What Does Planning And Designing Safe Public Spaces For Women And Girls Mean?
Planning and designing safe public spaces for women and girls means creating public spaces with features that enhance women’s safety and feelings of safety, and detract from features that cause women’s insecurity and feelings of insecurity. While planning and designing safe public spaces for women, planners, designers and architects place special focus on lighting, landscaping, visibility, motorized traffic, pedestrian traffic, urban furniture, potential hiding spots, signage, security personnel, proximity to other public spaces, proximity to emergency services, and access to public transportation. Each of these areas is given particular consideration from the perspective of the women and girls who use public spaces.
Safety planning and design also involves more than just the concrete, physical features of a space, although interventions at this level may occur first in a safe cities for women programme (Werkerle, 2000, 47). It is a necessarily participatory process whereby community members (especially women) work together to create spaces that accommodate strong social relations. In order to be successful, planners and designers must pay attention to how people express themselves in, and interact with, public space. In any given day, public spaces are the setting for a myriad of gendered social interactions. As a result of these interactions, public spaces themselves become gendered. For example, in a school yard, young girls may gather together under a certain tree and watch young boys play soccer in a field. As this process continues, the space under the tree will become understood as a “girl’s space” and the soccer field will become understood as a “boy’s space”. This can be problematic because public space should belong to everyone and everyone should have a right to use it – girls should feel free to use the soccer field and boys should feel free to sit under the tree. Thus, planning and designing safe public spaces for women and girls also means analysing the various uses of public spaces, who uses them, when, and for how long. This kind of planning and design also focuses on who doesn’t use a particular public space, when, and why. This is because when certain groups, like women or girls, do not use a space, it is usually an indication that the space feels insecure to members of that group.
Planning and designing safe public spaces for women and girls requires constant attention to physical and social characteristics of space. It also requires constant evaluation of the social and physical implications of the planning and design process. The planning and design of a space has the potential to either reinforce gender inequality or to advance gender equality. For this reason, the planning and design process is a crucial facet of creating safe cities for women and girls.
Gender is a particularly important consideration when planning and designing essential services in communities. Often, when essential services are badly planned or missing, women and girls bear the brunt of the insecurity that accompanies such situations. For example, “Sexual harassment is rampant when girls go out in the open for defecation. Men disguise themselves as women and hide themselves in the fields...There have been instances when girls were abducted from the fields and men were caught for sexually harassing them. After 11pm, girls are usually forbidden from going to the fields unless they are accompanied by an elder” (Plan International, 2010, 56).
Planning and designing safe public spaces for women and girls is the process whereby urban planners, designers, architects, women, grassroots and other community actors collaborate to make the physical features of public spaces safe and welcoming for women and girls. If public spaces are dark, abandoned, unclean, overgrown, or lacking certain elements like benches or emergency phones, they are potentially unsafe for everybody, but for women and girls in particular. Therefore, there is an increased chance that women and girls will not use spaces where they feel fear and/or experience violence. In a safe cities for women and girls initiative, it is necessary that the safety needs of women and girls are taken into account in planning and design. Experience shows that when a space is occupied by women and girls, it is also occupied by more people in general. Streets, parks, bus stops, sports fields, squares, parking lots, etc. that have been planned and designed according to the specific safety needs of women and girls exhibit the following characteristics:
Why Is Planning and Designing Safe Public Spaces For Women And Girls Important?
Safety planning and design for women and girls is important because it creates public spaces where women and all users have equal opportunity to be healthy, secure and happy. This kind of planning is based on the fact that the physical design of urban spaces affects women’s use and enjoyment of the public realm.
Designing and planning safe public spaces for women and girls is important because:
The best way to ensure that spaces are welcoming to women and girls is to consult with women and girls who are the intended users of a space. However, women and girls may find it difficult to participate in public planning and design discussions for a variety of reasons. The following list should be considered by any person or organization wishing to involve women and girls in the planning and design of public spaces.
Women may not attend public planning discussions on safer communities because:
Source: Dame, T. and A. Grant. 2001. Kelowna Planning for Safer Communities Workshop Report. Cowichan Valley Safer Futures Program, Canada: page 17. Available in English.
See the section on creating safe public spaces in the programme implementation section.