Free To Be A Girl: Making cities safer for girls and young women by designing with them (not for them)

Today is International #DayoftheGirl and what better way to acknowledge the day than to enable young women and girls to have an input into how their cities are experienced (and designed).

Free to Be is an online mapping tool that enables girls and young women in five cities — Sydney, Delhi, Kampala, Lima and Madrid — to ‘drop a pin’ on a location and share their stories, experiences and thoughts about the environment. What they like, what makes them feel happy or safe and equally to share experiences in their cities they do not like or did not feel safe.

But the aim of the tool is more ambitious. To capture, analyze and amplify in a more strategic and quantifiable way how girls and young women feel about their cities and to use the data to propel change. Change in how urban planners and policy makers go about designing our cities to ensure they are inclusive for everyone.

What we like about the thinking that seems to have inspired the development of this online tool, is that Free to Be leverages technology using a human centered design process, much the same as Snobal’s technology.

It is guided by starting with the people you are designing something for (in this case young women and girls) using their input and feedback in an empathic way to collaborate and co-create with them and then harnessing technology to come up with better ways to do things — in this case how do we design cities so that they are welcoming for all?

We know that the current way we design our cities and the systems and mechanisms we use to capture community input or feedback on designs is not working. We need to think smarter.

Change on the way

There is much work to be done in the area of making cities welcoming for young women.

Much of the results from the global report produced — Unsafe in the City: A Tale of Five Cities — are alarming.

Through the personal stories of over 20,000 young women and girls from cities as diverse as Sydney, Delhi, Madrid, Kampala and Lima we can unequivocally state that unrelenting harassment and abuse is a normalized and expected part of being a young woman and it changes the way we navigate a city. [WomensAgenda]
Source: Unsafe in the City: The everyday experiences of girls and young women

But we can feel change on the way. Technology applications like Free to Be are part of a broader movement and conversation happening globally about how to better design and manage our cities so that they are inclusive and also what role technology plays in all this.

Free to Be was developed by humanitarian organisation, Plan Australia along with XYX Lab — Monash University Space Gender Communication Lab and Crowdspot.

You can read the reports:
 Unsafe in the City: A Tale of Five Cities here.
Unsafe in the City: Sydney here.
Free To Be