This is a Guest Post from Women in Urbanism Aotearoa
Since the horrific and heart-breaking story of Grace Millane began unfolding, women have been coming forward to talk about all the things they do to protect themselves.
Michèle A’Court lists just some of the actions women take to stay safe, everyday:
“Driving when we’d rather walk, walking well lit streets rather than taking the shortcut, snapping a picture of the cab driver’s ID – women have been socialised to suspect the world means us harm.
We drive to places when we would rather walk; avoid car parks down dark side streets; lock our car doors when we get in as well as when we get out (and check the back seat); and walk in a way that we hope looks confident and bulletproof. We use our peripheral vision to check all the spaces between where we are and where we’re going. We know about walking with our keys between our fingers like a claw, and we’ve worked out how to hold our phones with the emergency call button ready to push, even on a locked screen.
We don’t take handy shortcuts – we go the long way round under the brightest street lights. We are constantly assessing the threat level – does this bit feel safe? How far would I have to run to find good people?
We spend money on private rather than public transport. We automatically ignore the driver’s invitation to use the front seat, and then try not to feel anxious if we see him looking at us a little too often in the rear vision mirror. When I’m travelling solo, I use the app feature to “share” the ride so someone knows which car I’m in and can track my journey.”
This experience is echoed by a multitude of comments coming from women on social media, who are listing the ways in which they compensate, or go out of their way, when men don’t have to, just to get home safe.
This, of course, has been going on a lot longer than just this week. Women have been raped and murdered on our streets and in their homes, and their names forgotten, long before Grace Millane.
Women in Urbanism Aotearoa conducted our own survey earlier this year, asking women about their experiences of our transport networks (cars, buses, trains, ferries, walking and cycling). Here are a few examples from the hundreds that responded.
“Catching the bus is mostly great but it’s horrible getting trapped next to a male passenger that at worst harasses you or at best manspreads into your space.”
“I looked after a friends teen for a year. / she called us anytime. We would drive 30k to get her (from cbd) as zero safe transport home for girls.”
“My nine year old daughter would like me to add that she sometimes feels nervous walking down Ponsonby Rd or K Rd because of too many drunk men outside bars. This is not just at night time. Friday afternoon in Ponsonby can be a minefield.”
(On specific problem areas:)
“Henderson train station after 7pm – deserted, and isolated”
“Public transport at night in the city and beyond.”
“Walking home at night from Epuni station.”
“CBD around lower queen st and Britomart at night… Not pleasant when alone waiting for the bus.”
“Long walk to my car from Sunnyvale train station at night.”
“The West Harbour cycleway feels unsafe despite good lighting because of isolation and lack of visibility from the road and nearby houses. I have felt unsafe on the number 14 bus when a bus driver slapped my hand away when I tried to put my card on the reader.”
“Walking through the city at night (along Queens Street) from university to my bus”
The impact of these experiences on women is that they change their behaviour and enlist hyper-vigilant safekeeping strategies.
At Women in Urbanism Aotearoa, we know there is very little that can protect women from random acts of violence, committed mostly by men. But as Nicole Kalms wrote earlier this year, we need to be engaging with the stories of women and girls it “is crucial for making cities safer. Planners, architects, the police and politicians need to put aside the traditional expert perspective to learn from – and design for – women’s experiences.”
In Aotearoa, we still have too many places in our city, that are frankly shit, and frankly terrifying places to walk during the day, let alone night.
Women in Urbanism surveyed 500+ women this year, to better understand their experiences of the transport networks in Aotearoa.
Over 75% of women report having been harassed at some point while using our transport network. This could be while using the bus, train, ferry, walking or cycling.
Overwhelmingly, women cited their biggest barrier to travel as being safety concerns (over 50%). This means harassment, discrimination, violence etc.
They overcome this, mostly by choosing to drive instead. And who would blame them.
Most of our respondents said they would prefer to bike as their main mode of travel (30%).
But they don’t. They drive because of safety concerns.
