Australia

Sydney is pledging to become safer for women - and it will boost the night time economy

The Greater Sydney Commission is urging all businesses and organisations to commit their efforts to combatting street harassment and violence towards women and girls.

Ensuring women and girls feel comfortable moving around the city at night will provide a much-needed economic boost to Sydney’s nightlife, the Greater Sydney Commission says, as they launch an Australian-first charter aimed at combating gendered harassment and violence.

Businesses, government agencies, industry bodies and not-for-profits are being encouraged to sign on to the declaration and reform how they operate according to nine principles focused on promoting the safety and security of girls and women as they go about their life.

More than 90 per cent of women and girls in Sydney feel unsafe in the city centre after dark and many will avoid going out to certain places during certain times as a result, according to research by Plan International that underpinned the new Greater Sydney Women’s Safety Charter.

For the Greater Sydney Commission, an independent agency of the NSW Government, the pledge means considering how and where street harassment is most likely to occur and mitigating it during the city planning stages.

Chief Commissioner Lucy Turnbull, who launched the charter alongside the Committee for Sydney on Friday morning, told SBS News this means ensuring there is adequate street lighting, especially around public transport hubs, and designing open areas without hidden corners so people are less likely to fear being ambushed. 

“We need to create a framework and to create participation right across the spectrum of everybody who’s responsible for how the city works to make women feel safer,” she said.

“A city that works well for women in terms of their sense of safety … is a city that works for everyone.”

Aside from the obvious safety benefits, Ms Turnbull also believes the charter is a “key opportunity to energise the night-time economy” as Sydney recovers from the recently repealed lock-out laws.

“If women feel that they can move around and go from place to place, they’ll be able to participate economically in the life of the city and also socially in the life of the city,” she said. 

“Public places, especially city centres, are great to come to and enjoy yourselves, stay after work, have dinner, see a few friends, go and see a movie, whatever you do and that will stimulate the night-time economy, there’s no doubt about that.”

Concerns have also been raised of the economic impacts of women and girls who quit jobs or university due to experiences with street harassment.

Sydney-based Plan International youth activist Alice Rummery told SBS News she was one of the many women who had to make this choice after she quit her retail job because she didn’t feel safe walking home late at night after she was harassed.

Plan International youth activist Alice Rummery, 23, says she had to quit a job due to the fear of street harassment.
Plan International youth activist Alice Rummery, 23, says she had to quit a job due to the fear of street harassment.
Plan International

“Those kinds of impacts are really big and I can understand how that would impact the wider society and economy,” said the 23-year-old who worked on Plan’s Free to Be Project, which provided a place for women and girls to report incidents of harassment and “danger zones” in Sydney.

"If girls and young women are involved from the beginning in a meaningful way in designing those things [street architecture and public spaces], they'll bring knowledge that people in traditional decision making roles might have missed about how we can be safer."

Fear of using public spaces also affects the individual economic position of women, Ms Rummery said, due to the cost of being too afraid to walk and getting a taxi or ride-share instead, for example.

Plan International's survey of almost 500 women in metropolitan Sydney found that 92 per cent felt uncomfortable taking public transport alone at night, while 57 per cent reported cancelling plans because of safety concerns.

The charter's three founding principals are - a commitment to a culture of gender equality, a commitment to listen, share and reflect, and a commitment to collective action and continuous improvement. 

What this looks like for each organisation will be different depending on their purpose, Ms Turnbull said.

Participating organisations, which so far include Transport for NSW, Merivale Group, Sydney Business Group and the Community Housing Industry Association, will be expected to review and report back on their progress towards these goals.

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