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Safer Cities for Girls - São Paulo, Brazil

We are working to build a safe, accountable, and inclusive city with and for adolescent girls.

Photo of Plan International USA

Written by

Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Safer Cities for Girls is a program model developed in partnership between Plan International (Plan), UN-HABITAT, and Women in Cities International. The program goal is to build safe, accountable, and inclusive cities with and for adolescent girls (aged 13-18). The program aims to achieve changes in the following impact areas: • Increased girls’ safety and access to public spaces. • Increased girls’ active and meaningful participation in urban development and governance. • Increased girls’ autonomous mobility in the city. The program works across three levels of change: (1) with governments and institutions to influence municipal and national actors and policy makers to make laws and city services more receptive and inclusive to girls’ safety; (2) with families and communities to promote a supportive social environment that promotes girls’ safety and inclusion in cities; and (3) with girls and boys themselves to engage them to be active citizens and agents of change by building capacities, strengthening assets, and creating opportunities for meaningful participation. By working to confront social and cultural norms that allow for the manifestation of unequal gender power relations across these three levels, girls’ lives in cities will be transformed, reflected in a fundamental shift of their social positions. The project will work to engage adolescent girls and boys in the Capão Redondo community of São Paulo, Brazil. Example project activities include: Safety walks led by girls to identify factors that make them feel safe and unsafe and to develop recommendations for improvement; Gender-sensitive, child-centered and inclusive community scorecards to assess the quality of city services and spaces that are relevant to adolescent girls; Interface meetings with government stakeholders, community members and adolescent girls to review research findings, discuss issues and agree to action items.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our direct beneficiaries will be 210 girls (aged 13-18) and 70 boys (aged 13-18) who are living in the Capão Redondo community of São Paulo, Brazil and who will be enrolled in youth clubs facilitated by Plan. Participants will meet regularly to discuss and resolve issues and recommendations for improving their community, as well as participate in a training curriculum on gender equality and girls' rights. We will also directly engage 1,000 community stakeholders (families and community members) in support of activities led by the girls and boys. We will engage staff of government institutions, local and state police, and transportation companies in activities around adolescent girls' safety in cities. Benefits of the project, such as improvements to physical community infrastructure constructed to increase safety as part of the project, will benefit the full 288,552 residents of the Capão Redondo community.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

There is a gap in programming on adolescent girls’ safety in urban spaces, as girls tend to be ignored in programming aimed at ‘youth’ or ‘women’ or crime prevention initiatives targeting young men. Plan is putting adolescent girls at the center of this program. This will allow the program to comprehensively address girls' experiences in their communities. The built environment, how people use public spaces, as well as the actual and perceived safety of girls will be addressed to overcome girls' fears or anxieties that may have consequences for what girls are and are not able to do in the city. Additionally, this project strives to be gender transformative. It tackles unequal power and challenges harmful social norms that perpetuate insecurity and exclusion of girls in cities. A gender transformative project is one that goes beyond improving the condition of women and girls and seeks to improve their social position and full realization of their rights.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Majority Adoption: I have expanded the pilot significantly and the program product or service has been adopted by the majority of our intended user base.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Plan International is an independent development and humanitarian organization that advances children’s rights and equality for girls.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

As populations in cities continue to increase, we wanted to know how this affects adolescent girls. In a research study across five global cities, they told us about their dreams of future cities that were well-lit and maintained and where they were given space to participate. We are inspired by the girls in São Paulo, Brazil specifically, who are empowered to create change in their community and use Plan International as a platform to do so.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Our project focuses on the interactions girls have in their urban physical and social environment (peace) and how that affects their opportunities to reap the full benefits of their communities (prosperity). Lack of community peace and high rates of gender-based violence are major issues in Capão Redondo. In our community context study, we found 70 homicides and 3,988 occurrences of robberies in the community in 2015. Girls living in Capão Redondo report that they daily face sexual harassment and insecurity as they navigate the urban environment. This normalization of violence is directly affecting girls' rights and their ability to develop their full potential. The State Secretary of Culture of São Paulo’s Index of Youth Vulnerability cited Capão Redondo among the districts with the highest youth vulnerability. Life expectancy is 58 years, while in areas in São Paulo just a few miles away it is 78 years. Per Capita Income is only R$541 (USD $146).

