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Because urban development has to become more equal, inclusive, and participatory, the think tank Global Utmaning and UN-Habitat, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, developed the innovation project #UrbanGirlsMovement (UGM). The project aim was to improve living conditions for girls and young women in rapidly growing, socio-economically vulnerable urban areas through feminist urban planning. The methods developed in #UrbanGirlsMovement were found to especially support implementation of SDG 3, 5, 10, 11 and 17 of the 2030 Agenda.

#UrbanGirlsMovement charts good examples and supplies new methods and suggestions for feminist urban development. The thesis ”build the city for girls, and it will work for everyone” was tested in Fittja, Botkyrka municipality and involved young girls who produced concrete proposals on how Fittja could become more inclusive for everyone. The girls used, among others, the Block by Block method developed by UN-Habitat. Further, the computer game Minecraft was used as a tool for citizen dialogue and co-creation. The methods and computer game proved to be good tools for making urban planning more inclusive.


Planning a city by considering the needs of its young female inhabitants is acknowledged as a way of creating a more just and socio-economically equal society that works for everybody. Creating prerequisites for inclusive public spaces, where people of all genders, ages, and socio-economic groups are comfortable in spending much of their time, is crucial for creating an including city without segregation. However, Sweden, much like other countries, is still mainly planning its cities based on the needs of the current middle-aged generation and largely without taking particular needs of women into account, while the importance of gender equality and digitalisation for urban planning are being increasingly highlighted. Even though this insight is shared by authorities in Stockholm, few actors seemed to have the experience or insight to apply it in urban planning processes.

Elin Andersdotter Fabre, responsible for the Sustainable Cities Program of the think tank Global Utmaning, was contacted by some of these actors for advice on the concept of feminist urban planning. This concept has recently made its way into Swedish political discourse, especially with the 2014 election of the centre-left government branding itself as being outspokenly feminist. Realising that knowledge about gender-equal urban planning was yet very much an unexplored area, Elin decided to map good international examples of this phenomenon in order to bring the best practices to Stockholm.

After gaining a sufficient amount of knowledge on the subject, Global Utmaning chose the municipality of Botkyrka south-west of Stockholm as an innovation space for the project since it had an image of being socio-economically underdeveloped and segregated. Global Utmaning and Botkyrka Municipality successfully applied for funding for a public space development project with the objectives of including young girls of Botkyrka as co-creators of innovative solutions to enable an active and secure life within these spaces.

Good practices and solutions

A well-established urban development actor, Global Utmaning had a significant network of experienced organisations and individuals from the start. The expert and reference groups include over 20 actors from all societal sectors and with different expert knowledge. Merging these established actors with insights from the participating and very young users created a unique potential for producing new knowledge on urban planning. One notable synergy effect was the experts’ input about ecological consequences on the suggestions from the users, enabling a more just and green urban development. “It is easier finding experts within all sectors with knowledge about ecological matters than about social matters, so that part is not a concern.”

Rather than hastening to action, the process permitted a long period for investigating and clarifying the needs that actually required urgent addressing. Going through all the relevant SDGs and their challenges and their consequences required considerable time but meant that the remaining work was much more facilitated than it would have been otherwise.

An expert group representing all sectors was involved before the funding had been granted in order to co-create as solid a project as possible: “Co-creation does not start in the planning phase, but rather already during the application for funding.” Co-creation and collaboration across disciplines and sectors is considered essential for creating policy and strategy recommendations with long-term systemic effects.

Outcome and opportunities

The objectives were reached in the form of 3D models of public spaces, used as starting points for architectural layouts. An ”Urban Girls cube” was built during the summer of 2019, where some of the proposals were tested with promising results. The implementation has not been secured yet because the municipality is responsible for initiating construction. This, in turn, is dependent on the success of the planned policy dialogue, which is aimed at both national and local governance as well as other relevant actors. The policy dialogue will significantly inform institutions previously ignorant of the concept of feminist urban planning.

Lessons learned and recommendations

Co-creation does not always guarantee commitment, and asking the right questions to the various engaged partners is also important for securing their continued participation. Such questions include “Which method should we use in order to have a good support of the process?”; “How many hours are we supposed to spend on this?”, etc. Asking these questions makes people feel more participating and committed and less like part of a senior advisory group. In co-creating problem definitions as well as solutions, it is important to let go of prestige while remaining empathetic. Enhancing the voice of those with the least resources, i.e. the participating girls, must also be made a priority in order to make sure that the municipality meets its responsibility in implementing their solutions.

The holistic perspective, in which #UrbanGirlsMovement could be considered a key example, is heavily dependent on the constellation of the particular group working with the project. This is also a regard in which co-creation processes fail unless they manage this challenge. Moreover, having the right people is often more valuable than having the right expertise because commitment is essential to the whole process. This is, as mentioned above, mainly a question of having composed a solid network before co-creation begins.

An extensive inventory of basic needs within urban development projects is of great importance if we are going to reach the 2030 Agenda. #UrbanGirlsMovement has taken a great deal of inspiration from participatory design and planning processes in cities like Nairobi and participatory projects in Kibera, in which the most basic needs such as livelihood or sanitation are emphasised.

Related SGD targets:
  • 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 11.6 By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management
  • 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, peri-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning
  • 11.B By 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, holistic disaster risk management at all levels
  • 17.6 Enhance North-South, South-South and triangular regional and international cooperation on and access to science, technology and innovation and enhance knowledge sharing on mutually agreed terms, including through improved coordination among existing mechanisms, in particular at the United Nations level, and through a global technology facilitation mechanism
  • 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
Further reading

Urban Girls Catalogue
Global Utmaning