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Girls in Beirut get creative to help transform their neighbourhood

Image: courtesy of CatalyticAction

An ambitious project to help adolescent girls in Beirut ’empower their neighourhood’ has successfully concluded with them providing some inspired urban design creations.

CatalyticAction, an award-winning children’s charity, had been running a year-long pilot project helping girls and young women who have traditionally been left out the decision-making processes affecting their lives.

And after working with a 40-strong group of young females aged from 10-24, the project has resulted in some real, tangible results, notably an eye-catching mural and two separate ‘street interventions’, all of which reflect the girls’ input.

Already highly-regarded for its work in the region to revitalise and make local parks more child-friendly, CatalyticAction, which uses design and architecture to bring about tangible change, committed itself to empowering young females to ‘take control of their neighbourhoods’.

A successful crowdfunding campaign saw the charity raise more than £12,000 to help with the programme, and the pilot took place in the Karantina district of Beirut, an area where gender inequalities traditionally have been deep-rooted. The charity also prioritised working in this neighbourhood to build on their previous successful community engagement activities.

In a country where adolescent girls are excluded from decision making processes that affect their lives, CatalyticAction’s established community trust facilitated for them to work closely with adolescent girls empowering them to tackle this sensitive and crucial topic together.

A co-design programme was tailored to the context and participants. It set out to raise awareness on gender equality, promote girls’ rights to safety in public spaces, understand how girls experience public spaces and co-create design ideas for safer and inclusive public spaces. The process adopted in this programme was flexible and transparent allowing changes.

Neighbourhood safety walks (see photo below), body-mapping and large-scale model making were among the diverse methods used to establish relationships with local girls, and gain an understanding of the challenges faced in coming up with ideas.

Image: courtesy of CatalyticAction

“Adolescent girls selected the sites that they want to transform in their neighbourhood and their ideas shaped the designs of these interventions,” say the charity.

“The programme sparked new friendships, and improved relationships especially among Syrian and Lebanese girls…the co-design activities gave the girls the chance to practise communication skills, express their ideas, and respect each other’s opinions. Working together to achieve the shared goal of creating safe public spaces helped the girls learn how to overcome differences and form friendships they value and cherish,” it adds.

The mural is a representation of adolescent girls’ aspirations for public spaces in their city, and was inspired by girls, working in small groups who designed posters inspired by key themes that emerged throughout the participatory process, and with a local artist a mural design was shaped. The mural was then implemented with the participation of adolescent girls alongside boys and children of all ages who came together to paint the mural.

It also overlooks one of the two ‘street interventions’, which is designed to be seen as an ‘outdoor living room’. The girls involved set up a temporary intervention using simple design elements such as bamboo, cardboards, and fabric, to design and test the use of the space.

Image: courtesy of CatalyticAction

It then incorporated a group seating layout protected by a low wall, which acts as a screen sheltering the space from the street to enhance privacy, while preserving the greenery, and a religious shrine on site that are unique features of the space. The girls assembled the mosaics themselves with the support of a local artist.

The second intervention is The ‘LOVE’ wall, situated on a sidewalk on the northern edge of the neighbourhood, in a quiet area shaded by trees. It spells the word LOVE and provides multiple seating configurations protected by a canopy.

The word “LOVE” was identified throughout the programme, expressed by the girls repeatedly: their love for their community, their friends, and their neighbourhood. A photobooth nestles between the letters using infinity mirrors, with a mural that was co-designed and implemented by the girls. The playful benches take only a small portion of the sidewalk, giving enough space for girls to walk, sit, and rest without disrupting the flow of pedestrians.

Joanne Dabaj, Co-founder and Director of Programmes at CatalyticAction, said: “A city that is safe for girls is safer for the whole community.”

Click here for more on the project and the work of CatalyticAction.

Author: Simon Weedy

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