cultural views on how to approach women in public. In addition, encouraging governments to enforce policies and legislation that keep women safe were solutions proposed as well.