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2012 National Women's Conference
20 October 2011

In London 1684-1694 there was an important innovation. This was in the form of public street lighting and was part of a movement across Europe. It was an important innovation because it enabled business, leisure time and daily life to go beyond the confines of daylight hours which was previously bound by a curfew. Having street lighting meant that study could be expanded into the evening, businesses benefited as opening hours could be later, jobs were formed and people felt safer. There were also more arenas for leisure activities as well as more convenient for daily life. Another hidden benefit was that people saw the city in a different yet beautiful way and meant that this space was accessible to the general public not just in daylight hours.

Since that time street lighting has been a significant confidence boost to women who walk or travel out in the evening and night. Perceptions of safety and security are improved where women can see about them, enabling them to identify danger areas and hazards.

Conference is disturbed to know that many local authorities have decided or are considering cutting street lighting in order to cut energy bills and costs. So far:

Essex 91,000 lights off

Suffolk 40,000 lights off

Norfolk 27,000 lights off from midnight to 5.30am

North Yorkshire 30,000 lights off at midnight

Somerset switching off lights in 14 villages between midnight and 5.30am

Nottinghamshire all lights to be dimmed or switched off

West Sussex In towns, most lights dimmed after midnight, most rural lights switched off after midnight

Dorset thousands of lights to be switched off

Cutting street lighting has a significant impact on women’s perceptions of safety; darkness limits women’s willingness to venture outside of the home, limiting women’s life style and choices.

In particular, those with sight problems like night blindness or retinitis pigmentosa will have additional problems, which may leave them isolated and unable to be outside of their homes after dark.

Those women who may be particularly vulnerable to assaults and hate crimes on the streets may well feel that in reality they are subject to a darkness curfew.

In addition, mothers will have increased anxiety over their loved ones being out socialising, walking or travelling home in complete darkness, vulnerable to accident or assault, without lights to guide them home to safety.

One of the benefits of CCTV has been an increase in perceptions of safety for women walking on the streets at night. Reduced or eliminated lighting will dramatically reduce the effectiveness of CCTV.

In decision making local authorities are obliged to consider equalities issues in their deliberations; to make real considerations of the impact of their decisions and whether reducing or eliminating street lighting will adversely impact on women. Equality Impact Assessments have to be real and substantial pieces of work, requiring consultation and meaningful dialogue with stakeholders. Yet where EIA’s have been undertaken on turning off street lights they have concluded no adverse gender impact.

Women at a local level need to be armed with the tools to challenge the cuts in both services and funding on Gender Equality grounds. This includes making sure that public authorities abide by their legal requirements to equality impact assess the effects of their cuts.

Conference is concerned that turning the lights off is a backward step and that this cost cutting strategy further isolates women and limits their lifestyle and choices.

Conference instructs the National Women’s Committee to:

1)Actively promote the need for branches to challenge local authorities proposals to cut or reduce street lighting

2)To work with other interested groups to research or collate information on the impact of these street lighting decisions on women

3)To report back to women’s conference in 2013