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

The project works to build safe, accountable, and inclusive cities with and for adolescent girls. Any activities to improve their physical and social community environment will be based on suggestions and action taken by adolescent girl participants in the project. Parents and key stakeholders from the community will also be involved. For our context study, we already mapped key community actors and conducted two focus groups with adolescents and their families. It is critical to work with at all levels for lasting change. Key government institutions have been identified, including the local Secretaries for Education, Health and Social Assistance, for example, who have already shown their availability to collaborate with policy reviews to assess safety of girls, participate in interface meetings with adolescent girls and community stakeholders to review findings and agree action items, and participate in trainings.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

The greatest strengths in Capão Redondo come from the participating adolescents themselves. They are highly articulate, organized, and motivated to improve their community. In our context study, they expressed their desire for strategies to work on gender equality and promote new models of masculinity. They also stressed that it was essential to create prevention and care programs for victims of sexual violence and stimulate the deconstruction of gender stereotypes that justify this violence.

Geographic Focus

Capão Redondo community of São Paulo, Brazil

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

36 months

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No
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Attachments (2)

Levels of Assessment.PNG

An initial assessment provides information on local priorities, issues, and ideas on how to design a locally-led program and maximize potential for positive change for girls in urban settings. Girls have the opportunity to discuss the issues they are facing and to offer their own innovative ideas for making improvements to their city.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Dr. Anishta null

Hello Plan International USA! I must say this is a great initiative and I just discovered that you work in Pakistan as well. It is a very crucial requirement in today's society for women to feel safe independent and empowered and in this way we both are working towards the same target. We do this by engaging female health providers who are unable to work due to social restrictions or unsafe environments by using technology to connect them to rural communities.

Best of luck for your project! :)

Photo of Durley Montoya ocampo

It is really interesting and important for the society. Your NGO looks very complete I mean making a positive impact in every sector involved. It reminds me of when we were making a website for solo travel woman, we wanted all the woman to travel safe and we found that Men are the most dangerous cause for women and girls, which is really sad. The new model of masculinity sounds amazing!

Photo of Nora Dooley

Hello Plan International! We (Coaches Across Continents) respect the work you've done around the world! I love this idea - I understand it to be primarily an advocacy initiative with youth/girl-centered components. It looks like the community is only 30km from one of our partners in Diadema. If you move forward with this idea in one way or another I would love to make connections in São Paulo so all can benefit!

Photo of Plan International USA

Hi Coaches Across Continents! We're very much striving for this project to not necessarily be advocacy, but rather a community-inclusive approach to better understand how infrastructure can help keep girls safe. Awesome that you have an office in São Paulo. What is your team there currently working on? And thank you for your work bringing our DC community together!


Photo of Nora Dooley

Hi Shaylyn! Sounds like an innovative approach! We actually don't open offices anywhere (intentional!) but rather work through partnerships with existing CBOs. One of those is in SP! And they are awesome. Very much a community-inclusive approach as I understand it. We love working with them. And we also know their programming for girls is one of the biggest challenges they face - especially when it comes to sport. Together we have come up with some great ideas to address this! Let me know if you want to explore further!

Photo of abubakar Mbarak

Hello Plan International,
i am very intrigued by your idea, I believe empowering the girl child will lead to a prosperous future for the whole society at large.
Do you work with African countries on the same?
i believe our girls needs such mentoring and training, also a platform where they can be heard and lead on how to maneuver on their day to day lives. If not yet I would like you guys to consider that and expand your reach to this side of the world.
in Kenya where I am from we have various organizations involved in matters empowering women and girls. I think your input there would greatly improve on their welfare.
regards, Abubakar

Photo of Plan International USA

Hello Abubakar,
I'm glad our idea interests you! Within the African context, the project is operating in Egypt, Uganda, and Kenya! Thanks for reaching out about our work there, and I hope that we're able to continue to expand our efforts so that everyone, including yourself can see more results.
Shaylyn from the Plan team

Photo of abubakar Mbarak

How can I connect with some of your colleagues in Kenya who are working on the same?

