Safer Cities

Highlighting alarming levels of harassment and abuse of girls and young women in cities.

Across five cities, the safety concerns of these young women are frighteningly similar, with the prevalence of sexual harassment in particular standing out.

Associate Professor Nicole Kalms

From masturbation in public to being groped and sexually assaulted, girls are suffering relentless harassment and abuse in cities worldwide

Unsafe in the City, which was based on more than 21,000 testimonials of girls and young women living in Delhi, Kampala, Lima, Madrid and Sydney, found that in all five cities, boys and men grope, chase, stalk, leer at, verbally insult, and flash girls and young women.

It found this behaviour is condoned by society with authorities rarely taking action, and bystanders usually doing just that – standing by. This forces girls to adjust their behaviour to protect themselves.

The research was carried out using an online mapping tool developed by Plan International, in partnership with Melbourne digital consultancy CrowdSpot and researchers at Monash University’s XYX Lab. The tool was piloted in Melbourne in 2016. It found that in all five cities, girls and young women noted on the map that harassment and other forms of abuse are so common that they perceive it as normal.

The data showed girls feel there is little point in reporting harassment to the authorities because they either don’t have the will or power to act.

One 28-year-old woman said she had just left Sydney after spending five years studying there.

“Both love and hate for the city, as a female, especially an Asian female with curves. I never felt safe in this city. I get sexual harassment (catcalling, swears, pervert stares) almost everywhere I go. No matter how much I cover myself with hideous clothes, this never stops.”

In Lima, a 23-year-old woman shared a disturbing experience she had when she was still underage.

“I was sitting on the lawn. When I turned around, a man had his penis out. He was masturbating, looking at me, sitting on a bench in plain sight and ignored by all. Nobody did anything.”

As a result of this research young women made three recommendations to ensure cities become safer, more accountable and more inclusive places to live:

  • Men and boys need to recognise that sexist behaviour is intolerable and learn to respect girls and women as their equals;
  • Girls and young women should be supported to become involved in co-designing their cities, including infrastructure, the provision of services and the policies that govern them;
  • Governments must adopt and implement laws and policies that criminalise all forms of gender-based violence, including sexual harassment.

Each report is downloadable in PDF form.