Plan International 'Unsafe in the City' Report

Found in: Resources on violence against women and girls

Plan International 'Unsafe in the City' Report

For us there isn’t anything new [in this research]. The most important finding isn’t for us but for the world that you can see how insecure we feel. They harass us, they touch us, they do everythingto us. There is finally somewhere where it is written down. (Young woman, 21, Reflection Workshop)

The purpose of the report, Unsafe in the City is to shine a light on the relentless sexual harassment and abuse that is the daily norm for so many young women and girls on our city streets. Unsafe in the City is the first in a new series of the State of the World’s Girls reports from Plan International. It presents a worrying rise in intimidation and insecurity which is stopping girls from realising their true potential in our urban spaces. Young women are frightened for their physical safety, and angry that this harassment and bullying is not taken seriously.

The researchers report that ‘As our cities’ populations grow, we are seeing an alarming rise in gender discrimination, sexual violence, harassment, insecurity and exploitation. If this isn’t tackled it will become a huge barrier to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of gender equality. The Report asks: How can we transform the everyday lives of girls and women? What can we all do to make the cities we live in friendly, safe and equal?

The researchers suggest that we start by tackling the norms, attitudes, beliefs, systems and structures that prevent girls from achieving equality; that we call out sexist male behaviour; challenge the acceptance of groping and cat-calling as ‘normal’ or ‘banter’; change the culture of the design and planning industries, by ensuring transport services take gender sensitive approaches so that they reflect the needs of young women using them, by increasing the gender parity of decision making bodies, and by offering gender-sensitive training to key personnel so that they don’t trivialise girls’ concerns. Cities should be places of great opportunity, where young women can live and work safely. To achieve this, we need to consult with girls and young women, and help them campaign for the changes they want to see at the grassroots level.

I pass through here twice a day to get to work and am routinely verbally abused by men. I feel unsafe and would never go through here at night. I wish the police or government would listen to women’s stories and do something about this place. (Young woman, Sydney)

Key Recommendations include:

Behaviour Change

It is everyone’s responsibility to condemn harassment and violence against girls and women. More specifically men and boys need to recognise that sexist behaviour is intolerable and change it by learning to respect girls and women as their equals: standing out against the culture of verbal and physical abuse, not standing by.

Girls’ Participation in decision-making

Those in authority and positions of power, at all levels, must listen to and work with girls and young women, respect their experiences and recommendations, and involve them in co-designing their cities, including infrastructure, the provision of services and the policies that govern them.


Governments, both municipal and national, must adopt and implement laws and policies that criminalise all forms of gender-based violence, including sexual harassment, and send a clear signal that the abuse of girls and women will not be tolerated. This includes the authorities taking action to remove barriers to reporting.

Making cities safer: Promising Practice and young women, t

Educating men, raising awareness about the realities of girls’ and young women’s daily lives and campaigning against sexism is a priority for many of the young women the researchers spoke to. A wide variety of people and organisations are working, often in partnership, specifically to challenge the everyday sexism that leads to the high levels of gender based street harassment experienced in every city’s public spaces and places. Keys to campaigning success include: working not just to improve street safety but to tackle the underlying causes of gender-based harassment and, most crucially, to involve girls and young women, using their experiences and ideas to bring about lasting change.

The report documents a non-exhaustive list of campaigns, policies and programmes that, though often in their early stages, have had some success and may give others useful ideas of what can be done. Campaigns, policies and programmes include:

  • Laws and policies that tackle gender-based street harassment
  • Improving reporting
  • Public education campaigns designed to address the root causes of gender-based street harassment and tackle entrenched behaviour
  • Apps for travellers to report sexual harassment as well as racist and homophobic behaviour. The apps are complemented by behaviour change campaigns to demonstrate zero tolerance for such behaviour
  • The Safer Cities for Girls programme  is a long-term gender transformative programme, working to tackle unequal power relations and challenge harmful social norms that perpetuate insecurity and exclusion of girls in cities. The programme works across three levels: (1) with governments and institutions to influence municipal and national actors and policy makers to make laws and city services more receptive and inclusive to girls’ safety; (2) with families and  communities to promote a supportive social environment that promotes girls’ safety and inclusion in cities; and (3) with girls and boys themselves to engage them as active citizens and agents of change by building capacities, strengthening assets, and creating opportunities for meaningful participation.

Plan International 'Unsafe in the City' Report