I'M trying to remember the first time I felt that feeling as a woman.

You might know the one I mean, when the skin on your back prickles with cold, your heart sometimes gets faster and louder or seems like it stops altogether and your focus becomes sickeningly sharp. Fight or flight.

As a woman you learn to nurture that instinct very early indeed.

I think I probably understood that the world was less safe for women around nine or 10 years old when I was followed up a back lane in the pit village, where we were living in County Durham, by a drunk old bloke, who was probably harmless but who I knew to be afraid of. Indeed, for most women, we are taught as soon as we are conscious enough, that we should be wary of strangers.

I do not and I've never believed that women are victims. This is the reason that, despite like many, if not most, women having experienced sexual violence and harassment, I have still travelled to remote places as a solo traveller through South America, India and south east Asia.

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But we cannot ignore that women are more commonly victims of violent and sexual crimes. That in fact, the World Health Organisation reported that 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence and and that Rape Crisis Scotland reports, a higher proportion of women than men reported experiencing at least one type of serious sexual assault (6.1% compared to 0.8%, respectively). 

It is impossible to write about safety, and indeed threat to women, without acknowledging that the Metropolitan Police scandal involving Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens' kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard, and the many times his red flag behaviour was overlooked institutionally, has shown that sexual predators can be hiding even in the places where we would seek safety.

Like many women, I avoid being out too late alone. In a way that I doubt many men do, women carefully plan their journeys home. There are, ‘safely home’ text messages, and longer journeys to take the busier streets, there are compromises on last trains and expensive Ubers home. Writing this list I feel a burst of anger that society is no safer for me now than it was when I was 10-years-old but, of course, we simply get used to this as part of life. The idea of walking through a park at night is just something we would not do.

I am deeply invested in how we make society safer and was interested in recent, frankly unsurprising, research which found that women felt very unsafe in parks. 

As I say, this is hardly a shocker for any woman who's found herself unexpectedly on an empty stretch of road or one with a few broken streetlights. Their recommendations are that women should be involved in the design and planning of parks, which would incorporate more lighting, lower hedges and ‘escape routes’. In Berlin, they've taken it one step further and are campaigning for a dedicated Feminist Park.

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Of course, the inherent problem with this, is that it once again lays all the responsibility on the woman. We must redesign our parks. We must design our own escape routes. We must campaign to be considered in planning so our public spaces can be used equally by us. When, in fact, the impetus should be on educating men and raising our boys to not condone sexual or physical violence or threats, to not observe it soundlessly and to not perpetuate that misogyny. 

In Police Scotland’s Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy 2023, I was happy to see them acknowledge, ‘Perpetrators are the sole cause of violence against women and girls. Therefore, we will continue to challenge the harmful attitudes and behaviours of men which perpetuate violence and abuse.’ And I will be waiting to see if strategy becomes action.

But, until that time, because it's a long way coming, I would like to be able to take my dog for a walk in the winter evening without looking over my shoulder. I would like to be able to catch the last train home after a glass of wine and not have to be on the phone to my husband the whole walk home. So, I welcome any conversation and all progresses.

Living in the South Side of Glasgow, I recently became interested in Glasgow City Council’s Liveable Neighbourhoods initiative which essentially suggests that residential areas will be connected by a 20-minute round trip walk through communal areas to local amenities.  When filling in my own public consultation form, I stated I felt that most important were spaces for children and for the elderly, both of whom are often disenfranchised from other public spaces for various reasons, and safety.

If I was filling out the form again, I would go one step further and suggest women-only times where women can come and exercise, or sunbathe or just sit gloriously unbothered by any attention at least for a few hours. Where, and this is the dream, a woman can sit and read a book on a park bench and it’s not seen as a covert signal for a need for male company.

We have a long way to go. The fight against misogyny is certainly no walk in the park. But I do believe we're on the right, and hopefully well lit, path.

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