City businesses welcome Women’s Safety Charter progress at public launch
Thursday 27 July saw the public launch of our Women’s Safety In Our City campaign, created in partnership between Chelmsford City Council, the city’s Business Improvement District Chelmsford For You, and gender equality consultant Karen Whybro.
The event was a chance to get businesses and residents together, to share how those joining the Charter are doing their bit to keep women safe in Chelmsford. Almost 40 businesses have signed up to the charter since it launched in November last year.
Prioritising the safety of women and girls
Our ground-breaking Women’s Safety Charter is part of a sixteen-project programme made possible by the Home Office Safer Streets funding. The charter sits alongside other Safer Street projects, such as community engagement and education on healthy relationships, designed to create meaningful change to ensure women no longer feel disproportionately at risk of experiencing harm.
In signing up to the charter, businesses pledge to provide a safe space for women and girls, where they can find a ‘Capable Guardian’ if they feel unsafe. Staff must attend a free training session, focused on the prevalence of violence against women and girls and how societal norms and widely accepted behaviours contribute to that prevalence. Trainees are provided a toolkit to help implement what they have learned, along with a ‘Safe Space’ window sticker to identify their premises as part of Chelmsford’s Safe Spaces network:
32 businesses have received training so far, with a further seven businesses already committed to the next training session on 31 August. A list of Safe Spaces is available here. Sara Tupper, from Chelmsford For You, says that all businesses in Chelmsford should be signing up:
“What’s great about our charter and the training is that it’s appropriate for all businesses. It was important to us when creating it that it wasn’t just aimed at the night-time economy, because there is so much room for change outside of that space too.
“That’s what makes this campaign so exciting: It’s empowering for everyone, because it’s educational for all.”Sara Tupper, BID Manager, Chelmsford For You
Hearing from the Safe Spaces prioritising women’s safety
The training’s versatility is reflected in the range of businesses signed up, with gyms, bars, hairdressers, and colleges among those committing to prioritising women’s safety. Also notable is the variety in size of organisations taking part, from sole traders to large corporations like John Lewis and Marks & Spencer.
Sara Tupper recently spoke with trainees to hear about the impact the training has had on them and their businesses. Here are some of their comments:
“The training brought about a lot of discussion for people within the business. We work with vulnerable people, so being able to bring it back to that has worked well for us… it’s great to be able to bring it back round to what we’re looking to do for our customer group; to help people.”Michelle, Virgin Money Chelmsford
“We’ve got an ever-growing girls and women’s section of our club, and we want to be sure that everyone participating in the club feels comfortable and happy to be there. I attended to learn how we can do better, and find out if there are any areas we’re not aware of that could help in ensuring this.”Mark, Broomfield F.C.
“The training was really insightful and it’s really important to have these conversations. I’m pleased to see this happening in Chelmsford, as it can feel like these conversations are only being had in larger cities, like London.”Danielle, Spread Creative
“Being a new business, the training was really helpful to show that we’re aware of the dangers and educate us in what to look for with those dangers. I’m hoping the charter will help all businesses within the city increase women’s safety in Chelmsford. We’re very proud to be a part of the scheme and a part of the community.”Spen, Voodoo Keller Bar
Creating a network of safe spaces
The training businesses receive is both devised and delivered by Karen Whybro, a gender equality consultant and women’s safety campaigner who worked together with Chelmsford City Council and Chelmsford For You to create the Women’s Safety Charter.
At the public launch event, Karen discussed the research that lead her to working on the charter:
“I spoke to men and women across Chelmsford, and my research showed that the discrepancy in safety perceptions between men and women is vast. I’m often asked why I believe improving women’s safety is a priority, given that men are statistically more likely to be victims of crime. It’s because women feel especially unsafe and change their behaviours as a result. Women shouldn’t be living in fear when they’re just living their lives, nor should they stop living their lives as they want to because of fear.”Karen Whybro, Gender Equality Consultant
Karen’s research found that most women don’t feel unsafe in the venues you may expect (such as bars and clubs), but when going to and from those places. She proposed that the answer is to create a network of safe spaces, and our Women’s Safety Charter was built on this idea.
Inspiring cultural and behavioural change
Councillor Rose Moore says making an impact on the disparity in men’s and women’s perception of safety requires long-term behavioural change.
“Too often we see that women and girls change their behaviours in response to feeling unsafe: That’s simply not right. We should be changing the behaviours that threaten women’s safety, including low level behaviours, such as those you see in the Women’s Safety In Our City video, which was created to accompany our Women’s Safety Charter. These low-level behaviours are often explained away as being harmless, but in tolerating them, we open the door for more serious transgressions to occur.”Councillor Rose Moore, Cabinet Member for a Greener and Safer Chelmsford.
Violence Against Women and Girls
Inspector Sam Girdlestone of Essex Police spoke at the public event, sharing Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) crime statistics for Chelmsford.
There has been a steady reduction in the number of active VAWG investigations over the last 12 months throughout the North Essex Local Policing Area (Braintree, Colchester, Chelmsford, Maldon, Tendring and Uttlesford), with Chelmsford specifically seeing a reduction of 15% in stalking and harassment offenses and 11% in domestic abuse investigations.
Chelmsford District Police regularly hold Nights of Action, alongside the council’s Community Safety Team and other members of the Safer Chelmsford Partnership. Nights of Action see police and council officers patrol the city centre to prevent, detect, and raise awareness of safety issues within the night-time economy. The three most recent Nights of Action have focused on women’s safety.
Further information and resources
Before conducting her own research, Karen Whybro worked with Hazel Sayer, a Postgraduate Research Student at Essex University. Hazel was studying women’s perceptions of safety and how they adapt restrictive behaviours to keep themselves safe.
Some findings from this research:
- When asked if they avoid dark/quiet routes home, 81% of women answered ‘Always – sometimes’, while 70% of men answered ‘Never or not often’.
- When asked if they ensure they’re aware who is behind them, 78% of women answered ‘Always – sometimes’, while 67% of men answered ‘Never or not often’
- When asked if they ensure they go out in groups, 75% of women of women answered ‘Always – sometimes’, while 72% of men answered ‘Never or not often’.
- When asked if they avoid taking public transport, 70% of women answered ‘always – sometimes’, while 70% of men answered ‘Never or not often’
You can find out more about the Women’s Safety Charter, and find a list of all certified Safe Spaces, at chelmsford.gov.uk/womens-safety-charter
You can sign your business up to the charter at chelmsfordforyou.co.uk/womens-safety-charter
Essex County Council, Essex Police and the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex recently launched an online map for women and girls in Essex to highlight areas they feel safe or unsafe. You can view and contribute to the map at essexcommsafety.commonplace.is
If you’d like to learn how to be an Active Bystander, Essex County Council have a free online training at essexbystandertraining.co.uk