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It's time to see the difference

Gender inequality
Equality underpins sustainable placemaking and should be at the heart of good planning, argues Carole-Anne Davies.

“Places shape the way we live our lives, the opportunities we have to get a paid job, how easy it is to get to school, or hospital or keep in touch with friends and relatives. Environments reinforce identity, but can also alienate and discriminate. Planning policies influence the lives of women and men in different ways... Gender is the most fundamental organising feature of society, affecting our lives from the moment we are born. Gender mainstreaming recognises diversity between genders, as well as remembering that gender cuts across other kinds of differences, ethnicity, class, disability and age.”

This extract from the RTPI’s 2003 Gender Equality and Plan Making toolkit (PDF) recognises the double bind of gender inequality. It has done more work since, but I select this quote because while the statistics are overwhelming, they don’t often reveal this double discrimination. 

Women start from the back. We’ll often be higher qualified but less frequently promoted; we’ll find it harder to maintain a career and a family, let alone the social whirl of the career circuit. We are still a boardroom and leadership minority – less visible, even when highly successful. We are still too rare in senior positions in the construction industries. 

“The equalities lens is vital for good, sustainable place-making and policy, and sits at the heart of good planning”

Add to this being female and black or Asian / gay / single / disabled / over 45, or otherwise visibly different. And women and girls are also the group most at risk of personal attack or assault in public spaces – globally. This is the ‘cut across’ that makes gender inequality such a critical element to address in all professions, in political and corporate leadership and civil society. 

The equalities lens is vital for good, sustainable place-making and policy, and sits at the heart of good planning. Many professional bodies have taken action, but we must accelerate the pace of change to ensure the greater visibility of women and to inject more balanced, inclusive perspectives in policy and decision-making, as well as the economic development priorities that accompany them.

The safety and economic regeneration of public spaces needs this wider perspective to better address the needs of us all. Our transport and infrastructure, the nature of economic development opportunities, neighbourhoods, connections and public space must all address this entrenched inequality. Women are planners, too – and investors, project managers, clients, developers and consultants. 

Above all, women are primary end users, using public transport and public spaces, and accessing health, education, cultural and social services far more than men. It’s time to plan accordingly. 

Carole-Anne Davies is chief executive of the Design Commission for Wales



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