Plan International Australia is encouraged by today’s announcement by the NSW government of a $30 million commitment to stopping street harassment. Public spaces, parklands and public transport will undergo a safety overhaul in consultation with girls and young women.
The announcement is a response to decades of survivor’s advocacy, girls and young women’s calls to action and fuelled by research from Plan International Australia (Free to Be, 2018) on how safe girls and young women feel as they move around cities.
Our research found that women and girls change their behaviour in response to the lack of safety in cities. This can be small changes, like avoiding a threatening area when alone, or huge, life-changing decisions like quitting a job or stopping their education because they feel unsafe going to and from work or school. This was true before the pandemic and is worse post-pandemic as city streets are quieter and more dangerous.
In unpacking the findings from Free to Be, and listening to the experiences of young women and girls, it became evident that young women removing themselves from public spaces for safety reasons was all too common. Our research then turned to how we can make cities safer and it recommended a multi-faceted approach of addressing physical spaces, behavioural change in the community and policy and legislation change centering on the voices of girls.
Susanne Legena, CEO of Plan International Australia, said: “Harassment and abuse have no place in any aspect of our lives, let alone on the streets of our cities but the reality is all over the world, women, girls (cis and trans) and LGBTIQ+ people face street harassment every day. We know that when we can create safer spaces for girls that they benefit everyone. Everyone should have the right to be free from all forms of violence as they make their way around their cities and towns.
“Not only do we have a chance to prevent it, but we have a unique opportunity to redesign our cities with those that know the problem best; young people. By co-designing campaigns and public spaces with them we can together increase safety and access to public spaces as well as promote active and meaningful participation in urban development and governance and increased autonomous mobility in the city.
The process would also benefit by taking into account other groups for whom the city is not a safe place.
“’It’s not just your gender that impacts your experiences of safety in public spaces. It is also impacted by race, religion, body size and disability. It’s essential that there is representation from marginalised groups in the co-design process to ensure that all of these experiences of the city are taken into account in these pilot projects. The voices and participation of First Nations young women, girls and LGBTIQ+ people will also be critical to ensure that First Nations rights are upheld in this process.
“By investing in a co-designed, anti-street harassment initiative, the NSW Government has made it clear that they are listening to young people’s calls to make our cities safer. We look forward to seeing the pilot projects progress and expanded across NSW.
This is a huge win for the young people we work with, who have been calling for greater investment in girls’ city safety for many years. Every young person deserves to be free, safe and equal in their cities.”
Plan’s Youth Activist Series Alumni Libby Payne said she was excited to see real action come from her years of advocacy and that it was important that the government consult with girls and young women.
“We need people with lived experience of street harassment to be involved in the co-design process,” she says. “This was one of the first activism projects I worked on as a young activist, it was my first roundtable experience with the Women’s Safety Charter. It was also my first activist stunt; an anti-street harassment “chalk-back” protest on Pyrmont Bridge. It sparked a life-long commitment for me and many others. I’m looking forward to seeing a new generation of activists create even more change – with the governments support!”
Interviews available with Susanne Legena, CEO Plan International in Melbourne, and Libby Payne, Youth Activist Series (YAS) alumni based on the Darkinjung land, Central Coast, NSW Australia.
Susanne has been involved in working with girls and young women all over the world, including in Sydney, on addressing street harassment and co-designing cities with children and young people.
Libby (YAS) is a young woman who was part of the original Free To Be research by Plan International. For interviews and further information, contact:
Strategic Lead, Partnerships and Influence
Phone 0450 450 980
Email: [email protected]
Put simply, we’re the charity for girls’ equality. We tackle the root causes of poverty, support communities through crises, campaign for gender equality, and help governments do what’s right for children and particularly for girls. We believe a better world is possible. An equal world; a world where all children can live happy and healthy lives, and where girls can take their rightful place as equals.