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

Rehana, one of girls participating in the Safer Cities program, looks out at the crowded resettlement area of west Delhi.
Rehana, one of girls participating in the Safer Cities program, looks out at the crowded resettlement area of west Delhi.
March 8, 2013

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 organization Plan International. The study conducted by Plan in five 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.

These findings paint a dire picture of many girls are 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 1000 adolescent girls in Egypt, India, Peru, Uganda, and Vietnam assessed their neighborhoods 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 five countries. 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 three percent of girls said they felt safe using the city’s public transport. In Hanoi, nearly 60 percent of girls said they seldom or rarely had access to emergency services such as the police. About eight 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 percent of adolescent girls felt unsafe in the city center 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 two percent felt safe in using the city’s public transport.

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

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 five 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 program, 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.

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