Now that days are getting shorter, sufficient public lighting is something most of us have to count on.
The streetlights by the sidewalk might be taken for granted but when walking in an area where a lightbulb is broken or flickering, many of us get an unnerving feeling. Good public lighting makes people feel safe and can help to reduce the risk of gender-based harassment and violence. For instance, Google Maps is currently trying to develop a “lighting layer” feature to increase the safety of users.
In a survey conducted in the United Kingdom in 2019, people were asked if they ever felt in danger walking alone at night and 46% of women responded “always” or “often” compared to 10% of men (unfortunately, the research only viewed gender as binary). Women and members of the LGBTQIA+Lesbian (L), Gay (G), Bisexual (B), Trans (T), Queer (Q), Intersex (I), Asexual (A), + denotes an umbrella term used by 'marginalized sexual and gender diverse people whose gender, gender expression, or sexual identity do not conform to cis-gender or hetero-dominant gender identity'. This acronym is intersectional by virtue of its nature as well as non-exhaustive and inclusive (as denoted by the +). Over the years, the + has been understood as encompassing Questioning (Q), Two-spirit (TS), or Pansexual (P). In other words, this term represents fluid (non-conforming) notions of gender identity and sexual orientation supposedly transgressing the binary constructs of our society (male v. female and heterosexual v. homosexual).close community usually feel less safe in a public environment than most cis-heterosexual men (especially when it is dark outside) and often have to adjust their schedule, ways of transportation and daily routines bearing that safety aspect in mind. For instance, by not wearing earplugs to register all nearby sounds.
Public lighting is one way to enhance the feeling of safety and can help prevent crime and violence. Research examining the influence of different environments on sexual harassment in Bogota, Los Angeles, Manila, and Stockholm found that poor lighting was significantly associated with sexual harassment. Parks are also a good example of places that many can relate to as being enjoyable and safe during the day but become after nightfall places that many avoid because of the darkness and insecurity. Given that women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community are more prone to sexual harassment and gender-based violence, it comes without a surprise that they tend to be more concerned about lighting conditions than men, which has a great impact on their perceived safety and curtails their freedom of movement.
Public lighting is a serious issue when it comes to sanitation and hygiene facilities as well, especially in closed areas. For instance in refugee camps, lights by these facilities are often limited or completely off at night. This restricts women, girls and members of the LGBTQIA+ community from using the facilities during the darker hours both because they (understandably) perceive the unlit areas as unsafe and because they experience threat or abuse in these areas after it gets dark.
A study of public services in Bawana and Bhalswa, impoverished areas in New Delhi, also found that women and girls have reported instances of groping in the event of an electricity failure. In these areas, people rely on community toilets and in the case of a power-out women and girls have reported that they control the urge to use the toilets and do not leave their homes out of fear of being attacked by men in the darkness on their way to or from the facilities. The failure to provide adequate public lighting both reinforces feelings of insecurity for specific individuals and allows others to act in impunity, protected by darkness, effectively intensifying the unsafe climate.
Public lighting is a gender issue and shows the importance of considering different gender identities in urban planning in order to create a more inclusive and safe environment where the realities and experiences of everyone are valued.