Imogen wrote a piece for The Clerk magazine about why the Public Sector Equality Duty needs to be considered in parks and public spaces.
Many of us learnt the value of outdoor space during lock down. It was a life-line for our physical and mental health. In cities and towns, parks were central to our lock-down routines, as we realised their power to be a positive influence in our communities, including those who didn’t previously use the parks much. Like teenage girls.
At Make Space for Girls, we are campaigning to make parks and similar public spaces more welcoming to teenage girls. Frequently, park provision for teenagers consists of Multi Use gamesAreas (MUGAs), BMX tracks and skate parks. All of these provisions are dominated by boys and their presence in a park can act as a deterrent to girls using the park. To quote Lily, age 14: “Why would I go to the park? There’s nothing there for me.”
There are lots of reasons teenage girls don’t feel welcome in parks: the design of spaces, the behaviour of boys and the expectations placed on girls.
It matters that our teenage girls are not using our parks: it matters for reasons of fairness; it matters because of the need to comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty; and it matters because of health. Activity levels for teenage girls are worryingly low: parks can't solve all of this but they can make a real contribution by encouraging girls out of their homes and showing them they have as much right to occupy the public realm as boys.
Coming out of lock down gives us some amazing opportunities to tackle this issue. A recent survey by Women inSport, asking teenage girls about the impact of the early stages of the pandemic, prompted the response that 82% of girls say they will put more effort into being fit and active after the pandemic. We should grab this chance to engage with their enthusiasm with both hands and find ways to make our parks more welcoming to teenage girls.
So what can make parks more welcoming to girls? Drawing on work done in places like Vienna and Malmo:
• Spaces broken up into smaller areas so no one group can dominate;
• Wider entrances in and out of areas.
• Good toilets and better lighting;
• Perimeter paths, with clear lines of sight;
Teenage girls also like swings, sociable seating, hammocks, stages, gym bars and climbing walls. And there are plenty of girls who want to skate and play football too, so we can redesign these spaces to make them more welcoming. Tip: if you’re redesigning your skate park, don’t just listen to the views of the current users (if you do, you’ll end up with a very male place).
Most importantly, involve teenage girls in the plans to make parks better. Because they aren’t in the parks, they are often missed out when park consultation takes place with users. Engage with your local schools (we know one place where they used the consultation survey as part of an IT lesson!); talk to the youth sections of local faith/community groups; see what your localGuides say.
Because it’s time to make space for girls.