Youth focus: can grassroots movements bring in girls' voices?

By Gemma Todd

Data has emerged showcasing the latest trends of our demographic shift — the global population now articulates a 'youth bulge'. The UN-Population Demographic Profile (2010) show children, and 'youths', comprise 1.6bn, and 1.0bn, of the population in less-developed regions. The population is younger; and Sub-Saharan Africa is no exception. Attention is now turning to youths: what young people do, what opportunities they initiate for their families and nations, and what it means to be 'young' in the developing world. However, an important caveat requires recognition: the focus has been particularly male-focused. Our understanding of girls, within both public and private spaces, remains limited. Such is the debate in this blog post — if we are now looking at 'kids' in the city and development, what are the experiences of girls? What can we learn about the city through an engendered perspective? Fundamentally, who is responsible to grant equal rights? Two models of intervention are discussed be, each using alternative methods to provide rights for girls. However, each acts to reinforce the need to improve our understandings on 'being' a girl.

Systemic approaches for safer cities

Researchers have emphasised how cities remain insecure spaces for girls and are now analysing what works. Firstly, intervention has focused on reforming the whole city system. The UNiTE Campaign brought women's safety in cities onto the global public-sphere. The campaign has changed how city space is viewed, and what girls, and women, have a right to access in cities. In the case of Rwanda, the Safe Cities Program has been launched to enable freedom in public space, which remains masculinised. Eleven percent of women are insulted in public spaces, 17 percent are sexually harassed against their will, and 13 percent have been continuously followed, across Rwanda. Multilateral organisations and global campaigning have played a key role in initiating the development of projects, such as Kigali's Safe Cities Program. Through building new infrastructure and promoting awareness, Kigali aims to engender its urban planning by reinventing the city, however, is it the desired and necessary fundamentals that are being provided? Therefore, alternatively, community organisations are playing a fundamental role in providing safety for girls and women.

Localism revived: bringing safety into communities

Localist approaches are focusing on specific points and spaces of intervention; encouraging girls to take control of gender inequalities. A good example is Kwa Wazee, in Tanzania, working towards a vision whereby child safety can be realised, accessed. Self-defence classes are being run in the region through community workshops. The workshops have three core features. Firstly, self-defence training and knowledge is provided. Secondly, self-defence skills are put to the test through the practical sessions held. Finally, a sense of community is built. The classes are providing safe and secure space for children — boys and girls — to share stories of insecurity and self-defence for peaceful resolutions. Community members are being empowered to change life insecurities.

Community projects are encouraging girls to take back the city and additionally, technology and storytelling is enabling girls to see the city in a new light. Girl journalism is arising in Africa, reclaiming rights to public space but also the public-sphere. The Zimbabwe Association of Female Photographers is a great association encouraging female photographers to engage with city-life, document it, and allow outsiders to see how city-life is experienced as a woman. A new paradigm has formed. Grass-root schemes provide training initiatives for empowerment and innovative methods for girls to share their stories, each introducing access to rights within the city.

However, can, or should, we be putting more reliance on localism within African cities for girls to claim rights? Can the system of gender inequalities be tackled by introducing innovative projects at a smaller scale?

Photo credit: IPS Inter Press Service

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