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‘Let’s make this a great place for girls to grow up’

We’ve been listening to our young people who rightly reject the idea that it is solely the responsibility of women and girls to keep themselves safe

19 November, 2021 — By Sheila Chapman

Sheila Chapman, who is a Labour councillor for Junction ward

ACCORDING to a 2017 study by the National Centre for Social Research that looked at factors like housing costs, crime and the gender pay gap, Islington was found to be the worst borough in the country to be a woman.

I became a local councillor the year after and, while I was tempted to quibble with these findings, it was clear that many women and girls were feeling unsafe, anxious and unfairly treated.

In 2018, for the first time in its history, the borough elected a majority female council. All of us – including our male colleagues – were proud of this achievement and fired up to make Islington the best place for all women and girls to grow up in, live in and grow old in.

We have been working hard ever since to make Islington a safer and more equal place with more opportunities for young girls growing up here.

We’ve increased our investment in our “Violence Against Women and Girls” services. The borough has supported 5,108 survivors in 2020/21, an increase of 56 per cent on the previous year. Our multi-agency approach and new in-house Intimate Partner Violence Service, “Journey to Change”, which supports abusers to change their behaviours and keep survivors safe, has seen a 10 per cent decrease in repeat referrals and better engagement with survivors.

Over 100 pubs, clubs, shops, community buildings and restaurants across the borough, from nail bars to libraries, are part of our Safe Haven Scheme. Safe Havens will offer help, signpost services or call the police or a friend for anyone who feels in danger, threatened or harassed on the street.

Pubs, bars, restaurants, music venues and nightclubs have signed up to Islington’s Women’s Night Safety Charter. The council train staff at these venues to deal effectively with harassment, report issues and promote women’s safety. These venues vow to watch out for and help female patrons while on a night out.

As well as safety on the streets, we’ve been listening to our young people who rightly reject the idea that it is solely the responsibility of women and girls to keep themselves safe.

We are working with schools to make sure that boys and young men are educated on healthy relationships, consent, allyship and toxic masculinity.

We’re very pleased that the development on the former Holloway Women’s Prison will include a 1,500sqm Women’s Building – the first of its kind anywhere in the country – and are hopeful of being able to earmark 5 per cent of the social rent homes (which make up 42 per cent of homes on the site) for women affected by the criminal justice system, in perpetuity, offering a safe, secure, genuinely affordable home for some of the most vulnerable people in our borough.

I’ve been the borough’s Arts’ Champion for two years and I’m proud of the opportunities we’re providing through our 11 by 11 programme for young women. 11 by 11 is a commitment to ensure all children and young people attending a school in Islington have 11 outstanding cultural experiences by Year 11 and our current offer includes coding clubs for girls, music projects focused on building self-confidence through oral expression, singing, songwriting and spoken word and assembly talks, workshops, and performances from female musical artists.

We were really pleased to see the council, as one of the largest employers in the borough, leading by example. In 2020, the council reported that not only does it employ slightly more women than men, but that, on average, it paid women more and had more women earning at the higher pay grades.

There is a long way to go but we remain determined to make Islington the best place to be a woman in the country.


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