Sexual harassment is world’s biggest problem for women in cities

A new survey has indicated that across the globe, women are most at risk of sexual harassment.

The survey by Plan International sampled 400 experts from 22 cities and examine the safety risks facing girls and young women.

The survey found that 78% of experts across the 22 cities described sexual harassment as
an extremely high or high risk for girls and young women in their city and 77% said that it occurs either very or fairly often in public and usually rarely reported.

“Cities offer enormous opportunities for girls and young women but as this pioneering
research shows, they are also incredibly dangerous places which can have life-changing
consequences for them. Cities in developing countries are growing at an unprecedented rate. By 2030, millions of girls will live in urban areas. We must act now or we’re at risk of denying an entire generation of girls their right to learn, earn and play an active role in society,” said Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of Plan International.

In second place is sexual assault, with 57 per cent of experts describing it as an extremely high or high risk for girls and young women. Just like sexual harassment, it was never or hardly ever reported to the authorities.

Nairobi has been featured in the survey. It ranked sixth on the sexual harassment list; fourth in sexual assault; fifth in robbery and theft;  and 13th in kidnap and murder. It was not ranked in the acid attack list, which featured Dar es Salaam and Kampala.

Kampala was the riskiest cities when it came to kidnap and murder. Early in the year, Kampala was rocked with cases of kidnapping of women and girls. At least eight cases were reported just between January and February alone.

“Kidnapping here is more common than you think,” she says. “You’re always hearing that
people have been killed or raped or kidnapped,” said 19-year-old Sharon, a single mother living in Kampala.

Sharon is part of the Plan International’s Safer Cities for Girls programme, which campaigns for safer spaces in cities.

According to the experts surveyed, most girls and women have had to adjust their lives in different ways to avoid exposure to such risks. What’s more, 53 per cent of the experts also said that most of these cities do not have a support system for girls and women, and where the systems are present, they are not effective.

What’s worse is that women and girls are not included in the decision-making processes by city officials. Thirteen out of 22 cities surveyed, more than half of the experts said “never”
or “hardly ever.

While there is progress in making cities safer, this survey proves that more needs to be a done. Some of the recommendations by the experts include tackling harmful gender norms and creating gender awareness among boys and men.

Others called for political will to change the status quo and for improved law enforcement as well as improve the infrastructure in the cities to ensure the cities are well lit and navigable. Importantly, a culture change that allows women and girls to report sexual harassment and assault cases without stigma and discrimination.

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