‘It provides comfort’: SafeWalk program launches in northeast Edmonton

Two community organizations are collaborating to provide a new pilot program to help women in northeast Edmonton feel comfortable walking, taking transit, or going to the playground with their children.

The SafeWalk program will pair Muslim, Black, and racialized women and girls with a volunteer buddy to ensure they feel comfortable as they go about their day-to-day tasks.

Run by Sisters Dialogue, a grassroots organization seeking to support Muslim women after several recent attacks, and the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues (EFCL), the summer pilot program is starting in the Banner and Fraser neighbourhoods.

In January, a Muslim woman and her kids were attacked outside a mosque, while last year several incidents were reported to police, including when a different Muslim woman was thrown to the ground by a stranger.

After hearing of those incidents, and others not reported, Aisha Ali, a Sisters Dialogue board member, said the organization wanted to find a way to allow women to feel comfortable going out and not needing to be on pins and needles.

“Constantly being hypervigilant is living in a constant state of stress,” Ali said. “It’s not good for our quality of life. I don’t want to live like this, and yet, I have to.”

“So we were able to collaborate with the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues to create this program that is run by the community, for the community,” she added.

The program received a $35,000 grant from the city to help cover the costs of volunteer training, logistics, and IT infrastructure. Each participating buddy must undergo a criminal record check before being paired up.

“Safewalk is about women being able to connect with people in their own community to get safe spaces and also to be able to walk through their neighbourhood, transit, go to the playground with their kids, and have an ally beside them,” said Laura Cunningham-Shpeley, EFCL executive director.

“We want these people to feel safe walking together,” she added. “But really what we want to do is build relationships. We really want to build good conversations in the community.”

Ali hopes SafeWalk is only a short-term solution to fill an urgent gap for help.

“(It) enables other community members who are not as vulnerable to take initiative and learn about how they can support their other community members,” Ali added. “But the real long-term solution comes from our municipal leaders prioritizing the safety of the inhabitants of Edmonton.”

“What I would like to see is for every single member of our community of Edmonton at large to feel safe enough to practise their daily life tasks,” she said. “To feel safe enough to go to their workplace without feeling hypervigilant that they are going to be harmed in doing so.”

While El Alia Hanena lives downtown, she told CTV News Edmonton that she would use it whenever she was in the city’s northeast, and hopes the regions it services expands.

“It provides comfort, for sure,” Hanena said. “Walking together and knowing about each other, that makes us close to each other. That way it can make it comfortable for everyone.”

The program has 10 trained volunteers and is accepting further applications. Once the pilot ends, Sisters Dialogue and the EFCL will reassess the need.

Lina Chinchilla volunteered with the program as soon as she heard about it.

“I can walk around freely and I want other women to also feel the same way I do,” Chinchilla said.

For more information, visit Edmonton SafeWalk’s website.   

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Amanda Anderson

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