You are an adolescent girl in Cairo. Fourteen million people live in your city, and nearly half are female. Opportunity is everywhere, but so are roadblocks to your progress. You do not feel safe enough to move through the city and take advantage of the opportunities it provides.
To stay in school, you have to walk through dark, underground tunnels and poorly maintained roads, or take unsafe public transportation every day. Lack of formal policing and law enforcement make sexual harassment a common occurrence along your route. Like most girls, you aren’t sure who to talk to about this, or whether it will make any difference if you do. You don’t want to worry your mother. Like other moms, she already thinks she should make you drop out of school because it’s unsafe for you to travel.
Even though harassment is against the law, 86 percent of all women in Cairo report being sexually harassed in public.
Around the world, adolescent girls are too often ignored or underrepresented in discussions around city policy, governance, and urban development. However, their voices, sidelined and silenced, must be heard in order to build cities that are inclusive to girls, so they can access education, realize their rights, and have the same opportunities as boys to become equal participants in society.
“Now that I’m an ambassador for the Safer Cities for Girls program, I feel that whenever I speak, my voice will be heard, said Mona, a 16-year-old from Cairo. The Safer Cities for Girls project is a collaboration between Plan International USA, UN-HABITAT, and Women in Cities International, created with the overarching goal of building safe, accountable, and inclusive cities with and for adolescent girls. Since 2014, the project has engaged girls and boys as well as their families, community members, and government officials to help alleviate gender-based violence and harassment in cities around the world, including Hanoi, Vietnam; Kampala, Uganda; Delhi, India; Nairobi, Kenya; Lima, Peru; and Cairo, Egypt. With your support, we can better identify and remove barriers to girls’ education and progress by raising awareness and influencing behaviors and policy.
Your support can help us make great strides in Cairo, where the project currently targets 1,000 adolescent girls; 1,000 members of the general public (including men and boys); 1,600 public sector employers and employees; and 200 key government officials and decision-makers.
Supporting Safer Cities in Cairo helps girls and boys receive training to better understand their rights, recognize and avoid harassment where possible, and redefine acceptable, non-violent masculine behaviors. You help provide safe spaces and girls’ clubs where girls can learn, play, and build social networks. Girls participate in safe walks around their city to assess their communities and pinpoint problem areas, later meeting with local officials and transportation workers to communicate concerns. Some girls help raise awareness about harassment through community meetings and media communications. Others become “Girl Ambassadors” who speak nationally and internationally to key stakeholders in support of gender equality.
With gender-based violence on the rise globally, Safer Cities for Girls comes at a crucial time. Together we can influence policy and engage stakeholders at all levels to be more receptive to and inclusive of girls’ safety in cities. We can help the next generation of girls and boys stay safe, continue in school, and become active, educated, empowered members of society. In this way, we can help transform cities into places of inclusion, tolerance, and opportunity for everyone.