The headlines around women’s safety this year, not least in recent weeks, have been dark & upsetting reading. We are at a watershed moment, one that UN Women’s YouGov survey from earlier this year confirms is long overdue: polling women from across the UK, they found 70% have experienced sexual harassment in public at some point and amongst the 18-24 age group that figure jumps to a shocking 97%. After 18 months of lockdowns and uncertainty, now we can walk the streets again, we should all be able to do that without fear.
But with the continued onus on women managing their own behavior to remain safe: don’t walk home alone, carry keys in your fist, talk loudly on the phone and recently ‘flag a bus down if you feel threatened’, rather than addressing core societal issues such as cultural misogyny and the violence it breeds, it’s clear that deeper action and understanding needs to happen.
While well-meaning brands like BT and their new 888 number, show a desire to be useful in crisis, we need solutions that are born of insight from activists, take a 360 approach both supporting safety in the immediate sense and addressing the core issues that ladder up to an unsafe world for women and marginalized genders and drive real change in the future.
It’s more crucial than ever that the brands that have the eyes, ears and wallets of consumers step up to be part of that change and approach it in the right way.
Here’s some starters:
1). Listen Actively - want to know how you can better support communities on issues they face? Speak to them. Want to know how your product or service can support women’s safety? Get close to the activists working in this space. Not only will you begin to more deeply understand tensions and unearth bespoke insights relevant to your industry and product, you’ll be showing your consumers you are actively invested in supporting them on the issues that matter. Our award-winning nightlife safety project Soho Angels with Smirnoff x LGBT Foundation was born of this process and provided a life-saving harm reduction service for LGBTQ+ community in London.
2). Evolve your service – As well as providing the opportunity for transformative social impact via cultural partnerships, actively listening can also help you evolve your product or service to work better for everyone. Transport has been a key focus of discussions around women’s safety, particularly in inner city areas. With the night tube only just re-opened and Uber scarcity in London making late-night journeys unpredictable and expensive, increased pressure for action and solutions fills social media.
Meanwhile in Liverpool, council stakeholders are actively listening. Women across Merseyside were surveyed to build a clear picture of concerns, resulting in recent council investment in bystander training for bus drivers, bus station staff and taxi drivers to better understand and help prevent sexual violence, an education program to raise awareness of sexual harassment and misogyny in schools across the area and new street
help points and safe spaces for anyone feeling threatened or in distress.
And while councils in London drag their heels, there is real opportunity for brands to jump into this space and lend active support: be it through partnership with local government, sponsoring safety and education initiatives, or if you already operate in the transport sphere, work with NGOs to understand the issues, improve your service and start making travel safer right now.
3). Create safer spaces – As the night-time economy cranks back into full swing and with festive season on the horizon, worrying stats around sexual harassment in music venues come into even sharper focus with 40% of women under 40 experiencing sexual harassment at a live music venues, the time for action is way past due. UN Women’s Safe Spaces Now open letter to the music industry galvanized support from some of music’s biggest stars from Anne-Marie and Rudimental to festivals like Glastonbury, but now the job is turning that awareness into action and venues can play a pivotal role in this. One of the key themes from activists at a recent UN Women Movement Makers showcase we took part in were the myriad of small changes music venues and festivals could make to become safer spaces for women, from charging points to better staff training, these actions could be transformative and headline-making for a large venue to lead the way.
4). Work with what you already have- While budgets are tight across the board, embracing an activist’s mindset and thinking creatively about the resources you already have at your disposal can have powerful results. Large engaged audience? Could you be talking to them on the issues, highlighting activists in this space and lobbying for change? Physical retail outlets? Could these double as help points or safe spaces (see: Superdrug offering support to domestic violence victims via their stores)? Starting small with whatever you have to hand can often snowball into much bigger long-term action.
5). Get your house in order- Even if your brand is making all the right noises on the outside if the work isn’t happening behind the scenes, it’s time to roll up your sleeves.
Media outlets have an enormous and powerful role to play in the messaging we receive around women, misogyny and sexual violence. A brand that chose to harness their huge engaged audience (over 22 million via their radio outlets) to push for change in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder, was Bauer Media who own a Grazia, Closer, Heat, Bella, Absolute Radio and many more well-known titles in the UK. Their #Iwalkwithwomen campaign, born of a nationwide survey, calls on the government to do more to protect women, with a fundraising element that shares donations across a number of charities working to end violence against women. While this is all admirable and more brands should use their platform in this way, what could be even more powerful is if Bauer also looked at the way their publications contribute to the culture of misogyny in the UK. A cursory look at the most recent front page of women’s magazine Bella, we see Meghan Markle depicted as an overbearing emasculating wife ‘over-shadowing her ‘weak’ husband’, feeding into not just the racist misogynist dominant press narratives that surround her but also feeding the damaging ‘hen-pecking’ wife stereotype that has been cited as ‘cause’ for uxoricide too many times to mention.
Overhauling the language we see on publications like this (not to mention headlines that are sympathetic towards men who murder women), could be a major step in real lasting change and brands should always be looking inwards at their own behaviours as well as championing exterior causes.
Want to find out more about what your brand could be doing in this space or how an active listening session could transform your business? Drop us a line firstname.lastname@example.org