This section of the OBRUK campaign covers the safety of women in public spaces in Britain.
Campaigns in this theme:
Individuals have a variety of motivations and needs that shape their personal capacity to use communal spaces within their town or city. As research has shown, this can sometimes create sharp inequalities between different people’s ability to participate in wider public life. There is growing evidence to suggest that women are a group who are particularly affected by this inequality where their perceptions of safety in public spaces, whether in night clubs, on the streets or when using public transport are shaped by gendered interactions. Consequently, there is widespread concern that fears about personal safety act as a deterrent or serve to restrict women’s use of public spaces.
Interactions that take place in public spaces are shaped by how those public spaces are designed and how they operate on a daily basis. Public spaces in a city are usually designed based on a traditional conception of the family and a traditional division of labour among women and men (men as workers in the public space and women as caretakers and home keepers in the home and private spaces). However, this clearly does not take into account the changing nature of public spaces over the last century.
In the UK around 12,658,000 working age women are in formal employment – around 40 per cent of whom work part-time (compared to around 11 per cent of working men) (TUC 2009). With part time workers usually working night time shifts or early in the morning, research by USDAW has shown that a significant number of women have expressed fears for their safety on the journey to and from work. In light of this, recent cuts to public spending on the transport system and to public provisions such as street lights combined with a lack of existing provision in areas such as night clubs are evidence of a decision making process that does not look at how public spaces are used by women on a daily basis. For example, in 2011 the McNulty report, commissioned by the Secretary of State for Transport set out a series of recommendations including the closure of 675 ticket offices in train stations and leaving many completely unstaffed in order to cut costs in the transport system.
Concerns have been raised from a number of women’s organisations and unions with fears that cost cutting may lead to a compromise on safety. As Ruth Bond chairman of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes recently stated, job losses at stations and on trains will make travelling by rail a “dangerous and daunting” option for women.
Did you know?
According to a recent survey of over 2500 women conducted by USDAW:
- Women are twice as likely to feel unsafe on their journeys to work as men and that this may, in part, be due to women’s different working patterns.
- The majority of part-time workers are women and part-time workers are more likely to travel to work in the early mornings or late at night when concerns about personal safety are heightened.
- More than half of all women express concern about walking across a dark car park, compared to less than a third of men
- Women are twice as likely as men to feel at risk driving alone at night or travelling by bus or train when dark
- Over half of all women feel anxious about their personal safety when walking in the dark