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Making a ‘Safe’ City Safer for Women: Lessons from Madrid

With a woman helming the city, Madrid is at the front of a global movement to prevent sexual harassment and intimidation.
A protester shouts during a demonstration against the release on bail of five men known as the "Wolf Pack," cleared of rape of a teenager and convicted of a lesser crime of sexual abuse in Madrid, Spain, June 22, 2018.
A protester shouts during a demonstration against the release on bail of five men known as the "Wolf Pack," cleared of rape of a teenager and convicted of a lesser crime of sexual abuse in Madrid, Spain, June 22, 2018.Susana Vera/Reuters

In Plan International’s map of Madrid, the sad face icon that signals a bad experience for a woman is not consigned to locations with dark corners: Popular places like Puerta del Sol, one of Madrid’s main squares, are full of stories of verbal and physical harassment. A user writes about how a failed Tinder date ended with a strange stalking episode. Another user explains that a man grabbed her in the nearby station. And some users also tell anecdotes of being helped by other women.

The topic of safety in Madrid is a tricky one. The capital of Spain has a very low homicide rate: In 2017, only 16 people were murdered in this municipality of more than 3 million people, according to Spain’s Ministry of the Interior. But at a discussion on “Making Cities Safe and Inclusive with and for Adolescent Girls” at the Instituto Cervantes in New York last month, an 18-year-old Madrileña explained that if she walks by a dark corner, “I worry that someone is going to grab me or say something to me.” Her male peers don’t understand, she says: “They don’t believe that there’s a different reality for us.”