GUEST POST: 'Text me when you're home!'

The graphic shows a bright green background with black left-aligned text quote that reads "Women are more likely than men to use public transport and yet the system is predominately built by men and so for men.". The quote is attributed to Marianne Willetts, Student Placement, University of Strathclyde. In the top right-hand corner of the graphic there is Engender's logo, which is an equals sign in a black circle.

Today we're publishing the first in a series of blogs from the Spring student placements Engender hosted from the University of Strathclyde Applied Gender Studies and Research Methods course.

In this post, Marianne looks at how gender inequality and violence against women affect how women experience public spaces and public transport, and how and when these issues are recognised in the Scottish Parliament.

Keys between knuckles, hair down, earphones out. A routine all too familiar to a woman travelling home after sunset alone.

A male friend once told me that him and his flatmates had a ‘72-hour rule’; if one of them didn’t come home without telling the others where they were, they would wait 72 hours before ‘overthinking’ it and calling the police. I can’t speak for all women, but personally, if it was my female flatmate or friend, it would be at most 12 hours before the panic would set in and a further 12 before I would call the police. Women do not have the luxury of not taking precautions when commuting late at night. Travelling from A to B is necessary in many circumstances, and safety when doing so should be a given, but it is not.

In December 2022, Engender conducted a Tools for Change research project that looked into women’s lived experience of men’s abuse. The report focused on the everyday practices that are embedded into our society that perpetuate gendered inequalities and so create increased opportunities for men to abuse women. The findings were accumulated from workshops with women who have experienced abuse and/or lived with an abuser, and the women involved in the workshops very much depicted the world as a male arena that limited the day-to-day experiences of women in which many spaces were male-dominated. The study’s participants found it “difficult to imagine a world without abuse” and had a general lack of hope that prevention of men’s abuse of women is possible. Their comments reflected that public spaces are not universally safe, but more than that, many of them are created for and by men despite equal, and sometimes more, engagement from women.

A continuous issue in regard to women’s and girls’ safety is the prevention of harassment and abuse on public transportation. Women are more likely than men to use public transport, and yet the system is predominately built by men and so for men. In March, the Scottish Parliament debated the issue of Women’s and Girls’ Safety on Public Transport. There were progressive talks of action within the chamber. However, it seemed there was a strong sentiment that women, as well as men, need to take action due to the ‘inevitability’ of abuse towards women. It seemed prevention, rather than eradication, was the word of the day in the chamber as the members of parliament shared the participants of the Engender study fears’ that there is not feasibly a world without abuse.

Jenny Gilruth, who was the Minister for Transport at the time, picked three recommendations to highlight from the ten laid out by a report produced from Transport Scotland’s public attitudes survey. They were:

  • Implementation of a better range of safe travel home options for women and girls working unsociable hours. Looking specifically at transport workers, but also those working in retail, leisure and hospitality industries.
  • Increased visibility of transport staff in order to ensure women and girls are aware of their presence in times where they may feel vulnerable.
  • An improved system for incident reporting.

Gilruth rightly commented that the onus needs to be taken off of women to protect themselves and that the government needs to be doing more to ensure the safety of its citizens. However, these recommendations do not fully highlight the work that needs to be done by men, a point that was stressed further on in the debate. Maggie Chapman MSP highlighted the need for ‘shared responsibility’, a notion that is imperative to this discussion. While uncomfortable, the engagement of men in changing their behaviour or encouraging other men to do so is critical if we are to tiptoe towards the E(ridication) word.

A key issue flagged by participants in Engender’s project was that women are often intimidated by ‘packs’ of men quite obviously under the influence of alcohol and that while alcohol categorically does not cause violence against women, it can increase the risk of violence occurring. Amidst the chamber debate, various MSPs, such as Neil Bibby (Labour), Fulton MacGregor (SNP), Roz McCall (Conservative) and Siobhian Brown (SNP), brought up the continued issue of alcohol consumption on trains and stressed the need for a continuation of the alcohol ban on ScotRail but also a call for increased penalties for anyone not adhering to the rules. I would add to this by saying that we should be clear that alcohol is not the cause of abuse, gender inequality is, but it is a catalyst, and so individual responsibility from men here is key. Be aware when you and your mates are being rowdy and try to alter the atmosphere. I can’t stress enough how reassuring it is when you are surrounded by drunken men on a train home after a footie match, and even just one of them apologises when their voices are raised or echoes a simple “C’mon lads, rein it in a bit”. Acknowledgement of wider misogynistic issues can be reflected in a few simple steps, which makes the journey feel safe for everyone.

I would find it encouraging, similarly to Jenny Gilruth, if this debate were a continued conversation within parliament beyond the week surrounding International Women’s Day. Transport is a topic we see discussed often in the chambers but rarely in relation to women’s needs and their safety. In 2023, the chamber has already debated several topics on transport including: connectivity improvements to rural and island communities, the decarbonisation of public transport and various discussions of the Strategic Transport Project Review, without mentioning the gendered aspects of transport, nor how these changes will affect women. These are not gender-neutral policies and treating them as such negatively impacts women’s everyday experiences with their daily commute. Women and girls’ safety is not an issue to be discussed once a year on the 8th of March. I look forward to seeing how these recommendations are implemented in the future.

Engender occasionally works with students as part of their placement requirements for university or college courses - this allows students to work with Engender on specific areas of our work for women's equality. Student blogs form part of their course assessment, and they do not receive payment from Engender.

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