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“Councils spend more on dog waste than teenage girls”

Make Space for Girls wants councils to stop and consider whether girls are using the skateparks and MUGAs they’re building – and say it’s a breach of the Equality Act if they don’t

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Too many play spaces are taken over by boys, says charity Make Space for Girls. iStock
Too many play spaces are taken over by boys, says charity Make Space for Girls. iStock

I t was after reading Caroline Criado-Perez’s book Invisible Women that former TV producer and author Susannah Walker began noticing how the public spaces in her hometown of Frome were dominated by teenage boys.

 

“We have a skatepark, we have a BMX track and a MUGA (multi-use games area) and that’s it,” says Walker in her interview for The Developer Podcast. “I was mindboggled that I hadn’t noticed before and I have a teenage daughter, so this really matters to me.”

 

Walker went to the council, but their response was that they didn’t see the equipment as being for either for boys or girls. But while the equipment isn’t sex specific, estimates put the usage of youth spaces at 80% boys, 20% girls.

 

 

Listen to the interview

 

 

“That seems to be the problem,” Walker says, because if the council actually collected data on usage, they would see that these spaces are only serving teenage boys.

 

“Nobody is actually stopping and going, hang on a second, we’re going to build another skate park. Who is using these skate parks?”

 

Walker approached her friend, Imogen Clark, and their discussions became the campaigning charity Make Space for Girls, which calls for facilities and public spaces for teenage girls because “girls are never asked what they might want and most councils have spent more on facilities for dog waste than they have for teenage girls.”

 

As a lawyer, Clark is familiar with the use of the Equality Act 2010 in cases of discrimination, and a provision called the Public Sector Equality Duty.

 

“Nobody is actually stopping and going, hang on a second, we’re going to build another skate park. Who is using these skate parks?”

“That’s a duty that’s been knocking around in the field of gender law for quite a long time,” says Clark, who gave up law to work in the community and voluntary sector and is currently chair of Age UK London and a Trustee of Hackney Foodbank.

 

“The duty is imposed on every public authority to [consider] the ways in which they can reduce or eliminate unlawful discrimination and to promote the position of disadvantaged groups,” says Clark.

 

“What this means in the context of teenage play provision is that, if you take the time to look, you see that teenage girls are not using the provision as much as teenage boys.

 

“The most important step of all is to ask girls what they want from the places in which they live”

“There’s a very obvious disadvantage. Public authorities who are commissioning parks need to stop and think. I’ve got a disadvantaged group, are there ways that I can reduce that disadvantage? The Public Sector Equality Duty means you do have to stop and think about it”

 

Make Space for Girls is also collecting research and case studies to make the case for gender mainstreaming in public space and cites case studies from Vienna, Barcelona and Malmö as inspiration for how urban design can be shaped with and for girls.

 

One takeaway from our conversation is that spaces that are carved up into smaller areas with multiple entrances and exits make it harder for boys to take over. For example, a few scattered skatepark elements might be more inclusive than one big bowl with a fence and a single gate.

 

“But the key recommendation is always that these schemes should be taken as inspiration rather than a template because the most important step of all is to ask girls what they want from the places in which they live,” their website states.

 

Clark sees a lack of recognition that gender can play a role in public space. “There seems to be a complete inability to see gender as an issue. They see disability as an issue in play provision, but not gender.”

 

“The importance is to notice it and measure it in the first place.”

 

Imogen Clark, lawyer and co-founder of Make Space for Girls, will be speaking at Festival of Place: Gender Equal Cities on 7 June. Buy tickets here

 

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