As a woman, stepping into public spaces can feel dicey. You clutch your keys a little tighter, your strides get faster, and your eyes scan for dark corners and shady characters. An ever-present wariness permeates your mind.
But not all women feel the same apprehension. Our personal identities shape our experiences in profound ways. As the saying goes, “women’s issues are intersectional issues.”
An Indigenous woman may feel unwelcome in a gentrified neighborhood. A disabled woman may struggle to access spaces without ramps. A trans woman may fear violence stemming from prejudice.
These realities underscore why an intersectional approach is crucial when addressing women’s safety in public spaces.
Intersectionality recognizes that aspects of our identity like race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status, and ability do not exist in isolation. These elements combine to create lived experiences marked by overlapping systems of privilege and oppression.
For instance, women of color disproportionately experience harassment and assault compared to white women. Immigrant women face heightened vulnerabilities. Accessibility barriers multiply dangers for disabled women.
Without an intentional intersectional approach, well-meaning safety initiatives may overlook, or even exacerbate, the challenges facing women from marginalized communities.
So how can cities cultivate an intersectional ethos?
First, decision-makers must engage meaningfully with diverse groups of women to understand their place-based concerns. Invite them to the planning table, survey their transit habits, learn their stories.
Secondly, data collection and reporting should capture demographic nuances so trends can be analyzed across race, income, neighborhood, ability, and other axes.
Finally, safety strategies must respond directly to the needs voiced by women facing compounded risks. This means addressing racial profiling and over-policing alongside infrastructure upgrades and call boxes.
At its heart, intersectionality demands we see the multiplicity of women’s truths. It expands our notion of “women’s issues” to be inclusive of all who identify as women, in all their humanity.
In public spaces, as in society at large, our fates are intertwined. An investment in the dignity and security of the most marginalized women lifts us all. The paths forward must be walked side-by-side.