From where I stand: “It would be a better world if women felt safe in public spaces”

Salma Belhassine is an activist from Tunisia and part of the Youth Leadership Programme, an initiative by UNDP in partnership with UN Women. She recently attended the ECOSOC Youth Forum at UN Headquarters in New York and spoke to UN Women about her efforts to end sexual harassment in public spaces.


Salma Belhassine. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown
Salma Belhassine. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

In Tunisia, a lot of good work is happening to advance women’s rights and gender equality. There are new laws protecting women’s inheritance rights, and a law that makes it easier to pros-ecute domestic abuse. We even have a law against sexual harassment in public spaces. But many of these laws are not being applied in practice.

But having such progressive laws makes me feel more hopeful. It encourages me to make noise, because we want things to change.

When I attended a UNDP’s SDG workshop, they asked each of us, what problem we wanted to solve, what was bothering us. For us, it was sexual harassment. We are students, we all walk on the streets and take public transportation, and every day, we face sexual harassment.

Our solution is SafeNes, a mobile app that increases awareness, and connects victims with spe-cialized non-governmental organizations. It gives users a way to report sexual harassment and to designate a trusted person to track their movements when they’re somewhere they don’t feel safe. There is also a way to directly contact lawyers to get help. SafeNes will also provide videos for teaching self-defense, safe-zone maps and inform the user about the legal procedures that follow a sexual harassment report.

It would be a better world if women and girls felt safe in public spaces. Women would be more active, more productive.

The best thing young people can do is to make noise, speak out for ourselves. Because we are not the future, we are the present. We can't wait for the adults to do things for us. We have to stand for ourselves and for future generations.”

SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure
SDG 5: Gender equality

Salma Belhassine, a 21-year-old activist from Tunisia is part of the Youth Leadership Pro-gramme, an initiative led by UNDP in partnership with UN Women and support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and the Moham-med Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation. In its third year of imple-mentation, the groundbreaking initiative worked with over 1,000 young people in 14 countries across the Arab States region, strengthening youth leadership and innovation skills. Recently Belhassine attended the ECOSOC Youth Forum in UN Head-quarters in New York. Belhassine and four other university students are working to devel-op SafeNes, a mobile app to protect women from sexual harassment in public spaces. Bel-hassine and her collaborators work contributes to Sustainable Development Goal 11, which aims to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. It also contributes to SDG 5, which aims to achieve gender equality and end all forms of violence against women and girls, and shows how innovation can contribute to sustainable solutions (SDG 9).

Read more stories in the “From where I stand...” editorial series.