Girls and the CityPlaytime Latest

29/11/2014 – Girls and the City

Sexual harassment in public space is emerging as a serious problem for girls aged as young as 11. This problem has been identified through projects on girls freedom of movement in the city such as the Because I Am A Girl Urban Programme, a programme through which adolescent girls describe the everyday challenges they face moving through their neighbourhoods.  The programme was developed jointly by Plan International, UN Habitat for a Better Urban Future and Women in Cities International to implement an eight point ‘call to action on girls rights in the city’. 
The key objectives of this programme are succinct and powerful:

  • To increase girls’ safety and access to public spaces
  • To increase girls’ participation in urban governance
  • To increase girls’ autonomous movement in cities

Through a collaborative research process conducted with adolescent girls living in a number of cities around the world it is clear that there are serious safety issues for them.  The study for Because I am a Girl was conducted in Lima, Hanoi, Dehli, Kampala and Cairo. But research in European cities also shows issues around girls safety is a serious concern. What is particularly striking is how perceptions of safety affect their experience of the city and curtail their freedom.  How girls perceive the urban environment is not necessarily reflected in the usual statistical information such as police records because so many crimes of a sexual nature are not reported.
Furthermore, factors such as the status of women and girls in society and urban design features such as lighting or unkempt buildings and derelict sites affect how safe an areas feels.  The sense of threat these features create informs the decisions on where to go and which routes to choose thereby curtailing
freedom of movement. This in turn has a detrimental impact on how girls participate in their local communities and is inevitably very disempowering.
The fear underpinning how public space is perceived is compounded by frequent, if not daily, instances of sexual harassment.  Teenage girls describe being regularly subjected to sexual harassment as they are walking to and from school in their uniforms.  Sexual harassment in public space, otherwise known as street harassment, has both short term and long term negative effects on girls. It takes all kinds of forms from cat calling to groping and the line between sexual harassment and sexual assault is increasingly recognised as contrived. Sexual harassment is regarded as a form of sexual violence which results in feeling humiliated, frightened and ashamed.
Hollaback is an international initiative which aims to end street harassment of women and girls.  By raising awareness of the extent and the harm caused by street harassment, Hollaback is fostering a refusal to tolerate this form of sexual violence anymore. It also has a branch in Dublin and through this forum girls and young women describe frequent, distressing situations as they go about their everyday walks through the city. There is an urgent need for further research with adolescent girls in Dublin City to identify the key problems they face, in order to rethink the city and realise their rights to freedom of movement and participation.