Free to Be is an online mapping tool that enables girls and young women to identify public spaces that make them feel uneasy, scared, happy and safe. 

By dropping a pin marker onto a location and sharing a story, it empowers young women to mark places they enjoy, or call out unsafe experiences and geographically identify spaces where change needs to occur. 

First undertaken in Melbourne, it has now expanded to Sydney, Delhi, Kampala, Lima and Madrid. 

It has been developed by Plan International, a global development and humanitarian organisation focused on girls’ and children’s rights, in collaboration with CrowdspotMonash University’s XYX Lab and, crucially, young women

Supporting the pilot

Arup, through its pro bono Community Engagement programme, worked with the team to co-design improvements to the tool after the pilot project in Melbourne. This greatly improved tool was then used for the campaign in Sydney, and later Delhi, Kampala, Lima and Madrid. 

We also helped interpret the data collected in Sydney during a six-week campaign, into recommendations for change. These recommendations – across policy and legislation, services, infrastructure and behaviour – are designed to improve the experience of girls in Sydney to make it more welcoming, inclusive and safe.  
It is expected that these recommendations will help inform a similar approach to benefit girls and young women in many more cities across the world.

Co-design and collaboration

Our integrated design and planning and international development specialists hosted two workshops at the Arup Sydney office, involving young women, the Free to Be team and participants from government, academia, the private and not-for-profit sectors. 

After the first workshop, the tool was improved by enhancing the type and depth of information collected, and the method by which it was done. Following the Sydney Free to Be campaign, we co-designed and facilitated a second ‘Interventions Workshop’ with Plan International. Bringing together the same participants, we explored ways in which the new insights and findings could inform improved policies and practices. 

With the lived experiences of young women and girls not often discussed in urban planning, design or policy, this workshop marked an important shift, placing the perspectives of young women firmly at the centre.

What’s next?

We continue to liaise with participants from the workshops, particularly the government agencies, on possible actions they could take across Sydney to improve the experiences of young women. 

The full Sydney report includes the findings of the data and key themes including: time of day, demographics, mobility, drug and alcohol-fuelled incidents, abuse and harassment, reporting, bystander intervention, infrastructure and services, consequences and the elements that contribute to a safe or unsafe place.