Female councillors from all political parties within B&NES have come together to table a special motion calling on the authority to act to improve the safety of women and girls right across the region.
The motion, proposed by Liberal Democrat councillor Dine Romero and seconded by Labour councillor Liz Hardman, was written with full cross-party support, with the Council’s Conservative, Independent and Green Party political groups also giving it their backing.
Following the killing of Sarah Everard in March this year, the issue of behaviour towards women and girls, and their safety in public places, has been brought to the forefront.
The motion recognises that everybody should have the right to be safe from violence and harassment on our streets and states that women and girls from any background should not have to alter their behaviour in order to feel safe.
It is also acknowledged that it is not just women who are at risk but that any individual may be vulnerable to attack for various reasons.
Councillor Dine Romero, Liberal Democrat ward member for Southdown, said: “This motion represents a cross-party statement of solidarity with women. We are not only taking a stand against violence and harassment, but we are also calling for concrete action to help all women go about our ordinary lives without fear. We want this Council to do its part, and to make sure in all its decisions that it is not putting more risk on women.
“Somehow it has become accepted that it is women’s fault if they become victims. This is not right and must stop. Women should be safe in public spaces, whatever time of day or night, during daylight or in the dark. Going forward this principle will be embedded in Council strategies and councillors will work together to make B&NES a safer place.”
Cllr Liz Hardman, Labour ward councillor for Paulton, said: “Women are far more likely than men to fall victim to sexual violence, with estimates that 4.9 million women have been victims of sexual assault in their lives including 1.4 million who have been raped or have faced attempted rape.
“The vast majority of sexual offences remain unsolved. Indeed, most are not even reported to the police. Women feel too embarrassed to report rape because they think that the police will not help, and they think that they will not be believed.
“Women live in fear and they change their behaviour to avoid being out at night on their own and to try to keep safe. Yet Sarah Everard did everything she could to stay safe and still she fell victim to violence. As a society we must stop laying all the responsibility for keeping safe on women. There are things that B&NES Council can and should do. We should make our public spaces safer with improved lighting and CCTV provision and we must keep monitoring progress”.
Cllr Sally Davis, Conservative ward councillor for Clutton and Farmborough, said: “I am pleased to see this motion brought to Council, though I would of course prefer to live in a world in which it would not be deemed necessary.
“The fight for equal rights and fairness for women has a long and proud history. Yet despite many successes there is still, evidently, a lot of work to be done to ensure women and girls, and other more vulnerable members of our society, feel safe in public places.
“On behalf of the Conservative Group, I applaud this motion and the spirit of cross-party unity in which it was written.”
Cllr Karen Walker, Independent Group ward councillor for Peasedown, said: “The cross-party group of women came together to share their own experiences and to help understand the need to support others. Woman should not have to change the way they are to stop sexual harassment in any shape or form.
“B&NES Council and other organisations should work together to provide better street lightning and CCTV cameras. We shall continue to monitor any actions and push if we feel that safety measures are taking too long to be addressed, as stated in the motion before Council.”
Cllr Joanna Wright, Green Party ward councillor for Lambridge, said: “The Green Party supports this motion, as we recognise the level of violence that surrounds many in daily life is not acceptable.
“All sections of society need to call out violence against women and against any human being whatever their gender. We have to keep asking the question, what kind of world do we want to live in, how do we make sure it is fair and safe for everyone to go about their daily lives? This motion is an opportunity for all of us to call out violence, harassment and intimidation.”
The motion requests the principle of championing the right of women and girls to be protected from violence and harassment in public places be embedded in all Council strategies going forward.
It supports schemes such as ‘Ask Angela’ and calls on licensed businesses to participate and to take active steps to ensure harassment and sexual intimidation is taken seriously.
It also calls on Council departments, and other public bodies, to improve the security of public spaces and asks that schools, colleges, universities and youth organisations renew their efforts to promote a ‘safety and respect for all’ agenda among their students.