Chelmsford has launched a Women’s Safety Charter for the city, timed to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on 25 November.
It’s hoped the groundbreaking charter, which is linked to a wider programme of education to tackle behaviours that make women feel unsafe, could be used as a model for other towns and cities.
Safety charter to cover day and night
Unlike some other schemes, the Chelmsford charter will cover both day and night and can apply to any place used by women, from venues and offices to car parks and taxi ranks. Businesses and organisations signing up will commit to staff training and development in order to be effective allies to women in Chelmsford, and clearly display their membership to indicate they are a safe space for those who need it.
Education and cultural change
The charter is also part of a wider programme calling for cultural change, aimed at everyone in the city, not just businesses. A campaign asking, ‘What part will you play?’, will highlight some of the male behaviours which commonly make women feel unsafe and encourage men to see their actions from a different perspective.
The driving force behind the charter is gender equality consultant and local businesswoman Karen Whybro, who started campaigning about women’s safety in the city after the horrific kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard in 2021. The idea for the Chelmsford charter came about following research she conducted with the University of Essex, which showed a big difference in how men and women feel about their safety.
“Our survey confirmed what most women already know. We found that men generally don’t change their behaviours and they don’t worry so much about keeping themselves safe when they’re out. But a large proportion of women say they feel unsafe both day and night and they take on all the responsibility for the way others make them feel by changing their behaviour. This is not something for women to fix – we need to go to the source of the problem. We want a cultural shift to ask those making women feel unsafe, or enabling this to happen, to change their behaviour instead.
It became clear that we needed a safety charter and a wider awareness campaign covering all aspects of life in our city rather than simply focusing on the night time economy. It isn’t necessarily when women are in a bar or a club that they feel unsafe; it could be going out for a morning run, being made to feel uncomfortable in a workplace, or walking through a car park after work. I really want women to feel like they can expect to be safe and just as importantly, to feel safe all the time and the Women’s Safety Charter is an important step forward for our city.”Karen Whybro, Gender Equality Consultant
Partnership with City Council and Chelmsford For You
Over the last few months, Karen Whybro, Chelmsford For You and the Community Safety team at Chelmsford City Council have been working on the new Women’s Safety Charter for Chelmsford, which launches today.
The charter will bring together members of our community to deliver safe spaces around the city which can be expected to follow a consistent set of rules. Local businesses and organisations adopting the charter will pledge to ensure their space is a safe, respectful and inclusive place to be, committing to a range of tasks, training and professional development.
5 Key pledges for businesses
Organisations will be required to make 5 key pledges when they sign up, including:
- Allocating a nominated Charter Leader, replacing them if the post-holder leaves
- Training staff members to become “custodians of culture”
- Clearly displaying media which sets expectations of behaviour, both physically and online
- Signposting people who require support to the best source of help
- Considering making changes to physical spaces to promote safety
Once organisations have signed up, all resources and information will be provided by Chelmsford City Council and Chelmsford For You with training sessions delivered by Karen Whybro. The city’s BID manager, Sara Tupper, who has helped turn the idea of a charter into reality, says signing up is a no-brainer for local businesses.
“Why wouldn’t you sign up to a charter that prioritises the safety of women? We know that businesses in our city care as passionately about this as we do, and these pledges are an effective way to show your commitment to treating women fairly and appropriately.
Businesses signing the charter will be showing that they take women’s safety very seriously and can offer a recognisable and consistent safe experience. Women have a right to feel confident that they are safe as they go about their daily lives, and this is a really positive step for our city. I’m proud that Chelmsford is leading the way on this.”Sara Tupper, BID Manager
Safety charter asks us to change attitudes and behaviours
Although business sign-up will play a crucial part in its success, the charter isn’t just a call to action for premises and offices. At its heart it contains a challenge to everyone in Chelmsford to consider their own attitudes and to have a role in making the city a more progressive place for women and girls.
The charter comes with the launch of a month-long social media campaign to start what may be uncomfortable conversations about things men do that make women feel unsafe, sometimes without even realising it. A video filmed in locations around the city and based on common, real-life experiences will ask men to think hard about how their behaviour seems to women on the receiving end.
Cllr Rose Moore, Chelmsford City Council’s Cabinet Member for Greener and Safer Chelmsford says the emphasis on culture change is what makes this charter different.
“Last autumn we received more than half a million pounds in Safer Streets funding from the Home Office and since then, we, and other partners, have been working on projects to make women feel safer in Chelmsford. The Women’s Safety Charter is an incredibly important piece of the puzzle because it tackles misogynistic attitudes embedded in our culture, which is a problem that cannot be solved with physical changes to our city like more CCTV or street lighting.
This is a campaign about what can often be characterised as low-level problems for women: cat-calling, staring, unwanted and unpredictable attention. Actions that women face every single day, which diminish our experiences and make the world feel less safe for half of the people who live here. Some will say that these are trivial things. Most women will tell you that they are not. In tolerating them, we ensure that fear is the backdrop to women’s lives, and we open the door for more serious transgressions to occur.
Our Women’s Safety Charter is a statement from Chelmsford City Council, our partners and all who sign up that we will not tolerate any behaviours that make women feel unsafe in our city at any time of the day or night.”Cllr Rose Moore, Cabinet Member for Greener and Safer Chelmsford
Campaign highlights positive behaviours too
The campaign won’t just put troubling behaviour under the spotlight; it highlights positive attitudes too. The video reminds people of the part they can play as ‘Active Bystanders’ or ‘Capable Guardians’, providing straightforward but important support if they spot a woman is feeling uncomfortable without putting themselves in harm’s way.
Watch out for the campaign on our social media channels over the coming weeks and if you don’t want to wait and would like to watch the full video now, take a look in the box below or visit the Chelmsford For You website.
Chelmsford will share safety charter and resources
Chelmsford will share its charter and experiences with other places thinking of adopting a similar scheme in the hope that more towns and cities will follow its lead. The campaign has been designed to have its own brand which isn’t tied to any particular organisation or place and could be adopted by other areas if they wish.
If you don’t live in Chelmsford and you think the Women’s Safety Charter could work for your area and would like more information about the scheme, get in touch with the Safer Chelmsford Partnership at Community.Safety@chelmsford.gov.uk.
If you’re a business anywhere in Chelmsford and would like to find out how to sign up to the Women’s Safety Charter, go to https://chelmsfordforyou.co.uk/womens-safety-charter.