And the safety concerns intersect with traffic safety too. In Kansas City, crime rate has been reduced by 74 percent overall since the pedestrianisation around their central park (Sallis et al., 2014)
Māori and Pasifika women are more likely to live in areas with high car dependency. The consequence is that they have little transport choice. It’s also more likely that they have much further to walk from a bus stop, and if you think the lighting situation is lacking in Kingsland, wait till you hit the real nightmare of Auckland sprawl.
(Sprawl is the perfect setting for a horror film TBH. Gregory Crewdson-Beneath the Roses )
As a community, LGBTQIA+ people face higher rates of poverty, stigma, and marginalisation, which put them at greater risk of sexual assault. They also face higher rates of hate-motivated violence. It’s critical that the voices of these communities are elevated, and bought into the room when we’re planning, designing and engineering spaces and transport options in our city.
Cities that consistently rate highest in terms of safety are those with walkable networks, and good urban design.
In Japan, the crime rate is so low. They have 5 times the population of Australia, but less than four times the homicides Australia has. In conjunction with it being very walkable and having amazing transit this makes it a place where parent’s happily let their children walk, cycle or take public transport to and from school.
(Japan. Source: Unsplash)
Amsterdam is also one of the safest cities. The city is safe for solo women travelers, even after dark. Public transport is still well used, even during the wee hours of the morning.
In Alex Casey’s excellent article, what is being done about sexual harassment on public transport, she notes that there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence for sexual harassment on public transport. But that it’s difficult to quantify. “Auckland Transport says it has received three reported incidents of sexual assault since January 2017 – including a woman being grabbed on a train station platform and two instances of inappropriate touching by male passengers on trains – but harassment was harder to measure as it contains a much wider range of potential actions and keywords. In Wellington, there have been three reports of sexual harassment on public transport in the past two years, two involving passengers and one involving a bus driver.”
Auckland Transport does not have an easy and accessible way for people to report harassment on our transport networks. When we have raised this before, we’ve been told by an Auckland Transport official, at one of the highest levels, that “We don’t want to focus on crime as this will deter women from taking public transport.”
How can we begin to tackle this problem, when we’re not even willing to measure it?
Even though we may have a call centre buried somewhere in Auckland Transport. And we have lovely transport officers, harassment is still not being taken seriously. And because of this, women find it difficult to reach out and talk about it. They’re often second guessed, not believed or victim blamed.
And often, women themselves might not know what constitutes sexual harassment, because we’ve been climatised to tolerate a lot of verbal and physical abuse everyday.
If we can can create an open environment, where women feel safe to call out and report incidents of harassment, this will definitely move the conversation along. We’ll be able to measure the problem, and better address it.
HERE ARE A LIST OF WAYS TO MAKE OUR CITY BETTER FOR WOMEN:
- Gender mainstreaming: this is a term used in urban design when access to city spaces must benefit all genders equally. By listening to women and asking questions about their needs, gender mainstreaming has recognised the impact design has on women’s sense of safety. We need to embed this in local and central government.
- A CPTED(crime prevention through urban design) audit of our city.
- Good visibility, clear orientation and pathways, efficient lighting, well maintained public toilets and spaces that foster frequent use.
- An accessible and easy way of reporting harassment.
- Support pedestrianisation. Support more car free streets and low speed areas.
- We need better driver training, so that drivers look-out for hostile situations and understand what they should do in those situations;
- More diversity in Auckland Transport’s leadership, to make sure women’s issues, and our marginalised communities’ needs, are made significant in the planning and design of our streets and transport network. And when we say diversity, we mean people who use the public transport system – with children, at night, as slow or mobility-impaired or vision-impaired users. We mean people who are not just feminists, but who won’t compromise access and inclusion for some other political or economic agenda;
- Ensure that with driverless technology, people will still keep their jobs on trains as they are important for maintaining passive surveillance;
- We need a web app, like Free to Be, where women can “drop a pin” in places where they have felt safe or unsafe;
- Women are a diverse group. To design for women is to be inclusive of all women and girls, including cis-women, trans-women and intersex women and to take into account their cultural background, socioeconomic status, where they live, their sexuality, dis/ability and age.
- In your RPTP submission (due this Friday!) We urge you to raise the need for the above.