Women should be involved in the design and maintenance of the UK’s parks to tackle “unfair and unequal” safety fears, researchers have said.
Academics looking into how parks can be made safer for women have found simple changes such as better lighting, lower hedges and “escape routes” that could reduce the risks of harassment and assault that stop women from using parks.
The work, commissioned by the mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, and carried out by Leeds University, involved interviews with more than 100 women and girls, with most saying they found parks to be unsafe.
She said the proposals came directly from “the voices of those women and girls”.
“I was moved by reading their words. They told us how their lives were impacted on a daily basis by misogyny and harassment,” she said.
“The girls in particular were wonderfully individual and brutally honest, challenging us to ‘change society’ as well as reworking parks. This determined spirit gives me hope that a new generation of female decision-makers is emerging, to bring a more gender-balanced workforce to our design professions and shape our towns and cities for the better.”
Brabin and her deputy, the West Yorkshire deputy mayor for policing and crime, Alison Lowe, have prioritized women’s safety in their police and crime plan. They are the only all-women team in charge of a metropolitan area in the UK.
Dr Anna Barker, an associate professor in criminal justice and criminology at the University of Leeds’s school of law, led the original research.
She said: “In Britain, women are three times more likely than men to feel unsafe in a park during the day. This is worse after dark, when as many as four out of five women in Britain say that they would feel unsafe walking alone in a park, compared to two out of five men.
“All these factors mean that women and girls are less likely to use parks than men and boys, a situation which has a significant impact on their lives. Our guidelines, covering 10 principles for design and management, can enable decision-makers to make good changes.”
Other suggestions in the guidance include organizing activities and events to extend women’s use of parks, minimizing enclosed and hidden entrances, and designing the placement of facilities, paths and features so that they encourage use by women, maximize visibility, and are easy to navigate.
The guidance, in partnership with the organizations Make Space for Girls and Keep Britain Tidy, will be launched as part of a two-day conference beginning on Wednesday, entitled Women and Girls’ Safety in Parks: Lessons from Research and Practice.
Imogen Clark, trustee and co-founder of Make Space for Girls, said: “Safety is a big obstacle for teenage girls using parks. We’re really pleased that this guidance considers safety in the round – making spaces which will be more welcoming for teenage girls.”
Keep Britain Tidy’s chief executive, Allison Ogden-Newton, said: “It’s critical that we understand what makes women and girls feel safe or unsafe across our green spaces and what needs to change to make them feel able to use their local park.”
“Our own research already shows that 70% of people in urban areas do not have access to good quality green space, rising to 75.8% in the most deprived areas. When coupled with women’s concerns about using those few green spaces they have access to, it means there is real inequality. We must tackle it collectively, and as a priority.”
“We are proud to be a part of this important and much-needed project.”