Vision to make streets safer for women
Redesigning cities to prevent violence against women and reduce street harassment and assault will be a priority for Women’s Minister Julie Anne Genter.
Genter, who is also associate minister of health and transport, said women are being let down by the design of cities and streetscapes that put them at increased risk.
She will work with the New Zealand Transport Agency and local councils to push for all environmental design projects to incorporate elements that will prevent harm to women.
In an interview with Stuff, the Green Party MP said it was a concern that only a third of people who cycled for transport were women, a figure based on the 2015 Ministry of Transport Cycling New Zealand Travel Survey. She said it was often difficult for women to walk or catch public transport, especially with children.
‘‘Crime prevention through environmental design is something that needs to be taken into account, and that particularly affects women,’’ she said.
‘‘I think New Zealand is a fairly safe country, but there’s a lot we can do with the built environment. Ensuring that there aren’t entrapment points for example, that you’ve got well-lit routes, that you’re not planning off-street cycleways through parks that might be empty at certain times of the day, which would be more dangerous for women.’’
Encouraging more people to walk or cycle also created a safer environment, Genter said, due to more ‘‘passive surveillance’’ - the perceived notion of being caught when a potential offender thought they were being watched.
In October, a Stanford University study showed women around the world walked significantly fewer steps than men.
However, in bike-friendly European countries, research showed about half of cyclists were women, Genter said.
‘‘So there’s a real opportunity in New Zealand to make cities more friendly for women and make it easier for them to be active, make it easier for their kids to walk or cycle to school,’’ she said.
‘‘I will ensure that we’re identifying the opportunities to improve design for all people, because when you make your towns and cities friendlier for women and children it benefits everyone.’’
Auckland Council’s design office general manager, Ludo Campbell Reid, said there was a missed opportunity for New Zealand to design crime out of its towns and cities.
‘‘One of the best litmus test for a safe public space is if a woman is happy to walk down it at any time of the day. You don’t judge it by if a middle-aged man feels comfortable walking through the space. It’s if a lone woman can walk through and feel safe,’’ Campbell Reid said.
‘‘It is not being done consistently in New Zealand – we absolutely must do better.’’
This year, the council produced a section of the Auckland Design Manual, a guide for architects and property developers, on how to design for maximum safety. ‘‘We believe it’s so important.’’
Inspector Paula Holt of the police’s National Prevention Centre said crime prevention through environmental design was extremely effective.
‘‘It can have a very, very significant impact. It’s amazing what can be achieved or changed simply by opening up a line of sight.’’
The environment was assessed by police as part of the ‘‘crime triangle’’ of prevention – the victim, offender, and the scene.
Other priorities for Genter include meeting with Health Ministry officials to discuss courses of action to improve endometriosis care, maternity services and postnatal depression assistance.
‘‘Research shows that the medical profession takes women’s pain much less seriously, whether it’s through endometriosis or other types of conditions that cause really severe period pain.’’ It’s taking longer to diagnose.
Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter says cities need to be designed with women front of mind.