The University of the West of England (UWE) have been involved in Bristol Zero Tolerance from the beginning and are championing the issue of addressing gender-based violence in Bristol with the University of Bristol and others. We spoke to Professor Jane Harrington, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, to find out what has been implemented and what they are planning for the future.
For Professor Harrington, the Bristol Zero Tolerance initiative was needed because of the attitudes that she saw in students regarding gender-based violence: “I have been shocked by attitudes of students across the sector and was concerned that we had a specific policy to deal with this issue at UWE… In particular I have an interest in seeing that female students and staff have a safe working environment and that there are policies in place to ensure this. We obviously have a focus on students because this is a large issue, particularly around alcohol-related sexual violence and harassment. But it also translates to staff and it is important that staff also have a safe environment. Their home life can impact on the workplace, there is also the relationship of staff to students which needs to be appropriate, and it is also student to student. So we want to work on all of these aspects.”
Professor Harrington is the Senior Lead for Gender at UWE and a member of the Bristol Women’s Commission and it was through this role that she was involved in setting up Bristol Zero Tolerance. “We felt it was the most pressing problem in the city and that we shouldn’t ignore it but should take a stance and not just sign the pledge but take actions, and this was an impetus for us to take action at UWE… I was the Chair of the Transport Sub-Group on the Women’s Commission and the biggest issue with transport is safety, likewise with housing, safety is a huge issue. So it impacts on so many areas. When we look at the percentage of sexual violence and domestic violence in society, it just has to be one of our main priorities, safety has to be a priority, because if we confront that and use it as a baseline then we can tackle the other issues of inequality against women and others.”
‘Safety has to be a priority, because if we confront that and use it as a baseline then we can tackle the other issues of inequality against women and others.’ – Professor Harrington
For UWE, being involved in Bristol Zero Tolerance was important, as gender-based violence was an increasing concern and it was a priority to ensure the right response for students. For Professor Harrington it also “means that we can push in the direction that we were already going more quickly. It sends out a clear public message to students and staff about our values and the actions that we will take if they are not carried out.”
UWE have also joined proactively with the University of Bristol and both student unions as well as with other agencies, such as the Police and Bristol Zero Tolerance, to create the Forum Against Sexual Violence and Harassment, which is a great example of joint working to create change on this issue. The Staff unions are also supportive and they are hoping to work with them further on this issue. Externally, through the Intervention Initiative, they hope to help other universities and further education colleges implement this preventative work to tackle the problems of gender-based violence before they occur. As Professor Harrington notes, “if we can stop sexual violence before it happens, it is better than dealing with the consequences.”
“If we can stop sexual violence before it happens, it is better than dealing with the consequences.” – Professor Harrington
For Professor Harrington, a Zero Tolerance City would mean “that all aspects of sexual violence and harassment are tackled appropriately and people are empowered to take appropriate action and are confident that this action will be supported by the relevant bodies in the city, such as the Police, the universities and other services like The Bridge… I also want women to feel confident that if gender-based violence occurs or they are in fear of it occurring, that there is a place that they can seek help and be confident of this… My vision is that the percentage of domestic violence and sexual violence is diminished dramatically from where it is now and that this is not seen as a daily occurrence – that it rarely happens and is dealt with when it does… I want Bristol to feel a safer city to be a woman in.”
She also has a message for the city leaders in Bristol: “I hope that whoever the elected mayor is after May 2016 that they commit to supporting this initiative and I hope that they see gender-based violence as unacceptable and want to address it, as well as recognising that this doesn’t happen without commitment and funding!”
We can’t disagree with that!