Her City: Empowering girls to shape cities Her way

Author: Urban Hub Team at Save the Children International

What can you do to make cities places where girls and young women feel safe, valued, comfortable, empowered and experience equitable access to the city? Read our 2nd blog in the Public Space for Children blog series to learn more. In case you missed it, the first blog of the series spotlights public space interventions by our member organisations. 

The Her City toolbox gives city governments, girl groups, urban practitioners, and other interested stakeholders a hands-on journey fuelled by practical toolkits and examples to inspire action for safer cities for and with girls and women.

Girls, safety, and violence: A snapshot

80% of girls and young women living in Delhi, Kampala, Lima, Madrid, and Sydney reported places they use daily to be unsafe (2018 global multi-city report on urban safety)

9 in 10 girls experienced some form of violence in the past year in 6 African cities (2022 report on study engaging 15000 young people)

88% of women surveyed reported facing sexual harassment in public transport, but only 1% reported it to the police in New Delhi (2022 report by the World Bank)

Three studies, similar conclusions. In cities across the world, girls and young women feel unsafe in their everyday lives. Socio-cultural norms, the absence of women in places of influence and power, gender-blind urban planning, and the lack of effective gender-responsive criminal justice systems all contribute to making cities unsafe for girls and women.

Unsafe cities, apart from exposing girls and women to everyday acts of violence and abuse, limit their access to education, essential services, jobs and employment, contributing to vicious cycles of gender-based inequalities and disempowerment.

So, what can be done?

Her City Toolbox

A first step to making cities safer is acknowledging the issues and actively engaging girls, young women, and local communities in reshaping their environments. UN-Habitat’s Her City Toolbox provides a range of stakeholders, such as local governments, women’s groups, NGOs, and civil society organisations, a hands-on approach to assess local problems, collaborate with relevant stakeholders, prioritise issues and take actions to make urban environments safe, inclusive and sustainable.

We spoke with Elin Andersdotter Fabre from UN-Habitat, who played an integral role in the development and dissemination of the toolbox as well as putting it into action. According to Elin, one of the key takeaways from using the tools has been that ‘when girls and women plan and design urban spaces, they don’t think just about themselves. They think about children, youth, elderly, mothers, people with disabilities and what’s good for the planet. They also get into the details of cost-effectiveness, maintenance and management.’

Her City is available as a digital platform as well as¬†in print. The toolbox is structured along the three main phases of the urban development process: 1. Assessment, 2. Design and 3. Implementation. Through nine building blocks, it enables users to co-plan cities from a girl’s perspective, including girls, other stakeholders, professionals and decision-makers. The tools include checklists, calendars, agendas, manuals, forms, boards, apps, templates, surveys, and visualisation services such as Minecraft.

  • Her City Toolbox: 9 flexible building blocks ¬© UN-Habitat

The Her City methodology was developed in 2019, and the digital toolbox was launched in 2021. Since then, it has over 1250 registered users from 430 countries, using tools in 350 independent projects across 120 countries worldwide. According to Elin, the toolkit’s flexibility, hands-on approach, and practice-oriented nature make it successful.

Want to learn about to use the toolkit? There is a¬†training webinar¬†available, as well as a¬†community of practice. ‘The toolbox is meant to spur catalytic projects’, said Elin, ‘we really wanted to start building capacity and envisioning change ‘by doing’ instead of relying on desk reviews’.

Two examples of Her City spaces

Since 2021, UN-Habitat has launched 25 partnership projects and fully implemented 13 in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, Asia and Europe. Below are two examples of girls and women taking catalytic action to make ‘her’ space in the city.

1. Girls and women-led micro-community spaces in Kamwanyi informal settlement: Kampala, Uganda

Kamwanyi is a dense informal settlement in Kampala. HADE (Holistic Actions for Development and Empowerment), a women-led youth and community-focused organisation with support from Dreamtown (an organisation of urban practitioners), engaged 50 girls and young women to assess their settlement and identify priorities for action.

