Young girls should be involved in co-designing Australian cities – including urban infrastructure, governing policies, and services such as public transport – in a bid to overhaul gender-based exclusion resulting from a culture of sexual harassment.
That’s one of the key recommendations of a new report from Plan International Australia and Monash University, released on Thursday to coincide with International Day of the Girl.
The Unsafe in the City report presents groundbreaking Australian research into the impact of sexual harassment on young women in Sydney and four other cities around the world, based on an interactive project where young women mapped “good” and “bad” locations, and detailed their experiences, often of sexual harassment and assaults.
Map projects were also carried out in Delhi (India), Lima (Peru), Madrid (Spain) and Kampala (Uganda) – and while it’s difficult to meaningfully compare the extent of the problem between the cities, the experience of sexual harassment is common to young women in each of them.
A total of 2083 pins were dropped on spots of the Sydney map, of which 25 per cent denoted good experiences (516) and 75 per cent were bad (1567). Good places were characterised by being busy, often with working people of various ages doing a variety of activities.
The threat of sexual harassment – with or without physical contact – was the main issue identified in connection with bad pins, at 72 per cent.
Out of all of the sexual harassment experiences mapped in Sydney, fewer than one in 10 were reported to authorities. Of those reported incidents, only a third reported that authorities took action.
Plan Australia youth ambassador Edie Bannerman, 19, successfully reported one incident of sexual harassment when, at 17, a man who had been staring at her on a bus proceeded to follow her home. She had CCTV and a corroborating witness on her side on that occasion.
But since then she has had multiple other experiences where she has thought to herself “this could escalate”, she said.
“I think in the back of women’s minds all the time is ‘this is a catcall but could it turn into a sexual assault, could it turn into me getting followed?’ And that is real fear of real, violent crimes happening to you,” she said.
On Thursday, Ms Bannerman will join a group of young women and representatives from the City of Sydney, Committee for Sydney, NSW Police, TransDev, universities and more on a walk through the city’s harassment hotspots, such as Hyde Park, St James Station and construction work around Circular Quay.
Plan International Australia CEO Susanne Legena said girls have an invaluable perspective to offer those involved with planning and policy in the city.
“It’s not just about having lots of lighting, it’s about having more activity, having people of different ages congregating in the city,” she said.
A spokeswoman for the City of Sydney said the city”is committed to doing everything we can to ensure Sydney is a safe and inclusive city for our residents, workers and visitors”. A draft community safety action plan was recently released to the community for feedback.
The city “welcomes opportunities for young women to contribute to discussions and plans about safety,” the spokeswoman said.
Pru Goward, NSW Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said “sexual assault and any type of sexual harassment is abhorrent” and perpetrators must be held accountable.
“Bystanders can also play a powerful role in calling out sexual harassment and I encourage members of the public who witness this – either with friends, colleagues or strangers – to express their disapproval directly,” Ms Goward said.
But it’s imperative for men and boys to come to the table too, Ms Legena said. Plan’s report also recommends behaviour change programs that target toxic masculinity, tackle social norms and address the root causes of gender-based street harassment.
“We have to have this conversation now. Good men, there are a lot of them, they’re a majority, they have to start speaking up and speaking out and they have to start calling out this behaviour because enough is enough. It shouldn’t be on girls to fix this problem.”