How can boys and men support the ‘Make Space for Girls’ project in Rowntree Park?

A few people have asked how they can be an ‘ally’ of our project to make Rowntree Park more ‘welcoming’ to older girls, so below are some ideas on how you can support.

Our ‘Make Space for Girls’ in Rowntree Park is focused on finding ways to make Rowntree Park more welcoming to older girls. The two main ways we are focusing on at present are:
-Trying to get equipment older girls have asked for 
-Getting more events  activities for older girls (such as the June programme of events)

Read on for why we are doing this, and how boys and men can also be supporters of the project.  

Male Allyship for making the park more welcoming to girls and women.

In general allyship is about trying to understand the barriers women/girls face and respecting that it is everyone’s responsibility to change this. It’s important women/girls feel confident to do activities they want, where they want. Therefore we all have a role to play in helping make this happen.

Why are we focusing on older girls and Rowntree Park?

Research shows that after the age of 8, girls’ use of parks drops. Using parks is good for physical and mental health, so we’d like to try to reverse this trend in our park.  Research, including our own,  shows many girls don’t feel ‘safe’ in the park. Safe can mean physical safety,  but also feeling welcome. Therefore anything we can do to make girls feel safer, and want to be in the park, the better.  The reasons why girls use of parks drops as they get older can be for many reasons including seeing facilities as not being ‘for them’ and dominated by boys, wider societal reasons, not feeling ‘safe’ and many more. 

The organisation/charity ‘Make Space for Girls’,  who have influenced our project,  campaign to raise awareness that when councils build facilities for older children they tend to go with what they know – skateparks, basketball courts, MUGAs, and BMX tracks. However, these facilities are often dominated by boys, and therefore can’t be seen as ‘gender neutral’.  Often  older children’s views aren’t considered when new equipment is built. That’s not to say such facilities aren’t well used by some boys, and girls, it’s just that that there  *may* be other things that more people (including older girls) would use.  Therefore we have engaged with local girls over the last two years to get feedback on if/how they use the park, what they like, and ways it could be improved to encourage them to use it more moving forward. From this research came the two key areas we are focusing on at present – equipment girls asked for and more events and activities aimed at them. 

Equity not just equality.

Equity recognises that each person has a different set of circumstances and the right resources and opportunities need to be given to help them reach an equal outcome. This means that it’s not an ‘equal playing field’ and we need to recognise that less older girls use parks than boys and put things in place to get more older girls using the parks.  The overall aim isn’t separate areas for boys and girls, but along the way we may need events and activities that are girls only, and equipment/areas that are created with older girls in mind and things they want. There is also no ‘blame’ on the boys who use facilities in park, but having boys and men understand the perception of many girls, how they can support to make change happen is important.

Running ‘girls’ only events are also useful for helping build up older girls’ confidence and skills. Many girls state they are fearful of exercising/doing activities in public and some of the reasons given are:
-Don’t like getting red/sweaty and fearing others laughing at them
-Fear being knocked out of the way by others with skills
-Scared of large groups of boys together
-Fear negative comments/banter – makes them uncomfortable
-Fear learning something new in front of others as don’t want any comments

Therefore girls only sessions are a useful way of trying to get some girls involved in new things.  Many girls who learn a skill in a girl only session build up their confidence to do that skill in mixed spaces (eg: skating/ball games).  

Our research found many older boys also wanted what local older girls said they wanted. Therefore many groups would benefit from new equipment aimed at older children. However, openly stating that the equipment is aimed at older girls, and what they asked for, helps encourage the girls to feel ‘welcome’ in the park.  

How to be a male ally for the ‘Make Space for Girls’ in Rowntree Park Project.

Give girls and women the space to share their experiences and concerns. Listen actively, without judgement. Show empathy and aim to try to understand their perspectives. For example, try to understand why some girls may want girl only events and/or why some feel uncomfortable using existing areas aimed at older children in Rowntree Park. Some of the reasons we’ve been told include:
-Comments/banter can make girls uncomfortable, and noticed when they’d rather not be noticed. 
-Fearing being bumped or pushed when doing activities like skating and ball sports. 

Therefore you can help by being aware of your own behaviour in the park and how you use the space – when using equipment/skatepark/basketball court do you take turns with others?  When using the space are you respectful of others? Check in with female friends who may be in the space or want to use the space and ask how you can support them. Don’t comment publicly/draw attention to any mistakes or make comments on the skills/activities/appearance of girls using spaces.

2. Challenge stereotypes/question your own behaviour
Be aware of gender stereotypes and work to challenge them. Avoid generalisations or assumptions about gender roles or abilities. Do talk about perceptions and talk about where these have come from and why it’s important not to stereotype and assume.

3. Educate yourself
Take the time to learn about gender equality, women’s issues, and the challenges girls and women face in various aspects of life. Read books, articles, and listen to podcasts or watch documentaries that provide insights into these topics. 

4. Do not be a bystander
If you feel someone is making a girl/girls feel uncomfortable then call that behaviour out! Sometimes others may not realise they are being sexist or making a girl/woman feel uncomfortable, so let them know.

5.Respect personal space
Keep at a respectable distance.  Don’t walk too closely behind girls, be aware if you are in a big group that it may look intimidating to others. Give girls space if they are using the skatepark/basketball court. 

6.Advocate and support
Recognise girls/women’s achievements – complement great things you see/hear. Share stories of women/girls achievements, and perspectives with others. Make an effort to promote and support what they do/have done. Also doing activities together in areas that may be male dominated is a good way to help support. 

7. Lead by example  
Do ask questions and ask female friends how you can be a good ally. Think about your own behaviour and be an ally in all you do and say and model this for others. Be proud to be an ally and tell others you are!

8. Collaborate and support organisations
Collaborate with organisations that promote gender equality and support the empowerment of girls and women. Volunteer your time, donate resources, or contribute your skills to initiatives that aim to create equal opportunities.

Summary – being an ally is an ongoing process

Being an ally is an ongoing process. It requires continuous self-reflection, trying to understand others perspectives, and a commitment to challenging and changing harmful attitudes and behaviours. By actively supporting and ‘Make Space for Girls’ in Rowntree Park (or any park), you can contribute to a more inclusive and equitable society.

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