Photo of Mike Niconchuk

Having worked in security and violence-prevention programming a lot, I like this. It takes a unique gendered lens, moving away from the usually types of "urban youth" programming in much of Latin America. Quick question--municipal governments, especially in (what are often) corrupt spaces are not good at listening. What's your track record in actually getting local gov to listen to the recommendations or take policy action in line with the girls' vision? And if they do act, how do you ensure that those municipal structures engage those idea-makers (the girls) in decision-making processes?

Photo of Plan International USA

Hi Mike, Great question. Meaningful engagement of government stakeholders is one of the greatest challenges that the program faces and not a challenge that can be overcome right away. The program explicitly addresses the underlying structural and political issues that hinder girls to be safe in cities, as well as aims to transform the pervasive social and cultural norms that allow for unequal power dynamics, gender based discrimination and violence. This is long term change that we’re aiming to make to change the enabling environment. Our external evaluation of four pilot cities in 2017 noted reported and observed changes in attitudes and behaviors among many of the program stakeholders (for example, parents, local authorities, and transport staff) though there is still a long way to go toward equality.

Some of our activities specifically facilitate engagement between girls and local government as a starting point for more immediate outcomes and we’ve seen some successes. Plan International is implementing the program model in Hanoi, Vietnam. There, we facilitated an opportunity for girl program participants to present their urban design ideas to influential people, including the Vice Chair of Dong Anh District People’s Committee and others representing different branches of local government. The Vice Chair publicly committed to implementing some of the suggestions the girls had made, including installing more street lights and building a fence around a deep canal that runs through the community. Some of these changes, such as the addition of lighting in a street tunnel, have already occurred.

Photo of Mike Niconchuk

Plan International USA Thank you for the response, and the examples. The Vietnam case study is very promising. I'm particularly curious about this because there is tremendous blowback risk when you involve youth in municipal level advocacy. When I was working in Za'atri Refugee Camp, we had the youth conduct a participatory appraisal of the situation of the water pipes and distribution infrastructure. They came up with a brilliant, evidence-based report, and we got some of the water-related NGOs (inc engineering staff) to come and listen to the report presentation, with the idea and expectation that they would take the youth's recommendation under advisement and action. Essentially, the NGO/engineers came, and completely ripped apart the youths' research, getting super defensive and dismissive, despite the youths reasonable claims and robust evidence for their position. It was disheartening and ended up congealing a lot go anti-NGO sentiment. We spent a long time undoing the damage. It was an important moment--and it was a big realization for me, seeing how much it takes to push for youth voices in local administration, and then knowing how narrow the window for meaningful engagement is. Anyways, best of luck to you!

Photo of Temba San

Hello there ! How do you consider the sustainability of your idea?


Photo of Plan International USA

Hi Temba! Throughout the project, we engage stakeholders at every level: individual participants, their families, teachers, government officials, etc. That way, once our project finishes its operations, new infrastructure, policy, and motivation is built into their community that can be easily replicated and sustained.

Photo of Sydney Gray

Now, I love me some girl-centered programming. But I am not understanding how this bridges Planet and Prosperity. It seems to be relying on the assumption that girls will be able to prosper as an impact significantly downstream of the activities. Can you clarify?

Photo of Plan International USA

We are actually focusing on Prosperity and Peace in particular. We could make the stretch to say that we are, in fact, help the Planet by increasing accessibility to resources by making cities safer, but the link between Prosperity and Peace is much stronger so we're working on building only that bridge for now.

Photo of SIMN Global

Cool idea! Could you explain why you chose São Paulo?

Photo of Plan International USA

We were excited about implementing in São Paulo because we are already very engaged with the youth there who came to us asking for a way to make their city safer for youth, especially girls! This is a great opportunity to further connect them to the tools and resources they need to create change in their community.