It’s a well-known fact that many women and girls simply do not feel safe on the UK’s streets. Whether you’ve gripped your keys in between your fingers, pretended to be on the phone or gone the long way round to avoid a dark area, most of us know what it’s like to fear for our safety on the walk home.
But this fear doesn’t come from nowhere – it’s a direct result of the experiences women and girls up and down the country are having on a daily basis. According to a report published by UN Women UK in March this year, 71% of UK women have experienced sexual harassment in public, with that number rising to 86% among women aged 18-24.
And while the violence against women and girls (VAWG) strategy unveiled by the government earlier this year goes some way towards addressing the problem of women’s safety in public spaces, there’s still a lot more that can and should be done.
That’s where a new government initiative comes in. The initiative, led by parliamentary under secretary of state for transport, Rachel Maclean MP, aims to improve women’s safety on transport, on the streets and in public spaces. And to kick off the project, Maclean and the Department for Transport are looking for people to share their experiences of the UK’s streets – including any incidents of harassment, intimidation or unwanted sexual behaviour.
“No woman should ever be made to feel unsafe on public transport, which is why we’ll continue to work with operators across all modes to address the problems vulnerable passengers face,” Maclean tells Stylist.
“This Call for Evidence is a vital step to addressing such issues, which is why we’re encouraging as many operators and authorities as possible to have their say on street design so everyone, especially women, feels safe and confident using them.”
While Maclean acknowledges these issues “cannot be solved by design alone,” the new initiative aims to identify how the design of the UK’s streets could be contributing to their danger, and find ways to improve them.
“Improvements to the safety of transport will be of limited use if people do not feel safe using the street to access it,” she adds in a press release. “We want to find out how the design, maintenance and operation of streets can be improved to make sure everyone feels safe and confident using them in their daily lives.
“This is about perception, as much as reality – a street may not be dangerous according to the data and yet people will avoid using it, perhaps at certain times of day or night, because it does not feel safe.”
She concludes: “We aim to gather information to enable us to understand the problem, identify possible solutions and include what works and what doesn’t within our updated advice.”
While it may be painful to revisit instances of harassment or abuse you’ve experienced on the streets, every experience and insight that’s submitted as part of this call for evidence will help to paint a better picture of what it’s like to navigate the UK’s streets – and hopefully lead the way for a safer future.
As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.