Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1297, (26 May - 1 June 2016)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1297, (26 May - 1 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Cities for girls

The future promises safer cities for the world’s women and girls, says Angy Essam

Al-Ahram Weekly


y 2030, approximately 1.5 billion girls will live in urban areas, a fact that foreshadows endless empowerment possibilities.

This is also the conviction of the Safer Cities for Girls Programme, a joint programme launched in 2014 in partnership between Plan International, Women in Cities International, UN-HABITAT and CARE. The overarching goal of the programme, as explained by Coordinator Emy Yanny, is to build safe, accountable and inclusive cities that take the needs of adolescent girls into account.

The Cities for Girls Programme is being carried out in five cities around the world Cairo, Delhi, Hanoi, Kampala and Lima, Peru. “The main objective of the programme is to increase girls’ safety and access to public spaces, girls’ active and meaningful participation in urban development and governance, and girls’ autonomous mobility in cities,” Yanny said.

She explained that 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.

Such girls may have to contend with both increased risks and increased opportunities. “On the one hand, they may face sexual harassment, exploitation and insecurity as they navigate the urban environment, while on the other hand they are more likely to be educated, less likely to be married at an early age and more likely to participate in politics,” said Yanny.

Communications Coordinator Mona Hussein said that the Safer Cities Programme worked effectively on the ground by making partnerships with the civil society associations in the communities targeted.

In Cairo, it decided to start in the district of Ezbet Khairallah, partly because local girls had identified the ring road that splits the area into two as the greatest risk for their safety. The only link between Ezbet Khairallah and outer Cairo is the road itself and the tunnels built under it, which pose high risks for community members. “The road poses a constant risk of accidents for girls who have to use public transport for going to school or work,” said Hussein.

From this line of thought, the programme included tuk-tuk drivers who were approached in an attempt to raise their awareness about sexual harassment. In a taped interview, one of the drivers explained that after attending the programme he had understood and become more aware of all sorts of harassment, something that had made him popular in his neighbourhood because he had become more worthy of people’s trust. More people wanted him to drive them, and his earnings had increased.

“In order to create a safe place for Ezbet Khairallah girls, we established clubs inside the civil associations in the community, as per the girls’ demand. The girls and their families feel safe when they are there,” Yanny said. “We asked them to write everything they had noticed in a report, as well as all that had annoyed them, and asked for recommendations on how to change the things they had discovered. We have been encouraging them to be more aware of the problems of their area, to analyse them and to try to solve them.”

Hussein said the programme organised meetings between the girls of the area and government representatives. “Last month the girls performed a play in front of government representatives that emphasised the problems they are facing in their community. After that there was a discussion on how to solve these problems,” she said. She added that workshops were also organised to explain to the wider community how it could offer help.

Yanny explained that to increase girls’ safety and access to public spaces the programme is acting to ensure that regulations are more receptive and inclusive to adolescent girls, to increase the capacity and willingness of institutions and government stakeholders to promote girls’ safety in cities.

“We work to mobilise support and action among families and communities about girls’ safety and inclusion in cities, in addition to increasing girls’ understanding of their rights to safety by building capacity, producing resource guides and materials, and establishing clubs and safe spaces,” she said.

Hussein added that the programme aims to increase adolescent girls’ active and meaningful participation in urban development and governance by increasing the participation of families and communities in girl-led and/or girl-inclusive initiatives.

Yanny said it aims to increase girls’ autonomous mobility in the city by ensuring that transportation authorities, managers and staff promote and support the safety of adolescent girls through sensitivity training and by establishing guidelines and regulations that reflect the priority of girls’ safety.

“We work to increase the willingness of staff and bystanders to protect and support girls when faced with insecurity on transportation systems, including by implementing awareness-raising campaigns,” Yanny said.

The programme, as explained by Hussein, is part of Plan International’s “Because I am a Girl” campaign, which aims to empower girls, promote gender equality and remove the barriers that girls may face in acquiring their rights. It is a flagship initiative of Plan International’s Global Girls Innovation Programme, a framework that uses high-equality technical approaches to drive learning and achieve results.

“The Safer Cities for Girls Programme in Cairo focusses on innovative strategies and activities to build safer and more inclusive cities for adolescent girls,” Hussein said.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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