Page 3646 - Week 11 - Tuesday, 22 November 2022

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Women—safety after dark

MS DAVIDSON (Murrumbidgee—Assistant Minister for Families and Community Services, Minister for Disability, Minister for Justice Health, Minister for Mental Health, Minister for Veterans and Seniors) (4.43): Everyone has the right to feel safe and supported in their community. Unfortunately, research from Women’s Health Matters shows that even in public areas in the ACT that have low rates of reported crime, women feel unsafe due to the risk of assault or sexual assault, particularly after dark. As a member for Murrumbidgee, I am interested in hearing directly from women in my electorate about how safe they feel in their neighbourhood, particularly after dark.

While Weston Creek has the second lowest rate of offences reported to police in the ACT—beaten only by Molonglo Valley—it is whether we feel safe that changes where we go and how we get there. To provide a forum for women to share their stories and experiences with personal safety, I hosted a workshop in partnership with the Weston Creek Community Council in October. There were three key things I hoped to better understand—firstly, where in Weston Creek women feel unsafe; secondly, why do women feel unsafe; and, finally, what changes need to be made.

At the workshop, we identified a few key areas in Weston Creek where women feel unsafe after dark—such as underpasses, skate parks, and neighbourhood ovals. However, resoundingly, women from Weston Creek told me that they felt most unsafe in a specific space near Cooleman Court. So, what is it about these areas that makes them feel unsafe? Women’s Health Matters research tells us that ACT women and men feel safe or unsafe in public spaces for different reasons. Men worry about losing their property; women worry about losing their life.

Overwhelmingly, women feel safer in areas with good lighting and visibility, where there is less risk of hidden threats. Increased passive surveillance—seeing lots of people of different ages, abilities and backgrounds in a public space, or high visibility to passing traffic—improves awareness that someone might need help. A well-lit space with good visibility and other people around who can help if there is a problem, is the kind of space where women feel safe. The ACT government’s adjustments, such as improving lighting and ensuring footpaths are visible, well-maintained and have clear sightlines, can help an area feel safer. Encouraging the shared use of a space by people from a range of age groups and genders can help to revitalise an area and improve feelings of safety.

Our workshop group considered how effective the transformation of Haig Park has been to date and what lessons could be learned to help make Cooleman Court feel safer. One idea was the introduction of regular night markets. This could help to bring people together and foster a greater sense of community in the area. Conversations about urban design and women’s safety after dark are particularly important given the consultation on the Draft Territory Plan and district plans. I encourage everyone in Murrumbidgee and across Canberra to make your voices heard and tell us what needs to change in your local areas to help you feel safer. Feeling safe in your local neighbourhood matters. Public spaces that feel safe after dark enable greater participation in community life for women, making Canberra a more vibrant and

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