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Feminists question Leeds’ Women Friendly City initiative

By George Arkley

A new initiative to make Leeds a Women Friendly City has received a mixed response from feminists.

The Women Friendly City initiative aims to make Leeds a place where the rights of women and girls are protected and promoted, with decisions being made taking into consideration the impact on women – including relating to employment, economic development, health, wellbeing, education and safety.

The initiative is being launched by Women’s Lives Leeds (WLL), which received £50,000 funding from Comic Relief’s Power Up campaign earlier this October.

It will make Leeds the first such Women Friendly City in the country.

However, feminists across the UK continue to question the initiative.

Karen Ingala Smith, chief executive of the women’s support charity, nia, and who is from Yorkshire, branded the campaign a “joke” on Twitter.

Nik Peasgood, the chief executive of WLL, told Yorkshire Voice: “It is easy to be offensive on social media and to listen to those with loud views.”

She added: “We want to get gender back on the agenda. Women are disadvantaged in many ways to men, including mental health, self-harm and domestic violence.”

Women’s Lives Leeds hopes women and girls will be empowered to lead safer and healthier lives.

Ms Peasgood added: “It’s unrealistic to say no woman will never be hurt again. However, we can put structures in place to support them.”

Over 700 campaigns worldwide bid for Comic Relief’s funding, and WLL is one of seven that received it.

A local feminist, Tilly Brogan, and writer for Leeds’ Human Rights Journal, described the campaign as “Utopian.”

She said: “I don’t think you can ever have a Women Friendly City because bad things are always going to happen. However, if you don’t take this step, then what else are you going to do?”

The new initiative attracted criticism particularly in relation to Leeds’ legalised red-light zone.

Karen Ingala Smith tweeted: “You cannot have sex equality where you have prostitution.”

Many Twitter users agreed with Smith’s opposition to the campaign.

Cerys Bell, a member of Leeds University Feminist Society, said: “While Leeds still has the red-light district, it cannot be a woman friendly city.”

She added: “The initiative does not address the structures in place that prevent Leeds, and other UK cities, from being ‘woman-friendly.’”

The Women Friendly City initiative will be officially launched on International Women’s Day, March 8, next year.

The initiative is still in the early stages and more information will be released this December.

What do you think?