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Turning clocks back leaves women in the dark

Shortened days of Standard Time pose a challenge for women
navigating downtown Edmonton after sunset

In the darkness, many women find comfort in walking with their keys between their fingers if needed for defence.  (Theodora MacLeod)

Editor’s notebook
By Theodora MacLeod

WITH WINTER solstice behind us and the the onset of Daylight Time a week away, there’s a collective sigh of relief you might hear if you listen closely. The most relieved demographic? Women, who after the dreary months of darkness, can begin to taste freedom again.

When the world tells you the best prevention of assault is avoiding the dark streets, how are women expected to continue their daily lives with an hour stolen from the end of the day? Small daily tasks like going to the grocery store, or taking public transit become a far bigger challenge when safety is a paramount concern.

In the nooks and crannies of downtown Edmonton, the dark doorways, and dimly lit alleyways, lurk uncertainty for women who dare to step outside after 5 p.m. in January. As darkness sweeps over the city, our senses turn to high alert. The threat isn’t the darkness – though low vitamin D levels aren’t ideal – it’s our fellow citizens. While the risk always exists around us, the darkness makes it impossible to track.

We were told as girls to come in when the sky went grey and the street lamps came on, not to walk alone after nightfall, to protect ourselves and yell “fire” should anyone suspicious approach us. We walk with keys between our fingers, knives tucked away in pockets or purses – just in case – and mini-can of hairspray in lieu of pepper spray ready to fire.

We’ve known the threat of darkness since we were old enough to leave the house alone.

Yet, for half of the year, our days are cut short. This forces us to live in the spaces we were warned against. It’s victim blaming to tell women to avoid the risk, but acknowledging that won’t eradicate the problem.

I have never known anyone who got up an hour early during the winter months to ensure an extra hour of light at the end of the day. More specifically, I have seldom met anyone whose schedule would allow for that. Most of us rise in darkness, travel to work or school in darkness, then watch longingly as the sun begins to rise mid-morning.

A lucky portion of our population will experience some of that light on a lunch break or at the end of an early shift, the luckiest of all have the freedom to rise and set on their own terms.

The rest of us come home in the dark.

From the time the clocks fell back on Nov. 6, 2022, until Jan. 24, 2023, there was not a single day that the sun lasted past 5 p.m. For much of the working public, that gave – at most – an hour after the end of the traditional work day before the envelopment of darkness left us vulnerable to the unknown.

And so, grocery shopping becomes an even more laborious ordeal, and the commute home can spike adrenalin levels.

An interactive Edmonton community safety map, provided by police, shows the number of assaults in the city core in the past 180 days.

Meanwhile the U.S. Senate is about to vote in favour of a bill that would keep the United States on Daylight Time year-round – something that would give many women that hour of light to get home.

No one is raging against the sun in its natural orbit, rather, we are protesting the inconvenience of adjusting time in such a way that disregards any vulnerable population.

According to Edmonton Police Service, incidents of sexual assault increased 15 per cent in 2021. Worse yet is the 71 per cent increase in hate-motivated crimes over the last three years.

Results from the interactive Edmonton Community Safety Map, above, show the alarming number of assaults that have occurred in downtown Edmonton since Jan. 3, 2023. Along Jasper Avenue, from 109th Street to 100th Street, there are 84 listed assaults on the map – in just nine blocks. As one can reasonably assume, the number increases with the area covered. Unfortunately, this data only represents incidents that are reported, and it is a known fact that many crimes against marginalized groups, especially women, go unreported.

Alberta shows little sign of copying the U.S. Senate. A 2021 referendum on the issue saw 50 per cent of voters opposed to the proposition of switching permanently to Daylight Time.

Walking through downtown Edmonton after nightfall is hit or miss. It would have been unfair to assume every passerby was a threat to my safety but, as I was about to photograph the downtown darkness for this article, I found myself nervous about leaving my car. When I finally summoned up the nerve to get out, I scanned my surroundings and stayed within metres of the vehicle.

Before I started driving, living near the downtown meant perfecting a stance of intimidation and a scowl of disinterest. I wasn’t looking for trouble, but as a woman alone at after dark, trouble can find you in the blink of an eye, and it doesn’t hurt to look as if you can give trouble back.

There are thousands of ways society and local infrastructure could be improved to benefit women and increase our safety. Millions of pages have been written to support incentives aimed at uplifting marginalized communities, especially women.

Giving us back an hour at the end of the day is just one and, given some of the other suggestions, it’s an easy adjustment.

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