Women of Latin America and the Caribbean marched through the streets of Bogotá, Colombia, to demand an end to violence against women and girls. Photo by: UN Women / CC BY-NC-ND

NEW YORK — Sexual harassment is the main safety risk facing young women and girls in 22 cities across the world, according to new research conducted by the international NGO Plan International.

Young women and girls are most exposed to sexual harassment in Bogotá, Colombia, and Johannesburg, South Africa, according to the survey, while Stockholm, Sweden, is the safest surveyed city. Lima, Peru, is considered the most unsafe city for a girl to leave the house alone or use public transportation both at night and during the day.

But there were clear consistencies across all cities, which showed sexual harassment against girls and young women in urban settings as a worldwide challenge, according to the new report, “Girls' Safety in Cities across the World,” released on Tuesday.

“The results were quite similar. There are differences, naturally, and in Johannesburg and Bogotá 100 percent said sexual harassment is a high risk or extremely high risk, while in Stockholm it wasn’t as bad, or in some other cities,” said Anja Stuckert, global manager of Plan’s Safer Cities for Girls program.

“But I think what is quite key is in all of the cities sexual harassment was really one of the key risks that all of the experts said that many girls are facing on a day to day basis,” Stuckert continued. “It does reflect the experience we have with our programs, but we were still astonished that this is something that is so common over the world.”

More than two-thirds of the respondents, including academics, government representatives, and NGO workers, reported that young women and girls modify their behavior to avoid sexual harassment — defined in the report as hassling, eve-teasing, stalking, touching, flashing, and staring — and other dangers. And more than half of the experts said that support systems for girls impacted by sexual harassment or violence do not exist, or are not effective.

Kampala, Uganda, was also cited as the city where girls were most at risk of kidnap and murder.

“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 Plan International CEO Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen in a media release.

The poll was conducted between May 30 and Aug. 14 and validated by the expert polling consultancy ComRes, according to Plan International.

Plan worked with than 28,000 girls — through workshops and regular community meetings — from 2014 to 2017 in eight cities with its programs on safety for girls and young women. While some cities, such as Hanoi, Vietnam, have launched anti-harassment public campaigns through its public transportation department, other cities have not developed strong response plans, Stuckert said.

“Authorities are beginning to tackle this issue, but there is still a long way to go for cities to be free or safe for girls to be mobile and move around,” she said.

About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.