West Lothian Council to consult local women about public safety

West Lothian Council will undertake a consultation with local women on the issue of safety in public places and spaces.

By Stuart Sommerville, LDR
Friday, 4th June 2021, 6:00 am
Councillor Kirsteen Sullivan
Councillor Kirsteen Sullivan

Councillor Kirsteen Sullivan won cross-party support for a motion after an impassioned presentation to the council’s monthly meeting.

She described how women had to constantly consider personal safety in their everyday lives, from meeting friends in town, to travelling on public transport and walking home.

She said recent murders had “started a national conversation” about how women altered their behaviours to keep safe.

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Councillor Sullivan added: “To some extent we have normalised this behaviour. I don’t think there can be many women who haven’t walked home with a key between their fingers, or wearing trainers instead of heels so that they can run if they have to. Or considered the different routes to take home.

“It’s time we have a wider discussion about the safety of women in public places. We owe it to our mothers, our sisters and daughters to make sure public spaces are as safe as they can be.”

Councillor Moira Shemilt backed the proposals with an addendum, and gave her own account of frightening experiences.

Council officers will conduct a consultation with women in West Lothian and organisations/agencies working with local women on the general concerns about safety in public places and spaces, and how public safety fears manifest changes in women’s behaviour overall.

A report on the findings of the consultation and the legal powers available to the council will be brought back to the council’s Policy and Resources scrutiny panel later in the year. The exercise will also seek to identify areas of good practice that have been undertaken elsewhere in the UK or further afield.

Councillor Sullivan,the depute council leader said afterwards: “Violence and abuse of any kind is, of course, abhorrent, but particular emphasis is rightly being placed upon the issues that women can face.

"The recent murders of Sarah Everard and Julia James have brought into sharp focus the safety fears and concerns of women across the country in going about their daily lives.”

She added: “Sadly violence and abuse against women occurs in every country and culture, causing harm to millions of women and their families. The fact that 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime is disgusting and it has to end. That will not be achieved by one organisation but we are determined to do what we can to find out what practical steps can be taken in our local area to improve safety and to make improvements where we can.

“I’m delighted that this consultation was agreed unanimously by the full council and thanks to Councillor Shemilt for her input. It’s an important step which will take into account the views expressed by local organisations and individuals.

"This work will identify what, if any, actions can be taken locally to improve the safety of women in public places. It will also determine what safety considerations can be embedded into planning and design of public places going forward.”