“Plan a city for girls, and it will work for everyone”





#UrbanGirlsMovement is an initiative by the independent Swedish think tank Global Utmaning, mapping good examples, stories, and lessons learned from multi-stakeholders globally. It highlights ongoing initiatives, implementing the SDGs at the local level. In collaboration with a range of multi-stakeholders, the purpose is to highlight global pro-poor urban development initiatives targeting girls and young women in low-income areas in rapidly urbanizing cities, as well as to develop methods for local and urban development that can be applicable globally. In the long-run #UrbanGirlsMovement aims to contribute to improving the living conditions for girls and young women in vulnerable urban areas through highlighting participatory design and public space planning; promoting public health, sanitation, access to education and employment, and security.


#UrbanGirlsMovement  was initiated with the  conviction that “if we plan a  city for girls, it will work for everyone”. Three quarters of the world’s poorest people live in lower middle-income countries, often without social security or adequate living conditions. Poverty and vulnerability is increasing within many countries as a result of unequal distribution of resources and opportunities, oppression and social exclusion, particularly affects girls and young women. As the world is predominantly urban, poverty is also becoming an increasingly urban phenomenon. More than 1 billion people live in low-income informal settlements, and inequalities are increasing the fastest in cities.

In order to fulfil the SDGs, the interlinkages and integrated nature of the goals and targets are crucial. In the first global mapping of good examples, the main challenges raised by young women globally were; the lack of safe places, gender-based violence, access to education, sex education, adult interactions and role models, and environmental risks. Therefore, addressing specifically SDG 3 Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, SDG 5 Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls and SDG 11 Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable in an integrated manner is the most  effective tool to tackle the challenges and reach the 2030 Agenda.

Good practices & solutions

All projects included in the global mapping of good examples and lessons learned focus on improving the living conditions for girls and young women in low-income areas in rapidly urbanizing cities, through participatory design and public space planning. Girls and young women are key stakeholders, hence we have  gained unique insights into some of the specific challenges they face, and how inextricably linked girl’s’ development are to a range of development issues.

The participatory design and public space planning highlight the target groups’ needs and establishes priorities in the planning of physical spaces, social and economic programs. The activities empower girls and young women by  improving their living conditions through targeted interventions related to public health, sanitation, education, employment and security. They demonstrate how participatory design and public space planning is crucial as steppingstones for youth to improve their chances of a fruitful life, and at the same time addressing several SDGs.

Outcome & opportunities

Prioritising girls and young women in low-income areas in rapidly urbanizing cities is not only  vital for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, but also other global agendas. The project has successfully mapped global good examples that make a difference; empowering girls and young women and improving their lives, with the purpose for  others to learn, be inspired, and  to scale up the work in another context. In line with implementing the 2030 Agenda and the New Urban Agenda, the project has directly or indirectly shown the local application of particularly SDG 1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10, 11, 16 and 17.

The initiative also contributes to the development of  new methods for local urban development and planning that promote safe and productive public spaces, and that can be applicable in a  Swedish low-income areas, and as well as informal urban settlements globally. The ultimate goal  is to propose new urban development methods for feminist urban planning to local municipal leaders and actors that serve the local implementation of the SDGs. This provides an opportunity for #UrbanGirlsMovement to provide policy recommendations to the Swedish Government on how to  turn a ‘Feminist Foreign Policy’ into practice and to identify new priorities for Swedish development cooperation, targeting girls and young women in vulnerable urban areas.

Lessons learned & recommendations

By mapping the local work of our partnering organisations, we have managed to strengthen our belief  “ plan a city for girls, it will work for everyone”. A city for everyone is  sustainable city, where both girls and boys can thrive and develop. But to get there we need to include everyone in the process. Many initiatives do not particularly target girls and young women, but it has been noticed they tend to, in a greater extent than men, take advantage of the opportunities provided. Women also often tend to carefully safeguard the longevity of the project or infrastructure put in place.

