3 October 2019
Written by Ashleigh Streeter and Sophie Fisher, YWCA Canberra Board members
Do you have an after dark safety ritual? On the phone, keys in hand, walking on the street instead of the dimly lit footpaths? Well, you’re not alone and that’s part of the problem.
Last month She Acts, YWCA Canberra’s volunteer group, held an important conversation around the perceptions and realities of safety and accessibility for women, including female identifying and non-binary people, in Canberra community spaces after dark.
Facilitated by Bess Rossiter, the panel included Romy Listo (PhD candidate on energy-gender nexus, University of Queensland), Mina Khoshnevisan (STOP Campaign), Emma Davidson (Women’s Centre for Health Matters) and Cee Moore (Women with Disabilities ACT).
With incredible diversity on the panel came new perspectives and understandings of the unique challenges women face on a day-to-day basis. Cee illustrated the difference between accessibility in theory and in practice, highlighting the number of disability entrances to buildings which are located down alleyways, in unlit spaces or separated in other ways from non-accessible entrances.
The group discussed how perceptions and realities reinforce each other. The perception that women are not safe at night means less women are accessing public spaces. With less women in the space, negatives perceptions of safety are reinforced. The panel agreed that people’s perception of safety is boosted in a space when they see people like themselves using or reflected in that space.
Even well-intentioned concerns like ‘stay safe out there’ or ‘avoid walking by yourself’ accept an inherent level of risk for women wanting to access public spaces after dark and put the onus on women to keep themselves safe. The potential perpetrator is rarely encouraged to ‘behave out there’ or ‘avoid harassing anyone walking by themselves’.
Much of the discussion emphasised the need to seek intersectional perspectives when spaces are being designed, and how it can be just as easy to get it wrong as it is to get it right.
After the final story was shared, we all left the venue and went out into the dark with new understandings, new perspectives and feeling less alone in our shared experiences.
If you have an idea for the next She Acts panel or want to get involved, get in touch with us on Facebook at She Acts (Canberra).
She Acts is the volunteer forum for members and friends of YWCA Canberra, building the YWCA Canberra community through events, fundraising campaigns, and member and supporter engagement projects.