Why do we need Make Space for Girls?

When it comes to parks, the needs of young people are seen as homogenous.

…. provision for young people is taken to include the following types of provision: multi-use games areas (MUGAs); skate parks; basketball courts; youth shelters; informal kickabout areas; and BMX tracks. [City council planning document]

  • Does this reflect what you see in your local parks?
  • Are the needs of young people homogenous?
  • How often have you seen girls and young women using the skate park or BMX track in your local park?
  • How regularly do you see groups of girls throwing some hoops or having an informal kick around on the MUGA?

…a survey in Nottingham showed that 90% of users of a skate park were boys and young men…

…The Greater London Authority notes that research shows that MUGAs are used less by girls than boys…

… research in the US has shown that living near a park makes it more likely that a teenage girl will do exercise…..but living near a skate park actually lowered the amount of exercise taken.

Hiding in plain site is the uncomfortable truth that park spaces designed for young people predominantly attract boys and young men while they put off girls and young women.

Is this deliberate? No, local councils, town planners, those who design public spaces don’t set out to create spaces that aren’t welcoming to girls and young women… but this is what is happening.

Why aren’t the spaces welcoming to girls and young women?

The answers aren’t simple:

  • Part of the problem lies in the design of the areas: evidence shows that boys tend to dominate where there are single large spaces; girls fare better with more broken up spaces.
  • Part of the problem lies what is put in the space eg design of seating: boys like to watch the action when they are sitting out, girls like to face each other as they talk.
  • Part of the problems lie in the design of the surroundings; narrow entrances; trees and bushes blocking sight lines make girls feel unsafe.

But perhaps the biggest part of the problem is that no one asks girls and young women what would encourage them to use parks more.

(and yes, ok there are sometimes behavioural issues, with boys simply not wanting to have girls in “their space”)

Why does it matter?

Fairness – We want our parks to be welcoming to girls and boys.

Health – The activity patterns that we set when we are in our teens can be set for life. From age 10, activity levels drop significantly in girls, until by 13-15, only 8% of girls are meeting activity guidelines.

Safety- spaces that are designed to encourage girls as well as boys will be safer places for everyone.

It’s the law- the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty means that councils and providers of park spaces have to think about how to encourage girls to use these facilities.

What can be done about it?

Improve existing spaces to make them more welcoming to girls.

Find interventions that will limit the way that boys exclude girls from these spaces.

Ask girls what they want and provide facilities which they are interested in and will use. 

Before anything is designed or built, look at it through the lens of equality and the right to play. 

Not a single more skate park or MUGA should be built without an equalities assessment which looks at the impact of gender, and not one more play strategy written without consideration of what girls might want from public space. 

Boys have dominated the landscape for too long and it’s time we made space for girls.

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