Women’s Safety Scotland’s new interactive safety map will only be truly useful if it is backed by action from the city.
Women’s Safety Scotland have recently developed an interactive map to pinpoint locations in Glasgow that may be dangerous for women. The map relies on self-reports from women themselves regarding instances in which they felt unsafe in these areas.
Coloured markers are sprinkled over a notable proportion of the map, each denoting that the location has been marked as unsafe. Along with the countless reports of concern over isolated streets and large gatherings of men, many of these markers represent real stories of harassment and assault, shared by the victims themselves, in the interest of public safety.
Since I spend most of my time in the West End and have only recently moved to Glasgow, many of these locations have no particular significance to me. But for hundreds of thousands of local women, these red and orange pinpoints represent their everyday jogging routes, their secluded walkway home from work, or even the park their children play in. In several cases, the individuals who reported specific locations as dangerous have admitted that they simply cannot avoid walking in these areas.
This map is exceptional in terms of detail, at such an early stage in its release. I particularly admire its intersectional approach, as users are asked to indicate which specific groups are likely to be most at risk in the area. This includes a variety of categories ranging from (visibly) supporting a specific football team to having a visible religious affiliation or ethnic minority background. Unfortunately, despite all the great things about this initiative, there is one very crucial caveat for its success. If this map becomes used exclusively to caution vulnerable people off the streets at night, it would be doing an insurmountable disservice to the victims who made it possible.
Issues of women’s safety are so often used to highlight our vulnerability, without ever truly addressing the systemic and infrastructural inadequacies that perpetuate it. After Sabina Nessa’s tragic murder last year, I remember discussing her death with my family and being met with a perfectly well-intentioned: “You shouldn’t walk alone at night.” Their concerns were partially valid, because walking alone as a South Asian woman does come with its own additional risks, but no matter how well-intentioned their advice was, it just doesn’t work, and it is far from sufficient on its own.
Instead, I believe this map should primarily be used to hold city planners accountable for several of the reported issues and demand action. For instance, almost every location flagged as dangerous has been identified as having insufficient lighting or as being too isolated. These are issues that need to be addressed by Glasgow City Council directly for this initiative to prove useful on a scale that extends beyond the theoretical. In addition, changes such as increasing the patrol in certain locations would be a significant step towards making certain pathways feel less secluded and unsafe.
I also hope that this initiative is able to achieve the outreach it deserves. While it is understandable that women are the primary target demographic for this project, I hope that specifically marketing it towards women does not distract from its relevance to other groups. Specifically, this initiative could also make massive changes for the LGBTQ+ community and ethnic minorities.
It could be beneficial, for instance, for societies within the universities in Glasgow to provide this resource to those who feel they need it in order to feel safe in the city. Societies which celebrate sexual and gender diversity, as well as those from different ethnic and racial groups, could circulate this map to their members. Additionally, the universities themselves could make this map and other similar resources easily accessible to all students. This could also be particularly useful for international students or those who are less familiar with Glasgow. It could serve as a guide for what to expect from each area of the city, until and unless the necessary changes are made to improve their safety.
Despite how the map itself is circulated, though, the primary indicator of its success is its aftermath. I would hate to see this valuable new tool be reduced to yet another word of warning for vulnerable groups, or a talking point in conversations about how women should not walk alone. Because, as one woman who contributed to the map mentioned: “Those conversations are never had by men.”
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