Data Capital: Application of illumination for safer city streets

Their words make for harrowing reading: “I have been drugged and sexually assaulted in one of the pubs here, as well as faced years of sexual harassment as a bartender”

“My child was touched and mocked by a middle-aged man while my child was right next to me waiting to cross the road in broad daylight.”

“Going to work on dark mornings alone is tough”.

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Between December 2021 and March this year, women used an app more than 600 times to share their stories about where they had been abused and harassed in public places in Glasgow. “Poor lighting”, “anti-social behaviour”, and “groups of men” were some of the most common factors prompting fear among women, with“feeling isolated”, “feeling trapped”, and “no police presence” among the other major reasons given.

Image: Adobe Stock
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The app was created for support charity Wise Women by the Glasgow Girls Club, which helps to find solutions for social issues by using information technology (IT). It included a heatmap developed by online engagement platform Commonplace, which highlighted areas throughout the city where women don’t feel safe.

Following an interim report published in March – I feel trapped: women living with public harassment and abuse inGlasgow – Wise Women has run a series of workshops, and is currently carrying out an online survey among men to find out the factors that stop them from intervening when they see women being harassed.

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A final report is due in November.

“That report will be going to Glasgow City Council with recommendations,” explains Dawn Fyfe, Wise Women’s strategic development worker.

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Dawn Fyfe, left, and Amy Rew

As Glasgow reshapes city streets as part of its Avenues project, to encourage more cycling and walking, Fyfe is worried about the implications of the move for women’s wellbeing.

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“We want to make those recommendations, not only for women’s safety and based on women’s experiences of individual spaces, but also because we can see the major changes that are happening in Glasgow in response to climate change, and there is no consultation,” Fyfe says. “We really need them to be putting women’s safety at the centre of that, because we know that if they put women’s safety at the centre, then everyone is going to feel safer.”

The initial women’s safety survey and the current poll among men both build on previous work by Wise Women. “At the end of the ’90s, we did a survey on women’s safety, going onto the streets and into bingo halls,” explains Fyfe.

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“I’d always wanted to revisit it, but it was so labour-intensive and time-consuming, so doing a project as big as that would have meant reducing our direct services to women because we’re only a small charity.

“I saw Commonplace’s advert on Facebook, and I contacted them, but they weren’t able to help because I wanted an app straightaway, so women could report what was happening to them or their friends.

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“Glasgow Violence Against Women Partnership’s manager put me in touch with Amy at Glasgow Girls Club and she’s been an absolute godsend. I’d approached digital agencies to design the app, but it was going to be too expensive, and it was all IT-speak, when really all I wanted was to say, ‘This is what we need – somebody gonnae do it and help me?’.”

Amy Rew founded Glasgow Girls Club after being inspired by the Lower East Side Girls Club while living in New York. After moving back home to Scotland, Rew worked for a tech start-up, before leaving to focus on the club.

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Two of the developers who also left the start-up around the same time have continued to work with Rew on projects for the club. After creating a service to connect women and girls in the north of Glasgow to the help available through health and social care agencies, they began working on an app for the Community Justice Glasgow Partnership.

The “Let’s Get Connected” app aims to help reduce reoffending by connecting young people to more than 800 services. It’s designed mainly for people working in the community justice sector – including police officers and social workers – but can also be used by members of the public.

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Working on the community justice app brought Glasgow Girls Club onto the radar of the city council and the Glasgow Violence Against Women Partnership, leading to the connection between the club and Wise Women. “Meeting Dawn was perfect, because I’d always had this vision to use technology to help girls and women,” explains Rew.

“Working with Dawn is adding another dimension to that vision, by exploring how we can use technology to change policies and structures too. It’s helping the voices of women and girls who are marginalised to be heard.

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“We’re excited to be at the table when it comes to conversations about artificial intelligence ethics and making sure people aren’t excluded from services by algorithmic programming. These are important conversations to be having.

“There’s something really powerful about bringing together different ways of thinking. When people from the third sector – who don’t have a big understanding of tech, they’re not techies – have a vision and then we can respond in a way that’s not going to cost the earth.

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“Rather than it being a high-level conversation between the chief executive of a tech company and a charity, we’re bringing it back down to the community level, and keeping it dead simple. The past two years have taught us that we need to be aware of digital exclusion and keep technology accessible.”

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As well as Wise Women using the data from the app to create the project’s final report and recommendations, Glasgow Girls Club has also been looking at creative ways to share the information. “We’re working with young women in the north of Glasgow to make a 30-second video using the data from the survey and some of the stories shared by the women,” says Rew. “That could then be used in football stadiums at half time, or in other settings, as a public service announcement to raise awareness about the issues.”

For more information about the women’s safety app, visit www.womenssafety.scot.Find out more about Wise Women at www.wisewomen.org.uk and about Glasgow Girls Club at www.glasgowgirlsclub.org