UN Women UK executive director Claire Barnett tells Access about the Safe Spaces Now initiative with S&C Productions’ Strawberries & Creem (cap. 10,000) that was set up to tackle harassment at festivals and make spaces safe for women and marginalised groups. The two organisations co-signed an open letter to the industry which invited music industry leaders, artists, companies, venues, performers and promoters to take action. So far it has been signed by the likes of Glastonbury co-organiser Emily Eavis, The Eden Project in Cornwall, mobile ticketing company Dice and musicians such as Ellie Goulding and Sophie Ellis-Bextor. 

How is UN Women UK working alongside S&C to help solve the issue of women’s safety at events?

We are excited to have partnered with Strawberries & Creem as our first ever festival partner, rallying the music industry together to ask for commitments to tangible changes in the design of their events, and the behaviour within them. This ranges from engaging artists and performers in helping promote a safer and more inclusive code of conduct, to trained Guardian Angel volunteers and a safe space where people can come to get help if anything happens to them.

Why did you launch the campaign and what is it calling for?

We have been recruiting Safe Spaces Now partners since 2017 and launched the public campaign at the start of 2020. It’s the only project that is working to transform public spaces with the holistic approach we know is necessary – centering the community in the design of solutions, then working to rapidly pilot, test and implement these solutions – from nightlife to transport. The project has three phases: source, solve and scale. The first was sourcing the data, stories and ideas to shed light on the problem. The second is using these ideas to change spaces, working with partners, and the third is scaling these solutions using the best available tech solutions and embedding change in legislation.

When we launched, planning a tour around the UK working with local partners to transform their spaces, we of course didn’t expect to go into a public lockdown in March. But the pandemic has given us a really important opportunity to do two things: prove that mass, public behavioural change is possible to achieve, really quickly, when we all prioritise the safety of others; and to give us a moment to reflect on what our expectations are in public spaces, and challenge the reality of sexual harassment that we’ve come to accept.

Now lockdown is over, and live music is back, we have a really important opportunity to make this transition more consciously than before. That’s why we brought thousands of women, girls and marginalised people from across the UK together in workshops to design practical solutions to make our spaces safer, from nightclub bathrooms to training for staff.

Over 7 in 10 women in the UK told us this year that they have been sexually harassed. This number rises steeply among young women, where YouGov found that over 40% of under 40s who go to festivals say they have been sexually harassed there. The huge majority of women aren’t reporting these experiences, with many saying this is because they don’t believe it will change anything. We have also all heard the stories of women musicians, artists, and professionals within the music industry talking about abuses of power and status with them as the target. We need to be seeing commitments to change now – that’s what this campaign with Strawberries & Creem has been all about.

“In 2022, we want to see all the major music festivals in the UK implementing Safe Spaces Now measures”

What progress has been made? 

The momentum we’ve seen build behind the Safe Spaces Now project is really exciting. We’ve never seen anything like this level of public interest in changing public spaces for the better. But it can only work if we all step up and take part. We’re looking for people to be part of designing and testing the solutions, to write to their local transport providers and music venues and ask them to sign up to this project, to share their stories and come along to events to volunteer as Guardian Angels, and to donate to help us deliver this work.

So far the response has been really exciting. We’re so pleased that organisations like Glastonbury are leading the way in pledging to make a difference, and we hope that more will continue to join the campaign – we’ve already had a number of other organisations sign our pledge, and we’re working with them on what their activations will look like, to make sure that they make tangible changes happen. I’m really proud of our team and community that they could design solutions, stretch and build the ideas, and then actually see them in action with partners like Strawberries & Creem, in less than a year. It shows the power of what we can do if we focus our efforts on change and get the right people around the table.

What’s the next step of the campaign? 

What we need now is to ensure that this is a movement for change and not just a moment – in 2022, we want to see all the major music festivals in the UK implementing Safe Spaces Now measures. The public is calling for these changes, so it makes a lot of sense for festivals and venues to show their support by making their return to live events safer. We’ll be bringing the industry together with Strawberries & Creem over the coming months to get those commitments on the table.

Do you hope to work with other festivals/events?  

We’re now in conversations with several festivals who are looking at implementing our measures for the 2022 cycle. We also want to think broader than popular music – there’s an issue across the music and entertainment industry and our vision is for all live events across the UK to be actively addressing the risk of sexual harassment happening in their space. We also want to see artists signing up to make their tours ‘Safe Spaces Now events’, and ask each of the venues to implement these measures.

What do you think the wider events industry can do to help tackle the issue of women’s safety at events?

I think we need to start by seeing safety of workers as well as fans as a basic human right, and committing to zero tolerance on exploitation of women artists. Then, we want as many festivals, clubs, labels, studios, artist managers to sign this open letter alongside the artists, so that we can speak to them about what their own commitments will look like. How are they going to redesign their space and the expectations of their audiences so that their first post-lockdown events are safer? We need people who wield power within the industry to use that power for good.

All people deserve to feel safe at live events, whatever their gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, accessibility needs, or identity. Enough women and marginalised people have raised their voices this year that we can see this is no longer optional, it’s a minimum standard. So we need organisations and individuals to start seeing gender equality as a powerful lever in making the UK events industry even better, even more vibrant and inclusive – not a problem to be solved, but part of the solution.

What has the response been like from the events industry?

The levels of interest from the events industry have been good, though less so than from festivals specifically. Events have a huge role to play in establishing safer environments and practices – whether they’re hosted within cities or build their own event space, there’s a lot that we would suggest to them. We want to make sure that the interest in Safe Spaces Now this year is followed up by action – we’d encourage anyone who runs events and wants to take a proactive approach to making sure they are safe and inclusive, to reach out to us and discuss how they can help lead the industry in becoming safer for the long term.

The Safe Spaces Now pledge can be found here.