Scotland’s Strategy for Preventing and Eradicating Violence Against Women and Girls.
Welcome to the first in our series of panel events exploring gender-based approaches to safety, highlighting the need for changes in cultural attitudes, resources, support, and local authority intervention in reducing and preventing sexual harassment and violence towards women, girls, and minority genders and sexualities.
This month’s panel event, livestreamed on the 21st January, included:
Dawn Fyfe, Strategic Development Worker from Wise Women Glasgow
Amy Rew, Chief Executive Officer of Glasgow Girls Club
Host Heather Offord, CEO of One4Growth
And co-host Laura Maginess, CEO of Glasglow Girls Club
They discussed Equally Safe, Scotland’s Strategy for Preventing and Eradicating Violence Against Women and Girls. The discussion centred primarily on the development of a women’s safety app, which launched on the 10th December 2021 (International Human Rights Day). The app was developed in partnership with Glasgow Girls Club, Wise Women, Commonplace, and Glasgow Violence Against Women Partnership and shows a heatmap of areas where women have reported that they feel safe or unsafe. It also has a list of reasons why women may use this area, what makes them feel safe or unsafe in this area, and if/how they can avoid it that participants can select from. You can find out more about the app and how to download it here: www.womenssafety.scot.
Contributions to the app will be open until March 1st 2022, and findings presented to local authorities on the 22nd March in order to better inform decision-making around gendered approaches to safety as well as community planning projects which often neglect considerations for women’s safety.
About Wise Women: Empowering Women’s Presence in Public Spaces
Dawn spoke about Wise Women’s conception in 1994, providing a safe space for women to talk about their experiences of harassment. She noted that discourse was more limited then; the language around domestic abuse and child sexual abuse was still developing, and the discomfort around these topics meant they often were not discussed openly (either at all, or until women felt safe enough to do so). What they did feel more comfortable about was discussing the harassment and abuse they faced in public. From there, the aim was to tackle this issue from a new angle: instead of restricting women’s presence in public places, Wise Women sought to build up women’s confidence by providing emotional support as well as self-defence training. She explained: ‘It wasn’t about restricting their presence in public. It wasn’t about, “don’t be wearing earphones or don’t be drinking alcohol.” It was very much about: whatever circumstance you’re in and however you respond to that is completely legitimate. Sometimes that’s by not doing anything; sometimes it’s by being quite forthright and forward; sometimes it’s about how you use a voice before and afterwards: do we report it, do we speak to our councillors, things like that.’ (14:02-14:27).
Removing the stigma of harassment, as well as letting women know there are various legitimate responses, empowered them to continue to be in public spaces. Confidence building also proved vital in cases where women faced abuse from intimate partners or at home, as this too impacted their ability to exist without fear in public.
Dawn explained that although Glasgow is a very lucky to have many survivor-led organisations supporting women, there is more to be done to ensure they are accessible as well as developing new technology-based approaches for this purpose.
Obstacles to women’s safety
Amy noted that although she felt were more emancipated than ever, that there are still many obstacles to equality that pop up in online spaces: especially the normalisation of violence during sex. ‘The fear for me as a woman who runs an organisation who supports girls and young women that are coming through this wave right now is what we see online and what we see on social media […] Dawn’s now having to have conversations with her fifteen-year-old daughter about strangulation and being spat on [during sex]. This is not normal.’ (32:36-33:12).
Such behaviour has been normalised to the extent that often young women do not realise that what they’re experiencing is harassment. Amy expressed the need ‘to say, you know: at what point did I realise I had been sexually harassed as a young woman? Because it actually took me a long time to recognise the points in my life that had been not okay.’ (34:02-16). She explained how common it is for women to not know how to say no in certain scenarios because the conversations and education were so limited. Similarly. she noted the need to recognise unwanted sexualisation and objectification as not a ‘compliment’ but a valid reason to feel uncomfortable and a symptom of widespread diminishment of women’s bodily autonomy.
The App and Its Potential Impacts on Community Planning
Dawn explained that the heatmap/app survey they developed in partnership with Glasgow Girls Club and others wasn’t exactly new in concept, even if the technology is. Before now, Wise Women would go to the streets and ask women in person; as such, the app is more of a revisit of Wise Women’s physical surveying for our new technology-led era. She further explained that the purpose was not just to gather statistics (women’s organisations had already been doing that for years), but to implement changes at local authority level based on that data to ensure women’s safety.
Over time, the app (originally designed by Commonplace) has changed and become more accessible, too. Dawn said they consistently found that working-class women in areas of higher social deprivation have far less time and security to stop, download a QR code, and answer the survey through the weblink while they were on the go. The app – downloadable from the Playstore and from the Apple App Store – was developed with IT specialty from Glasgow Girls Club so that women could fill out the survey when they were at home and not in moments of insecurity and/or crisis.
The Glasgow Girls Club and Wise Women partnership has been ideal for intergenerational discussions, including peer support and transferal of IT skills. Dawn noted that this has been especially effective as devices such as mobiles and laptops have been distributed to disadvantaged groups as part of an initiative to respond to the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite this, Dawn also noted that there is a need for physical focus groups to survey and support key vulnerable groups such as disabled women and BAME women, as they continue to be underrepresented in digital surveying. Wise Women and Glasgow Girls Club are similarly looking for more networks in the Eastend of Glasgow, where data is relatively sparse. There is also disconcerting evidence that Possilpark Rape Crisis has reported next to no referrals, indicating that their presence is not well known in this area.
While showing the app, Amy noted that areas in Glasgow such as along the canal near Maryhill were noted for being poorly lit and known for drinking and drug use. It struck her as inadequate that the pro-cycling discourse emerging in the wake of COP26 and climate crisis discussions fail to consider that women may not feel safe cycling in areas such as these along the canal. She hopes that the information on the app can inform community planning so that cycling roads are well-lit and therefore accessible to women.
Heather also noted the usefulness of the app in learning from the green spaces on the map that are safer: ‘What is it about those spaces that can be implemented the red areas as well?’ (50:56-51:00). It is these answers the app responses will hopefully bring to local authorities in March.
Dawn felt this digital resource was a fantastic way to bring together women of all ages, background, and experience. ‘This is a real opportunity to bring women together, and any young woman who’s watching this: don’t underestimate the confidence and the skills of your older generation of women, in your family, your friends, your work colleagues. And really it would be great if young women could reach out and really help older women to engage with this because […] if we’re really, really struggling in working-class areas to get spaces […] where women can gather, if women can reach out to one another and across generations, it would help us move forward and it would give us so many more voices to take to Glasgow City Council.’ (48:07-54). She continued: ‘Every woman’s got an experience and an opinion on these matters; they need to be heard, and that’s the key bit.’ (52:24-30).
For more info visit: www.womenssafety.scot. If women’s safety is a topic you feel passionately about, please join our livestreams on the third Friday of each month discussing different but interrelated subtopics on this issue. We hope our engagements forge a new path towards safety and comfort for all genders.