So, how should a city be planned in order to benefit the most vulnerable populations? Finding solutions that have a positive impact on making cities more inclusive and equal should be a top priority. To summarise, a city is  balanced when there is space for all people to live, work, and play in equal measure. Public space that do meet up to the needs of girls and young women are characterised by:

  • Good footpaths and public mobility – the pure ability to push a baby stroller or wheelchair, or walk without looking down to watch your steps. It also provide connectivity to important sites in a city. The mobility issue is a direct issue sprung from norms. A majority of the population does not own a car, but a majority of the public space is taken up by roads, where cars occupy the majority of the space. We need to widen sidewalks and make roads into walkable streets.
  • Places for women, children, and elderly to loiter – benches faced towards each other to make it possible to talk to one another. Experience from informal settlements is that if there are no benches women in skirts or dresses (which corresponds to the majority) will not sit down, neither stay standing but just quickly pass through. But as squatting is common among men, automatically the city will become more accessible to them.
  • Good lightning – makes a place less threatening during the dark hours of the day, for everyone. A city where women cannot access the city at all hours of the day is not an equal city.
  • Visibility and presence of authorities – contribute to the conception of safety. The feeling that everyone can see all the activities carried out in a public place have the potential of leading to a feeling of safety. It encourage positive activity and behaviour. A lively place therefore often becomes a safer place.
  • Open access – semi-public or or semi-private spaces such as parks with fees, museums or restaurant terrasses. Places that are not open access for free, systematically exclude the poorer part of the population.
  • Design – human scale well-adapted design and urban form. It will automatically become an attractive meeting place. A place that is beautiful and differ in design from the majority of the city is less likely to get vandalized and will help strengthening the conception of safety.
  • Flexibility – one element must meet several purposes and functions. It attracts different audiences, at different times of the day. A staircase is a good example, it can be a place to walk, to sit, a meeting place, a training venue, a playground, a stage for performances. The more flexible elements, the more sustainable place.
  • Well working water and sanitation – women are more vulnerable than men when there is insufficient or a lack of toilets and sanitation facilities. In informal settlements the community often share toilets. These, as well as public toilets in high-income areas must be well lit, clean and secure.
Related SDG targets
  • 1.4 By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance
  • 1.5 By 2030, build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters
  • 1.6 Ensure significant mobilization of resources from a variety of sources, including through enhanced development cooperation, in order to provide adequate and predictable means for developing countries, in particular least developed countries, to implement programmes and policies to end poverty in all its dimensions
  • 1.7 Create sound policy frameworks at the national, regional and international levels, based on pro-poor and gender-sensitive development strategies, to support accelerated investment in poverty eradication actions
  • 3.6 By 2020, halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents 
  • 3.7 By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes 
  • 3.8 Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all 
  • 3.9 By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination 
  • 3.d Strengthen the capacity of all countries, in particular developing countries, for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks
  • 4.5 By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations 
  • 5.1 End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere 
  • 5.2 Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation 
  • 5.5 Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life
  • 5.b Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women 
  • 5.c Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels
  • 8.3 Promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage the formalization and growth of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises, including through access to financial services 
  • 8.4 Improve progressively, through 2030, global resource efficiency in consumption and production and endeavour to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, in accordance with the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production, with developed countries taking the lead
  • 8.6 By 2020, substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training 
  • 10.1 By 2030, progressively achieve and sustain income growth of the bottom 40 per cent of the population at a rate higher than the national average 
  • 10.2 By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status 
  • 10.3 Ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies and action in this regard 
  • 11.1 By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums 
  • 11.2 By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons 
  • 11.3 By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries 
  • 11.5 By 2030, significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations
  • 11.7 By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities 
  • 11.a Support positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, per-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning 
  • 11.c Support least developed countries, including through financial and technical assistance, in building sustainable and resilient buildings utilizing local materials
  • 16.7 Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels
  • 16.9 By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration
  • 17.3 Mobilize additional financial resources for developing countries from multiple sources
  • 17.7 Promote the development, transfer, dissemination and diffusion of environmentally sound technologies to developing countries on favourable terms, including on concessional and preferential terms, as mutually agreed 
  • 17.16 Enhance the global partnership for sustainable development, complemented by multi-stakeholder partnerships that mobilize and share knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources, to support the achievement of the sustainable development goals in all countries, in particular developing countries 
  • 17.17 Encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships 
  • 17.18 By 2020, enhance capacity-building support to developing countries, including for least developed countries and small island developing States, to increase significantly the availability of high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts 

Contact: Elin Andersdotter Fabre

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