Words: Sophie Goodwin-Hannam (she/her)
Content Warning: This article includes references to gender based violence and sexual assault.
As a young girl preparing to move to a big city for the first time, I was terrified. And with good reason: Glasgow has the third-highest number of domestic violence reports in Scotland, with women accounting for 81% of victims; and the city wasn’t the sole reason for my stress. University can be a dangerous and vulnerable place for any young person. In 2018 it was recorded that 62% of all UK students and recent graduates experienced some form of sexual violence during their studies. In short, I was shitting myself and didn’t know what I could do to protect myself against an inevitable part of uni culture.
Whilst scrolling through TikTok I came across a video about Urban Angels. Founded in 2021, UA has groups in 13 cities across the UK, offering a community that aims to protect women and non-binary people who have, so far, been left unprotected. I spoke to Daniella Gatti and Mia Hardie, admins for UA Glasgow, about their involvement in the community. I began by asking what inspired them to join:
‘As an international student, I was honestly a little worried about coming to a new city in a foreign country … When I saw there was the Urban Angels community that focuses on providing a safe environment, I knew that I wanted to join. I found that the values of the group were not only something that resonated with me but also was important in the day-to-day.’ UA produces a ‘sisterhood’ that looks out for one another and is popular with those navigating a new environment. The sentiment relayed in response to my question mirrored this exact ethos. I wanted to know more about the qualities of the community that resonated so well with so many of its members. Daniella explained that its key values surrounded ‘Community, integrity and trust, empathy, inclusion and fun.’ She adds: ‘These values all characterise UA, as we aim to have a thriving group that is not only a safe space for the bigger topics, but also a place for us all to communicate and enjoy both intellectual and chill socials like our coffee mornings.’
Having a space that allows women and non-binary people to share advice on how to stay safe in a city is essential. When asking Daniella and Mia their thoughts on the safety of Glasgow, they explained: ‘While there have been improvements in certain aspects of safety, the issue prevails. On a case-to-case basis, you would see that gender-based violence is an issue that still very much exists.’ According to Open Access Government UK, 97% of women between 18-24 have experienced sexual harassment; 96% chose not to report their experiences due to the belief that it would not result in any justice.
Safe spaces, such as UA, supplement this missing support and unite vulnerable members of society. Considering the current climate of gender-based discrimination, I asked Daniella and Mia to describe what UA attempts to create in their communities. They stated that they aim to ‘Provide a safe environment for discussion, provide a metaphorical shoulder to cry on, anonymous reporting which allows judgement-free expression and make a community that facilitates making new friends.’ This is reflected in the UA friendship applications, allowing people to connect with like-minded individuals and establish connections within their area. Daniella continues: ‘In my opinion, the most effective part of UA is that it provides a judgement-free place for people to express their worries, hardships and even their achievements, which is a welcome thing to have in our current society.’
In short, I feel very strongly that UA’s work is incredibly important and aims to challenge the stigma behind gender discrimination. Though still in its early stages, UA has established itself through its strong communities, charitable work and activism. To close I asked what Daniella and Mia’s favourite experiences were whilst being a part of this group, wanting to highlight the successes of UA and its ability to impact the lives of those it reaches. ‘Honestly, there have been so many amazing experiences, as the community is so encouraging and inclusive. However, I would have to say our club night with the Glasgow Charity Fashion Show was one of my favourites, as we were able to raise funds for Glasgow Clyde Rape Crisis while enjoying a safer club night with female and non-binary DJs.’ Events such as these have the capability to impact the lives of everyone involved. Meeting new friends, feeling free from judgement and providing one of the few chances for women and non-binary people to be unconditionally themselves are all things I’m sure UA will continue to promote.