Edmonton hosting UN forum to promote safe public spaces

A forum being held in Edmonton is connecting 25 countries, in an effort to make public spaces safer for everyone. The city is co-hosting the Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces Global Leaders Forum alongside United Nations Women.

The City of Edmonton’s Jackie Ford said approximately 250 representatives will be sharing best practices on how to create safe public spaces for women and girls.

LISTEN BELOW: Edmonton hosting forum focusing on safe public spaces

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“We all have a reasonable expectation that we will be safe when we are out in public,” Ford said. “That includes when you’re walking down the street, when you’re in the river valley park system, when you’re on public transit.”

The forum is designed to give municipalities tools to improve safety.

“For the most part people, particularly women and girls, can walk down the street and feel safe. However, more often than we would like to think about, they are not,” Ford said. “They are being cat-called, sexually harassed and in, some cases, sexual violence occurs.”

Ford said each city has a different focus on the work it’s doing.

“In Edmonton, we did a scoping study and learned the points we needed to work on, including public transportation,” Ford said.

“Women and girls don’t feel as safe as we would like them to feel. We also know reporting sexual harassment and violence in public spaces is [lower] than we would like it to be.”

Ford said the city is working to create a culture where people know harassment will not be tolerated.

READ MORE: Beefed-up security presence coming to Edmonton transit stations

“There are ways to intervene when you see someone who appears to be unsafe while in a public space, something as simple as saying ‘are you OK?’ That will quite often diffuse the situation,” Ford said. “Never underestimate your ability to help someone.”

She also acknowledged the work that needs to be done when it comes to the safety of Indigenous women and girls.

“The final thing we learned is that Indigenous women and girls are the most likely to experience sexual violence and harassment in public spaces. We need to do more work on that. We can’t leave anyone behind.”

Ford said the city is also looking at technology as a tool to curb harassment.

READ MORE: Edmonton police, city maintain transit is safe in spite of violent attacks

“We’re talking specifically about transit. There are places in the world where there are apps [that you can report harassment or violence with] right on the spot. So it helps track where incidents take place so we can increase police presence. It can also trigger a 911 call.”

Edmonton is one of 28 cities in the program and the second city in Canada to join.

“We will be listening and seeing what the best practices are from around the world and then bringing that back to our city.”

Ford said a safe city for women and girls is a safe space for everyone.

“That is the litmus test. If [that can happen] than everyone is going to be OK.”

There will be a panel discussion open to the public on Oct. 15 at the University of Alberta to discuss these issues. The forum runs Oct. 16 to Oct. 19.

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