Strong Policies on Women’s Safety are Good for Business

Does your local bar have a Tinder policy?brickyard

Tell the owner about Brickyard Bar in St. Albans, United Kingdom. This bar encourages women to alert bar staff if their dates make them feel unsafe or if they receive unwanted attention from other customers. The sign posted in the women’s washroom reads ‘Your safety and happiness is our highest priority.’ Not surprisingly, support for this policy has reverberated across the Atlantic.

A social media post from YWCA Toronto, my workplace, featured an image of the policy. It went viral. Ten thousand ‘liked’ and shared it on Facebook and Twitter. Women commented: “More bars should do this.” “Where was this when I needed it?” “Which bar was this posted at – I would love to support them!” My colleague had the unenviable task of informing followers that the bar is not local. But our shared hope is that this policy will be replicated by businesses in Toronto and beyond.

Sexual violence and harassment – and the misogyny that underpins them – remain pervasive in our society. Consent is our law, but it is not out culture. Many hold deep-rooted attitudes and behaviours that perpetuate sexual violence. And there continues to be a focus on “what did she do, wear, say or act like?” Rather than “what is consent and why do some men harass and assault women?”

The Ontario government’s Who Will You Help campaign on bystander intervention has strong support from all parties in the Legislature and from the public. The ad campaign is powerful because it touches on very real and recognizable scenarios where sexual harassment and violence can occur, including at bars, restaurants and clubs. It encourages individuals to intervene safely and effectively. We all have a role in preventing sexual violence and harassment – including businesses.

Some are already doing this work. At my local bar, the owner encourages customers to tell her if we experience harassment so she can intervene. Making that policy visible is an additional step that can – and should – be taken to create safer and more welcoming environments for customers, especially women.

And not only customers need safety and support. Equally important is the treatment of women workers who dominate the service industry. CBC Marketplace recently profiled hypersexualized dress codes at Canada’s top restaurant chains. I loved the response from Union 613, a restaurant in Ottawa, which made headlines when male servers donned miniskirts and high heels to highlight the sexist double standard. Women workers should not be forced to dress provocatively at work.

Given the precarious nature of most service jobs –temporary or part-time, no benefits or sick time – workers are vulnerable to reprisals if they speak out or push for changes. We must all advocate for fair employment practices and strategies to end precarious employment.

Kudos to the team at Brickyard Bar for improving women’s safety. The phenomenal support they have received should signal to Canadian counterparts that strong policies on women’s safety are good for business. My only advice: move the sign to a location where everyone can read and heed it!

Etana Cain is the Senior Advocacy and Communications Officer at YWCA Toronto