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Young women’s safety in South London

Many women and girls feel unsafe on the streets in London.  How can we change this, and what do young girls in Lambeth have to say?

Recent high-profile cases of violence against women, including the murders of Sarah Everard, Ashling Murphy and Sabina Nessa, have  fuelled an urgent call to action to better protect women. These cases have shown us that  telling women to ‘be safe’ is ineffective, as none of the advice typically given to women would actually prevent violence against them.

Why is women’s public safety important?

Women and girls experience different forms of violence in public spaces, including on public transport and in the street. This could be physical violence, verbal catcalling, or stalking. Consequently, the freedom of movement of women and girls is restricted, resulting in them missing out on opportunities in work and public life. In 2018, 66% of girls aged 14-21 said they experienced unwanted sexual attention or harassment in a public place. More recent data shows that 32% of women feel unsafe or very unsafe when walking alone in their local area at night, a disheartening statistic.

For girls, this fear also reduces their ability to participate wholly in school, affecting their attendance and educational outcome. This limitation extends to their access to cultural and well-being activities, as well as to fundamental services.

London’s strategy, set out the Greater London Authority, for preventing violence against women and girls in the long run is to tackle the misogynistic behaviours and attitudes that lead to these crimes. The strategy sets out commitments to challenge cultural normal, support victims and to punish and rehabilitate offenders.

Listening to girls in Lambeth

Young women in a workshop hosted by our UK partner, the Baytree Centre,  identified housing blocks as being the main area where they felt unsafe, specifically at night.

This is due to a lack of community and familiarity with their neighbours, as it is unclear who is a resident and who is not. This causes anxiety and fear when people they do not recognise are seen near their homes. One solution suggested for this was tighter security, such as doors shutting properly, as not all are fit for purpose at the movement. They also suggested  an awareness message for residents to be more vigilant and not hold doors open for strangers who they assume are residents.

Other safety issues identified were dark streets, blind spots where there are no cameras, and the lack of consequence following a police report. The girls felt additional street lights and cameras could be a part of the solution, but that this does not solve the underlying issue of crime in their area. Issues of police not taking such crimes against women seriously were also raised, allowing criminals to continue instilling fear in communities.

Following these suggestions, WONDER’s Director of Policy and Campaigns Olivia Darby, led a workshop on practical steps the girls could take to ensure their voices were being heard.

What can young women and girls do to ensure their concerns and suggestions are heard?

The workshop focused on local government, politics and demystified how young girls are able to use politics to promote their interests and voice their concerns. One suggestion was the use of petitions, such as e-petitions on the government website. The government will reply to those that receive over 10,000 signatures and consider debating in Parliament those that have over 100,00 signatures. An example of this was Rashford’s campaign for free school meals over the summer holidays which led to the government making a U-turn on their initial to not do so.

Feedback from the session was that the girls felt better informed about using politics as a vehicle for change, and also feeling empowered to voice issues affecting them and their community. To conclude the workshop, the girls wrote a letter to their local councillor discussing their concerns regarding the safety of girls in their area and what can be done about it.

Author: Sabrina Daniel