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Digital mapping project exposes ‘alarming levels of harassment’ worldwide

A survey of cities around the world, including Sydney, chronicled thousands of instances of harassment by boys and men of girls and young women in public spaces.

The four other cities involved in the survey were Delhi, Lima, Kampala and Madrid. The survey identified “alarming levels of harassment and abuse” of young girls and women in these cities, finding that “in all five cities, boys and men grope, chase, stalk, leer at, verbally insult, and flash girls and young women.”

The Unsafe in the City project, announced in April, collected 21,000 testimonials from girls and young women in these cities. The project is an expansion of the collaboration between charity Plan International and researchers of the XYX Lab, from Monash Art Design and Architecture (MADA).

The original pilot program was run in Melbourne, which collected more than 1,300 responses from young women who shared their experiences in city spaces using an online tool developed by Melbourne digital consultancy Crowdspot.

Participants used an online map to drop “good” pins on spaces were they felt safe and “bad” pins to indicate spaces that made them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. They could then elaborate on particular experiences that influenced their feelings in those spaces.

One 28-year-old woman formerly of Sydney, for example, said she has “both love and hate for the city, as a female, especially an Asian female with curves.”

“I never felt safe in this city. I get sexual harassment (catcalling, swearing, pervert staring) almost everywhere I go. No matter how much I cover myself with hideous clothes, this never stops.”

XYX Lab was established in March 2017 with the stated aim of exploring the intersection between gender and the built environment. The lab’s first key project looked at the spaces of sexual harassment on Australian public transport.

Nicole Kalms, XYX Lab director, said, “Across five cities, the safety concerns of these young women are frighteningly similar, with the prevalence of sexual harassment in particular standing out.”

Plan International Australia CEO Susanne Legena said, “Constant harassment and abuse is frightening and draining, and leaves young women feeling completely disempowered. This indifference and inaction leads many girls and young women to blame themselves for abuse and harassment.

“What’s more, by forcing girls and women to constantly adjust their behaviour to stay safe, society is denying them the benefits and opportunities of city life. Their access to work and study opportunities, and their ability to enjoy the city, is restricted.”

The researchers called on governments to legislate against all forms of sexual harassment and gender-based violence. They also suggest that girls and young women should become involved in co-designing their cities and the policies that govern them.

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