This week, YWCA Hamilton successfully advocated for the City of Hamilton to fund a Gender-based safety audit. This $100,000 project will be led by YWCA in collaboration with other community partners with the goal of improving the safety and well-being of women and gender-diverse people as they move through the city. Our own Chelsea Kirkby spoke to councillors in support of the motion – here are her remarks.
My name is Chelsea Kirkby, and I am the Vice President of Strategic Initiatives & Program Development at YWCA Hamilton.
I’m here today to give an overview of Gender-based safety audit program funding, moved by Councillor Wilson and seconded by Councillor Jackson.
In our work at YWCA Hamilton, we know that women and gender-diverse people experience the city differently than men. The physical characteristics of our parks, trails, streets and sidewalks, transit systems, and other infrastructure uniquely impact women and gender-diverse people – and, in some cases, put them at risk of violence.
To quote an article written by Councillor Wilson back in 2017: “Generally, women don’t linger in public spaces if they’re alone. Women don’t wander urban places without a destination in mind. There is always need for a clear travel plan and an unspoken understanding of what time of day travel must occur. Women cannot afford to get lost. The risk of violence and intimidation curtails our movement and our use of space.”
A gender-based safety audit offers the possibility of bringing together all gender identities, all abilities, ages, race, and cultural backgrounds, around the unifying concept of respecting women, gender-diverse people, and girls. This process brings individuals together to walk through a physical environment, evaluate how safe it feels to them, and find ways to make the space safer. In doing so, it prioritizes the experience and knowledge of women and gender-diverse individuals as experts in their own safety, comfort, dignity, and accessibility needs.
In our discussions with other women-serving organizations, we discovered lack of data around what types of violence women and gender diverse individuals were experiencing at street level. We also discovered that incidents of violence against women and gender-diverse individuals increased during the pandemic. Our staff witness and support, daily, women experiencing violence in public spaces. Since January 1 of this year, police have been called to our MacNab Street building over 50 times for disturbances and assaults – the majority of which victimized women.
This summer, Hamilton was one of several cities across Ontario to declare gender-based violence to be an epidemic. The statistics gathered by the Women Abuse Working Group are sobering: there were 7,660 crisis or helpline calls recorded last year related to gender-based violence, and 2,061 women in Hamilton received violence against women counselling.
We’re proposing to address these problems by listening directly to the women and gender-diverse people affected by the city’s landscape and public spaces – that is, women from all backgrounds, experiences, abilities, and economic status. We are experts in this field, and along with other women-serving organizations in the city, such as the Sexual Assault Centre of Hamilton, are committed to improving the experiences of women and gender-diverse people and reducing their risk of violence.
We will work with City Staff – doing work aligned with our own research, and community partners who serve similar populations and have expertise in this field to host 4 town halls to collect data and compensate 50 participants of neighbourhood audits for their participation as experts in their own safety and experience of public spaces. We look forward to reporting back before the 2025 budget process.
The way the city designs its public places and infrastructure is a measure of its priorities and values. Through a gender-based safety audit, we can ensure that women and gender-diverse people not only feel safe in public spaces, but know that their well-being, comfort, and dignity are valued. Through this process, we hope to show how a gendered analysis strengthens planning and policy decisions, creating a safer community.