As the summer heat settles in and the sun stays up longer in the sky, there’s a very social feeling in the air – people want to head outside more, see friends and family more, move between venues and groups more, and stay out late more. But not everyone has the same worries and concerns when they do.

According to chilling results from the NSW government’s Safer Cities Survey Report, published in 2023, nearly half (42 per cent) of women feel unsafe most or all of the time in public spaces after dark, compared to 17 per cent of men. And nine out of 10 women said they consider whether they feel safe when travelling and identified ways they change their behaviour – choosing a different route, taking the long way home or staying home altogether – while men were more likely to prioritise convenience over safety.

“These findings are really interesting to me,” says Dr Hannah Tonkin, NSW Women’s Safety Commissioner. “We know that feeling safe or unsafe really impacts our behaviour, and the Safer Cities Survey showed that this is particularly true for women and gender diverse people. We would really like to understand what’s happening.”

The team wants to know why women and gender-diverse people feel safe or unsafe out in public – and you can make sure your voice is heard, thanks to a new crowdsourced map where women and gender diverse people can submit their experiences of feeling safe or unsafe.

As part of its $30 million Safer Cities program , the NSW Government has partnered with Monash University’s XYX Lab to bring the YourGround research project to NSW. The multi-award-winning urban design project first ran in Victoria during the pandemic, and is designed to fill a gap in the evidence base – to tell the government why women are feeling safe or unsafe.

“There’s very little information out there about the very particular ways women negotiate public space,” says Dr. Nicole Kalms, director of XYX Lab and project lead of YourGround NSW. “[That’s because] when women have a bad experience, they don’t go to the police. If they did, they would be at the police station all the time.” Instead, she says, women manage things like sexual harassment and their ability to safely move through public spaces in their own way.

When faced with issues around accessibility, lighting, maintenance or mobile phone service, for example, women will often take another route instead of reporting it. This is a problem, because when it comes to designing safer public spaces, architects, politicians and local communities usually look at crime statistics, the census or other localised safety information – places where the female experience won’t appear if things are left unreported.

“There’s a massive data gap,” Kalms says.

YourGround aims to fill that gap in NSW by gathering stories directly from women and gender diverse people. The YourGround website lets visitors pin a spot on the map and write a short summary of their experience in public spaces across NSW. Locations can be tagged with prompts like “feels isolated,” “mobile phone coverage is poor” and “it’s hard to find my way around.” Then, the team turns that information into data sets.

“Data is what funding bodies and politicians care about. It’s an evidence base. If you’ve got proof that there’s an issue that needs to be funded or managed, you can ask for money,” Kalms says.

In the Victorian research project, some of the insights were surprising. “Less than 1 per cent of women mentioned that CCTV made them feel safe,” says Kalms. “And one of the craziest things was how many women bought dogs so they can feel safer when they’re exercising.”

According to Kalms, people generally feel safe when an area has good lighting (not too dark or bright), as well as the “activation” of spaces: other people being in the area and using it, especially other women. “People walking their dogs, well-maintained footpaths, and accessibility are all important.”

When submissions close in February, the XYX Lab team will turn the findings into a report, which will be publicly available and shared with government agencies – and hopefully used to help improve perceptions of safety in the state’s public spaces.

So if you find yourself changing your route, make a note, and pin a spot on the website’s map – hopefully you might return to see the problem solved.

This article was produced by Broadsheet in partnership with XYX Lab. The Your Ground NSW project is open for submissions from now until February 2024 – pin a spot. YourGround NSW is part of the $30 million Safer Cities program, a partnership between the NSW Government, Monash University's XYX Lab and digital consultancy CrowdSpot.