For many women, the precautions taken while walking home alone at night are second nature – the cold ridge of key between your knuckles, that quick “home in five” text you send to your flatmate. And there’s a good chance your male friends, family members and colleagues have no idea that you modify your behaviour on a daily basis.
But a new campaign – launched by Plan International Australia in partnership with media agency Cummins & Partners – aims to give men firsthand experience of what it’s like for women to walk alone at night, and prompts them to think about what they can do to make women feel safer.
The Walk Like A Woman campaign is centred around a 60-second soundscape available on YouTube (and soon to be launched on Spotify). Aimed specifically at men, the immersive recording captures the tension and vigilance many women feel as they make their way home alone in the dark. The track illustrates how men’s behaviours can be frightening, even threatening – from running past someone without warning to catcalling. Further tracks offer listeners tips of things they can do to make women feel safer.
The idea came about organically, says Kara Brumfit, senior integration manager at Cummins & Partners. “We were having a discussion in the office one day, and one of the boys was talking about a podcast he listened to as he walked home at night, and we [his female colleagues] said, ‘Oh, we would never listen to anything while we walked home – we wouldn’t want to be seen having headphones in.’ Off the back of that, we had an idea to create a campaign around educating men on things they could do to make women feel safer.”
The campaign is timely. Women’s safety in public spaces at night has been pushed into the national discourse following the tragic attacks on 22-year-old Eurydice Dixon and 21-year-old Aiia Maasarwe, both of whom were raped and murdered on their way home in Melbourne within six months of each other.
Walk Like A Woman joins a host of other initiatives – such as [women’s ride-sharing service Shebah and Adelaide Fringe show The Maze – that have helped raise awareness about the daily threat of violence against women in Australia.
Plan International Australia has also collaborated with Monash University on mapping where young women feel least safe in Sydney and Melbourne. Women were asked to plot their positive and negative experiences for the digital map Free to Be; 90 per cent of Sydney respondents reported feeling unsafe at night in the CBD.
Many responses to the deaths of Dixon and Maasarwe focused on how women can modify their behaviour to avoid violence, rather than asking what can be done to prevent the attacks from happening in the first place – a position that accepts violence against women as an inevitable reality.
Awareness is just one step towards changing the narrative. “We know that we’re not going to be stopping any violence,” says Brumfit. Instead, Walk Like A Woman is aimed at men “who are doing things unintentionally and how they can make small changes that will do a little bit of good.”
Tips for men travelling at night include not running directly past women, maintaining distance from lone women on public transport, and crossing the street or texting to help reassure women that they aren’t being watched or followed.
The campaign encourages men to share the Spotify track and the accompanying tips with their friends to broaden the conversation. As Brumfit puts it, “we want to shift the behaviour so that both parties are doing things to make women feel that bit safer at night – not just women alone.”