Our Bodies Our Streets

Our Bodies, Our Streets: Meet the Sheffield organisation campaigning for safer public spaces

With the lifting of lockdown and the reopening of clubs finally upon us, the issue of safety on Sheffield’s streets is something playing on the minds of many who are enjoying a long-awaited night out.

Most people are familiar with the dreaded walk home from a bar or club, with a set of keys gripped tightly between sweaty fingers just in case self-defence is required. Conversations surrounding safety from harassment are so often focussed on the different ways in which the individual ought to prevent and defend themselves against harassment, rather than what can be done to make these spaces less dangerous.

Sheffield-based organisation ‘Our Bodies Our Streets’ is an initiative raising awareness and campaigning for safer public spaces free from sexual harassment. The organisation has seen a lot of growth over the past year, using their platform to campaign on both local and national levels.

Our Bodies Our Streets’ started out as a campaign for women and non-binary people to be able to exercise on Sheffield’s streets during lockdown without the threat of harassment and catcalling. The initiative has since expanded to address public sexual harassment and safety generally, recently successfully passing a motion at Sheffield City Council to ‘Make Sheffield even safer for all.

Since the announcement of a third round of the government’s Safer Streets Fund, with ‘a particular emphasis on improving the safety of public spaces for women and girls’, the group have prioritised making sure that women and people of marginal[1]ised genders in Sheffield have a say in how this money will be spent. Their research has resulted in four suggestions, which have been presented to representatives from the council and the PCC.

The first of these suggestions is participatory mapping, which will allow women and people of marginalised genders to map their experiences of harassment in Sheffield. The data from this research may then be used to inform planning, policy and design that responds directly to people’s needs and visualises a clear image of where changes are most needed.

The second is creative lighting interventions, informed by research that has shown that traditional methods of lighting (e.g. bright, white flood lights) don’t correlate with or enforce women’s feelings of safety. The third is that women and marginalised gender groups must lead the implementation of these changes. A women-led design commission should be established in the case that Sheffield is successful in its funding application, and should consist of residents of the city (with diverse representation), community groups and organisations, female-built environment professionals, and academics/industry professionals who specialise in inclusive design and planning/gender mainstreaming.

The final is community pilot projects, which are fairly cheap interventions that can be carried out quickly in order to assess whether specific concepts are effective and thus ensure that the funding is spent in a beneficial way.

Emma Beaumont, a member of the group, told us why ‘Our Bodies, Our Streets’ and their work is so important in the current climate: “A silver lining of the pandemic is that it has opened many people’s eyes to the importance of accessible public open spaces, for both our physical and mental well-being. However, it has also brought to light the vast intersectional inequalities in accessing such spaces… there is much evidence to show that women, people of BAME communities and the LGBTQ+ community face significantly more barriers to accessing green spaces than white men. We believe equal access to public spaces, without fear of harassment, is a fundamental human right and we are striving to make our city safer for all its inhabitants.”

“We believe equal access to public spaces, without fear of harassment, is a fundamental human right…”

Anyone who wants to help advance the group’s aims is encouraged to get involved and become a registered supporter online, which will allow you to discuss your ideas and experiences at meetings, vote on group decisions and committee elections, and get involved in creative and political actions.

The group can be found on Instagram: @ourbodiesourstreets.

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