Here is the text of the speech that I gave at a conference at and with the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries and the Medical Women's Federation on the Safety of Women in Cities on International Women's Day March 8th 2022International Women’s Day is a celebration of women in today’s society – worth reflecting on the inequality of opportunity and outcomes across the Globe – not least in present day Ukraine and Russia.
More than half of the world’s population live in Cities and by 2050 the UN predict it will be 68% of the world’s population. What a strain and we will need to regulate our way of living – raising so many issues of transport housing air quality water waste and security. These issues affect us all but some areas can be much more problematical for women and girls.
As an elected Alderman of the City for 20 years as well as Sheriff for one year only, I want to look at this topic of safety of women in the context of our City of London – the financial and business square mile
As a starting point, it is the duty of any government or governing body to keep all its citizens safe and secure. There are many other statutory duties imposed on local authorities where they can impact for good regarding housing, licensing, education and public spaces. equal access design toilets and play areas.
In that regard, however, if a City or the City does not embrace the diversity of its occupiers residents employees and visitors then will it work? I would argue that a city designed by, run by and enforced by, say, only men will clearly not take account of the needs of all.
We are just about to have elections for our 100 City Common Council members. Facing the potential of a democratic deficit the City Corporation undertook a very proactive campaign last year to get a more diverse pool of candidates and to encourage businesses who sign up the voters from their employees to consider a more diverse representation. As nominations closed on Friday we had 98 men and 39 women standing. In 5 of the 25 wards there were no women standing at all. Not sure I feel that we have really cracked this issue and I wonder how will it affect the way the Corporation is run.
Another area where the City Corporation is often under scrutiny is around planning decisions – keen as we are to create vibrant buildings to attract new and important occupiers.
“cities work better for men than they do for women,” the World Bank says in their 2020 Gender inclusive urban planning design handbook. Does that apply here?
Female-led urban planning could address some of the historical sexism built into cities, for example by making public spaces more hospitable to families or providing more female loos.
We know that the number of male cyclists outnumbers females and so we need to encourage women cycling and bust all the myths of helmet hair. More cycle lanes, planned showers and changing facilities will help. These are all important and are now largely hard wired into the City’s planning process.
What then of the direct issue of safety in the City? A clear lever that the City has is its police force. It is both locally policing the square mile and holds the national lead in fraud and cybercrime. I am a former member of the Police authority board and so declare an interest, but I have never been uncritical. We have a newly appointed Commissioner Angela McLaren. She was speaking at an IWD event that I led on Friday and said there with some sadness that she did not want to lead a force that was currently at the bottom of the table for women in the force. I will support her work to create more female officers. Recognising and naming the issue is surely a good start in solving it.
Next of importance is the way that the police are creating a safe environment in the city and online – bearing in mind that the City police run the Action fraud national reporting line for all UK fraud matters
The Police with the City Corporation and other agencies have a Strategy for Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). The many facets of VAWG and its diverse, far-reaching consequences mean it can only be tackled by multi-agency partnership work with 3 priorities - prevention awareness training and learning; early intervention and community development.
It ensures that those affected have access to support services and perpetrators are held to account via police investigation.
This strategy is alongside the well publicised Ask for Angela initiative which is a shorthand phrase that those feeling unsafe can use and which will alert staff in bars, clubs and other licensed businesses across London to act to provide help. Including getting them home safely or reuniting them with friends.
The night time economy is a vibrant part of the city and working with licenced premises is key to reduce crime.
The City Corporation oversees criminal and civil justice in the City and in particular owns and runs the Central Criminal Court – the Old Bailey where I am based as a Sheriff. Criminal justice must act impartially and fairly with a timely response and equal access. The Old Bailey now has an equal number of male and female permanent judges. This is key to seeing justice is done. In fact I will be hosting an event at the Old Bailey at the end of the month exploring how a better understanding of trauma could support survivors of domestic abuse in our courts.
By necessity I can only touch on these areas and have not reviewed how businesses themselves are responding responsibly and in collaboration on many initiatives in their own workplaces and externally via philanthropic engagement.
Let me conclude. The City of London is unique in many ways but in this instance it is not immune or above the need to create an environment that is inclusive and fair. A city designed or repurposed and retrofitted to ensure this both in its governance and infrastructure as well as in its ethics and behaviour is the one to which I aspire