Making parks safe for women and girls 

Practical guidelines to help make parks and green spaces safer for women and girls across the UK have been launched at a conference organised by the University. 

Making parks safe for women and girls. May 2023

It follows a recent study of a cross-section of more than a hundred women and girls from West Yorkshire, which found that most believed their local parks to be unsafe.  

The research – funded by the Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, and carried out by researchers at Leeds – concluded that feeling vulnerable in parks is a barrier that needs to be urgently addressed to ensure women and girls feel able to use, enjoy and benefit from them.  

Informed by the research findings, the guidance aims to address that barrier with a range of practical measures, including creating openness and visibility, escape routes, better lighting and the positive presence of park staff and members of the community. 

The document is a partnership between Mayor Brabin, the University, Make Space for Girls and Keep Britain Tidy, and is aimed at park managers, local authorities, police and community groups. 

Significant impact on lives

Dr Anna Barker, an Associate Professor in Criminal Justice and Criminology in the School of Law at Leeds, led the original research and organised the conference. 

She said: “In Britain, women are three times more likely than men to feel unsafe in a park during the day.  

“This is worse after dark, when as many as four out of five women in Britain say they would feel unsafe walking alone in a park, compared to two out of five men. 

“All these factors mean that women and girls are less likely to use parks than men and boys, a situation which has a significant impact on their lives. Our guidelines, covering 10 principles for design and management, can enable decision-makers to enact change.” 

Other suggestions in the guidance include: 

  • organising activities and events to extend women’s use of parks, including after dark   
  • making sure the surrounding area and approach routes to parks all feel safe, minimising enclosed and hidden entrances  
  • creating a sense of belonging through spaces and facilities, which give diverse groups of women and girls the sense they’re welcome 
  • designing the placement of facilities, paths and features so they encourage use by women, maximise visibility and are easy to navigate; and
  • involving women and girls in the design of parks. 

Welcoming spaces 

The guidance was launched as part of a two-day conference entitled Women and Girls’ Safety in Parks: Lessons from Research and Practice. The opening session was chaired by Alison Lowe OBE, Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime in West Yorkshire, and the guidance itself was introduced by the Mayor Brabin, who funded the work as part of her Safety of Women and Girls Strategy.  

Mayor Brabin said: “We want West Yorkshire to be the safest place to be a woman or a girl. This guidance will help make our parks and wonderful green spaces safer for them.

“I’m calling on local leaders across the country to join us and put them into practice so that we can make real change together.” 

Others attending included representatives from the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, Women in Sport, Keep Britain Tidy, and Make Space for Girls.  

The organisations behind the new guidelines hope decision-makers will now review all of their parks in partnership with the police and engage with women and girls specifically on safety, ensuring those who don’t currently use the parks are included. 

They’re also calling for the new guidance and the results of their discussions with women and girls to be incorporated into management plans for parks and green spaces and reviewed regularly. 

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