Sydney and Uganda’s capital city of Kampala may seem worlds apart, but that didn’t stop our youth activists from each city sitting opposite one another to discuss their experiences of safety in the city.

There may have a been a computer screen between them but there’s just something about seeing a living, breathing human on the other side of the world and in this case, despite the geographical differences, our activists in both Sydney and Kampala have a lot in common – they have all been campaigning for safer cities for girls.

Using technology developed by Plan International in partnership with Monash University and with input from the activists themselves, girls in five major cities around the world have been flagging locations within their cities where they feel ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’ as a girl, by dropping pins on our digital mapping tool, called Free to Be.

Along with the pins dropped, girls explained why they felt ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’ in these areas and unsurprisingly, the ‘unsafe’ pins (80%) well and truly outweighed the ‘safe’ (20%).

The figures speak for themselves – gender based street harassment is a global problem that all girls experience. Having seen the research that supports this, the Skype chat was a chance for the girls to compare their own experiences face to face.

The girls asked each other what drove them to take part in this project. For Alice in Sydney, it was largely about awareness, “I was happy to join the conversation and talk about my experiences in public, because even a lot of the men in my own life were unaware of what we go through as women.”

In both locations, our youth activists said they felt that gender inequality played a large part in the kind of harassment and abuse they and other girls faced on the street.

As the girls in Kampala (Norah, Maureen, Joan, Sumayiya, Jackline, Zubedah and Faridah) told us why they chose to get involved in with Plan International’s Free to Be project, and in particular our Champions of Change program, the passion was palpable.

“Because I am a girl, I thought ‘give it a try.’ I never felt safe and was feeling powerless because I was a child mother at 15.”

“I was interested in safety for girls because I am one.”

“I was curious – why for girls? I pray a lot more girls join in.”

“So girls’ voices can be heard at a higher note.”

“They came in looking for girls and I had to go. I was not believing in myself but now I have built confidence and can talk to people.”

Part of Free to Be’s goal was to give a voice to girls where they often go unheard. Then our youth activists were able to take that data to decision makers in their cities.

The girls in Kampala had met with policy makers and government officials in Uganda to share the project’s findings before launching the report to the public.

Activists in Sydney met with Chief Commissioner Lucy Turnbull and other members of the Greater Sydney Commission, to give insight into the work they’ve been doing with Plan International and discuss possible solutions in Sydney.

The full findings of the Free to Be project are available in the Unsafe In the City Report. What makes the report so compelling is that the data is both quantitative and qualitative. It’s easy to overlook an ‘unsafe’ pin dropped on a map, but the statements that go with them, the real life accounts of girls, is what really sheds light on the magnitude and reality of harassment and violence in the city.

For us, this is further amplified by simply seeing girls from Kampala and Sydney come together, exciting and inspiring each other by the incredible work they’re doing to drive change in their cities. They’ve already driven so much change in their own cities. Together they’re unstoppable.

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