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Everyone has the right to feel safe in public space. When people are afraid to be themselves or feel unsafe because of unwanted attention or discriminating behaviour from others, their freedom of movement and bodily integrity are violated. Universal access to safe and inclusive public spaces is a key target of the Sustainable Development Goals. But do we universally agree on what is meant by ‘safety’? The livability of a city depends on everyone feeling safe and welcome. Unfortunately for many people, especially women and girls, street harassment and other forms of violence in public spaces exist around the world, including in the Netherlands.


Designing for public safety

Research has been done to understand safety from a gendered perspective, and the Netherlands is increasingly taking action to make its streets free from catcalling and sexual harassment. The initial response of policymakers has been to criminalise street harassment to increase safety. But who does this make the city safer for? Relying on police and the criminal justice system makes cities less safe for racial minorities. This includes minority women who are often excluded from decision-making processes regarding how and for whom to design public space.

So how do non-white women experience public space? Given the lack of intersectional data on (sexual) harassment in Amsterdam, Fairspace and Studio in Between, a social impact design space focused on research that improves the well-being of Black people in Amsterdam, led one of the Netherlands’ first-ever initiatives that focus on how Black women experience street harassment and what they need to feel safe in public space.

The outcomes of this initiative have been gathered and published in a joint essay for Pakhuis de Zwijger’s Designing Cities For All programme: 18 Perspectives on Designing Cities for All.

In the essay, Studio in Between and Fairspace, share recommendations from Black women on how to make the streets of Amsterdam safer for Black women and women of color:

  • Prioritise community-driven interventions
  • Amplify the voices of Black women who are often left out of conversations and make sure their voices are represented at decision-making level
  • Invest in Black businesses and cultural initiatives
  • Local interventions should be supported by structural changes to end racism and sexism

Read the full essay here.

You can buy the book here.