As Campaigns Officer at Plan International Australia, I work closely with young women in Melbourne. Many women I’ve spoken with have told me stories of sexual assault, harassment and discrimination for their religion, sexuality and ethnicity in Melbourne. These women have also told me how they actively change the way they use the city to avoid uncomfortable situations. Not only are they are scared that something bad will happen to them, but if it does, that they will be blamed for it.
Plan International Australia research revealed one in three young women were scared of going out at night, and that women in Australia are more scared in public than women in Nicaragua. Firsthand accounts combined with this research made us angry, so we created Free To Be.
Free To Be was designed in collaboration with Crowdspot. We brought on board our youth activists, to assist with designing the digital mapping tool, and it was these young women who decided the name “Free To Be” as that’s how they want to feel in public spaces in Melbourne. Read firsthand accounts of life in Melbourne for young women.
Free To Be has created a platform where the real stories of women can be unearthed and taken to people in positions of power to advocate for change. Over ten thousand people visited the website, with over 1300 people dropping a pin. The map invites girls and women to drop pins – happy or sad - on places they love, avoid, feel safe in and those that can be improved. Once the map closes, we will present data to key decision-makers, including: city councils and transport providers, so that our city can be made safer for girls and young women.
Free To Be has received impressive media coverage, including online hipster website Broadsheet, commercial television news Channel Ten and the ABC’s 7.30 Report. Plan has been approached by public transport providers and city councils who want to hear the experiences of young women. Men have spoken of their shock at finding out about the invisible experiences women confront every day.
Following the pilot project’s success, we want to expand Free To Be beyond Melbourne. We want girls and young women everywhere to be able to easily report their experiences, and feel solidarity with each other when moving through and living in cities, and we want key decision-makers to take the experiences of young women more seriously when designing cities.
Free To Be mapping tool: http://freetobe.crowdspot.com.au/page/welcome
Free To Be multimedia stories: https://www.plan.org.au/free-to-be/