Issues identified included a lack of safe gathering spaces for girls and employment opportunities. Using the analogue version of Her City, the girls’ team engaged with local leaders to identify a space in the settlement they could transform according to their needs. After much deliberation, a rooftop space was agreed upon. Using Minecraft and other visualising tools, the participants designed spaces they would like to see in and around the rooftop.

  • Kampala community survey ¬© HADE

The transformed roof has plants, a roof cover, comfortable seating, water taps, green walls, and a library, and adjoining areas were developed into an urban garden, green play space, mushroom farm and bamboo workshop. This space has become a central place for girls and women in the community. It is used for children’s play, as a meeting and gathering place for girls and young women, as a place for reading and learning, for hosting festivals and movie nights, and training workshops and microenterprises.

My dream for this place is to be a comfort for a lot of people in the community. For example, women and girls who are beaten at home, instead of running away from home and sleeping in trenches would rather come here and relax”.¬†Shanice, young participant, Kampala

The success of this intervention led to spin-off initiatives supported by HADE and led by local girls and young women. These include a shop in a transformed shipping container which showcases local crafts made by women, a juice shop by a woman entrepreneur, women-led savings groups, feminist street art by women, and a local magazine dedicated to documenting the triumphant stories of young women.

Beyond creating a safe space for girls and young women, the initiative also sparked new revenue streams for women, which could lead to greater social and economic independence. The workshops and vocational training also fostered new skills and career paths. This shows that gender-focused urban development, beyond the physical transformation of urban spaces, can actively empower girls and young women.

2. Recovering and rebuilding public spaces for and with women and girls: Lima, Peru

In four low-income neighbourhoods in Lima, the Her City toolbox was used with over 30 residents to create safer public spaces. Local implementing partners Ocupa tu Calle and Mano a Mano engaged local girls and women in these neighbourhoods to map stakeholders, assess safety issues, identify priorities for action, design solutions, and recover and rebuild public spaces.

Issues identified include unpaved and dangerous pathways along hillsides mainly used by women and children and underused open spaces taken over by car parking and garbage, harbouring crime and drugs. Through co-design and collaboration with multiple community-based stakeholders, two unsafe passageways were made safer with retaining walls, play areas, rest areas, solar lamps, and urban community gardens. Further, two underused public spaces were also transformed into green and attractive social spaces for rest and play.

  • Los Alamos before the intervention, Lima ¬© Mano a Mano

These interventions increased physical and social safety, strengthened social cohesion, and improved food security, benefitting over 10,000 people ‚Äď mainly girls, young women, and children ‚Äď in these neighbourhoods.

“It is a sign of change, with benefits for both boys and girls”,¬†Flor and Patricia, neighbours in Lima, Peru.

Women Builders, a group of unemployed women trained by Mano a Mano in masonry, plumbing, painting and other building trades, led the construction of these interventions. In the process, they taught other local women in the four neighbourhoods so they, too, could initiate other such interventions.

What can you do to make your city safer?

The Her City Toolbox has been used by city governments, universities, the private sector, and civil society stakeholders to engage girls and young women in a diverse range of catalytic urban safety interventions. It has been used in informal settlements, refugee camps and small and large cities. The Cities for Girls Cities for All report and Impact Stories offer inspiration and insights to fuel your imagination and inspire action.

Whether you are a city official, private foundation, women’s rights activist, urban practitioner, or a young changemaker, we hope this blog sparks thoughts and actions towards inclusive and sustainable cities for and with girls and women.

About the Author

This blog was written by the Urban Hub Team at Save the Children International and is based on an interview with Elin Andersdotter Fabre from UN-Habitat. Special thanks to Giulia Maci from Cities Alliance for reviewing the blog.


The Public Spaces for Children series showcases ideas for action, innovation, programmes, policies and practices that make public spaces child-friendly. Read more of our blogs here.

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