As a woman, nights out come with a lingering fear of violence. Many small behavioural tactics are engrained into us early on to help ensure our safety. Now, Manchester City Council has acknowledged this fear by launching a new initiative in an effort to create a safe space for women within the night-time economy.
The scheme has been spearheaded by Manchester City Council’s first female leader, Councillor Bev Craig. Known as the Women’s Night-time Safety Charter, it outlines seven simple steps for businesses to abide by in order to ensure that women feel safe in their environment, as well as safe to come forward should the worst happen. It is specifically aimed at employers with a female workforce who are at work between 6pm and 6am.
Speaking to Northern Soul, Craig outlines the steps. “The first is to nominate a champion in your organisation who actively promotes night-time safety. The second is to communicate, to demonstrate to staff and customers that your organisation takes women’s safety at night seriously. The third is supporting your staff, reminding customers and staff that Manchester is a safe place, but telling them what to do if they experience harassment.
“Number four is supporting the public, encourage reporting by victims and bystanders as part of any comms campaign. And then five and six is training and responding, training your staff to ensure that women who report are believed. Then also training and recording to make sure that all records are held properly, that all incidents are reported and recorded, and also responded to. And the seventh is around design, designing a space that has safety.”
Craig admits that while “statistically Manchester is still one of the safest cities in the UK, how women and girls feel doesn’t always marry up with the crime stats”. With a goal of improving the perception of safety for women and girls in the city, Craig is determined to put procedures in place to allow women freedom from fear when they are out at night. She says that as well as bringing about change, she wants to position Manchester as a leader in the fight for women’s safety at night.
“When I was elected as leader of Manchester City Council, I said really clearly that we need to prioritise safety for everyone, but particularly safety for women and girls. A lot of work has gone into tackling misogyny and hate crimes, but I felt this didn’t go far enough. From my perspective, the city council can both implement and lead, so I was really keen we set up something. A model organisation to be able to show really clearly that they’re working towards improving not just safety, but the perception of safety for women and girls of our city.”
Getting the message out
Craig is keen to point out that Manchester businesses are passionate about creating safe spaces for women and girls – it’s about actively promoting the work already being done. She describes an initiative from the Frog and Bucket, a comedy club on Oldham Street, where people can donate to a fund used to order taxis for women comics to ensure they have a safe way of getting home.
She says: “In response to harassment that women comics were getting, they [Frog and Bucket] set up their own Angel fund where people can donate to pay for a taxi home for a comic who might be getting hassled. There’s loads of great passion and energy out there. It’s about connecting it together, making sure people know about it.”
The Women’s Night-time Safety Charter isn’t about telling businesses how to “spot a misogynist from 20 feet”, nor is it a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem. It’s about bringing businesses together, most of whom are already proactive on female safety.
While there is much to like in the new charter, it’s clearly not promising to eradicate misogyny or crimes against women. Craig believes that real societal change can only come from education, specifically the education of young boys and appropriate behaviour around, and towards, women.
“Ultimately, and bluntly, society will only improve when young boys and young men are taught it is not OK to harass or victimise women. And that happens in a range of different places. It happens in schools, it happens in communities, it happens at home, in companies, in sports clubs, bars, restaurants. [We need to] raise awareness, particularly amongst men who need a bit of education.
“Personally, I would like to see reforms to the school curriculum around what schools have to talk about. But I would say that speaking to teachers, they are becoming much more equipped. We need to see more of it.”
What it’s really like
As a young woman living in Manchester in an area that is now considered the outskirts of town, I have many stories of violence, fear, abuse and assault, either personal experiences or those I’ve witnessed happening to family, friends, and other women. Safety is never assumed – in fact, the opposite is true. We live in a state of perpetual alertness, always having to be aware of our surroundings, who is near us, what cars are slowing down as they pass us, and that is not even the half of it.
The Women’s Night-time Safety Charter was created with good intentions, and it is always welcome when councils acknowledge the hardships faced by women. But I cannot shake the feeling that it does not go far enough. The steps outlined in the latter half all pertain to things to do after an assault has already taken place, and the former feel a little frivolous. The conversation around women’s safety should have moved on from being just that, a conversation, and progressed to more serious, preventative measures.
While Craig says that measures attempting to stop crime before it takes place are being looked at, I can’t help but feel slightly disheartened. We seem to be stuck in conversation mode. I cannot speak for all women, but many of us know that we can report crimes should they happen – we just don’t feel convinced that anything will come of it. This feeling is often backed up by first-hand experience, as well as national statistics. Wouldn’t it be better if the people in charge take real steps to ensure it doesn’t happen in the first place?
At the time of our chat, 45 businesses had signed up to the charter, so the desire to create safe spaces for women is there, which in itself provides a modicum of comfort. Craig’s comments around education being key to prevent these crimes is promising as well. After all, having people in positions of power who understand the problem and its roots can only be good. The Women’s Night-time Safety Charter is a step in the right direction from Manchester City Council. It’s only a small step but any movement towards a safer future for women is better than none at all.
To learn more about the Women’s Night-time Safety Charter, click here.
If you are a business owner or manager and would like to sign up to the charter, click here.
Main image of Bev Craig, courtesy of Manchester City Council