questions, questions, questions

A guest blog by Abigail Gaines from Friends of Rowntree Park about some of the questions people always ask about providing facilities for teenage girls.

September 22, 2021
March 28, 2023
Susannah Walker
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Friends of Rowntree Park in York want to make their spaces work for teenage girls. They’ve already begun work on a consultation, and we’ll keep you updated on how the work gets on.

As part of this, Abigail, their Charity Manager wrote a great blog about why they are consulting with older girls, and you can read the whole thing here, and I can highly recommend it.

But the bit we liked best of all – and it’s something we’ve not yet tackled on her – is her answers to the questions which tend to come up when you mention teenage girls. So we’re republishing them here. I hope you find this as thought-provoking as we did. Bring on the questions…

“My daughter uses the skate park!”

There are girls who use skate parks. There are also some great female role models in sports like BMX and Skateboarding that challenge the stereotypes. But the question is – why is this such a small percentage? It’s this that we need to seek to readdress. We should look at those that do but also those that don’t – find out more about why and why not, and use this knowledge to help make changes.

“Separate facilities for girls is wrong!”

It may not be that separate facilities in parks are needed for girls. We don’t really know at this stage. But as it stands the facilities are separate already if around half of the teen population aren’t using them. The aim is to get girls equally using parks – that may be looking at the hidden barriers that stop them using facilities such as skateparks and seeking to remedy this and improve things to increase participation. It may be that some additional equipment/areas are more suited to uses by some girls (and boys). It’s not about segregation, it’s about taking in the views of both boys and girls in the planning and design of parks. Any changes that take place will benefit a range of park users including boys, and those who do not identify with a specific gender.

I don’t think we should use the term girls and boys!”

Under the Gender Equality Act 2021, sex is a protected characteristic, not gender. Therefore this is what councils have to adhere to – making sure parks and open spaces provide equality for both sexes.

Then there is the issue of gender identity.  Again this isn’t being dismissed or sidelined BUT at this stage we are looking at the statistics that show boys dominate the facilities in parks provided for older children. There are obviously many other issues – race, culture, disability – all issues that should be explored to make parks and open spaces accessible to all. Indeed how such things affect girls’ usage of parks should be explored too.  At this stage, our focus is on what we can do to make our park more welcoming to older girls. There could be so much ‘whataboutery’- but there is a real inequality here in terms of provision for girls and this is what we are focusing on at present.   We’d love others to get involved to represent other groups and make changes too.  What we are trying to do,  and how it’s approached,  may not be perfect, we may get things wrong. But don’t criticise, help instead!  Let’s facilitate change. We could spend all day discussing the ‘buts’ and concerns around offending people and groups, but we are trying to make changes. If we aren’t doing things right, help us, guide us, and get involved!

“Surely providing a skate park can’t be seen as discrimination?”

Interesting one this. Most studies on gender issues in parks are focused on skate parks. Skateboarding seems to be an overwhelmingly male pursuit.  I’ve just finished reading ‘Invisible Women’ by Caroline Perez. A similar question was raised by a town official in a town in Sweden who after one official had stated that at least ‘snow clearing was something the gender people’ could not interfere in.  However this led them to look into this and they found that there were issues! They found that when snow fell it was the roads that were cleared first. This mainly benefited male workers who travelled by car to the workplace. It was realised that the policy disadvantaged many women who actually were more likely to walk or use public transport.  They found men’s travel patterns were pretty simple – to and from work, whereas women’s were more complex  and included multiple journeys that covered unpaid work such as childcare drop offs, visiting elderly relatives, supermarket visits etc – all mainly via footpaths. The women were making multiple journeys yet their needs were not considered!  The policy hadn’t intended to discriminate, but by default by not considering the views and travel of women it had.

The same goes for skateparks.  A British study based in Nottingham stated 90% of skatepark users are male, Australian studies point to around 95% of skatepark users being male (5). More recent 2019 study in the US shows that it was 76.1% (6). This may reflect positive change is happening but the inequality is still there. Studies point to the fact some female skaters have voiced that they pick times to visit the skatepark when they know large crowds of males won’t be around. In fact, they have stated on their own that some individual males seem to be supportive, but when boys are in groups, the girls feel intimidated. It’s actually argued that the fact skate parks can attract people from out of the local area makes this even more intimidating to girls. So what can you do? Hold girl only skate sessions? Maybe, but is the message to girls that they can only use a park if they use it the way boys do? Sport England’s State ‘don’t expect women to change to fit sport and exercise’. Don’t try to fix the girls, fix the facilities.

Many thanks to Abigail for letting us share these. And if you’ve been posed any questions of this kind, please do let us know in the comments. My personal favourite came from a town councillor, in a place which I will not name, who said, ‘But what if we ask the girls what they want and they say a room to do their make-up in? And that councillor was a woman…

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