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07/03/2018

IWD: It's time for gender-inclusive planning

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The planning and design of urban space and infrastructure is rooted in women's exclusion from public space, says Jill Wood. Change is necessary - and will be good for everyone

Gender equality and public planning do not necessarily appear to go hand in hand.

However, this stems from the way in which our planning systems have developed. In reality, women experience and navigate public space very differently from men. This is due to a host of gendered issues and inequalities that shape patterns of movement, the use of different public services and buildings, participation in public and domestic spheres, drivers of the gender pay gap, and women’s lack of safety and security.

Despite this, planning models have historically catered to the needs of the male breadwinner. This means that design of urban space and infrastructure is rooted in women’s exclusion from public life and continues to overlook their needs. As we mark International Women’s Day 2018, it is still the case that women are marginalised in the public sphere and face inequality and discrimination in myriad ways.

Women still undertake the lion’s share of unpaid care work (worth billions of pounds to the national economy), earn on average £182.90 less per week than men, and violence against women and girls – including domestic abuse and sexual violence – is endemic in the UK.

"Delivery of land-use projects, including office, retail and housing developments, health and childcare facilities, parks, and entertainment venues, should systematically take these gendered realities into account"

None of these issues are, or should be, divorced from the management of public space in our cities, towns and rural areas. For instance, employment opportunities – especially those that are well-paid – tend to be distant from residential areas and the services and amenities that women access for caring and household management roles. This limits women’s access to the labour market and creates time poverty for the many women who make up the part-time workforce and are juggling paid and unpaid work.

Safety and lighting are key issues for women, and inaccessible streets and public buildings, and inadequate public toilets, prevent disabled women, carers and mothers of young children from accessing public spaces. The requirements of minority ethnic women, older women, pregnant women, rural women and women on low incomes also form part of this picture.

Delivery of land-use projects, including office, retail and housing developments, health and childcare facilities, parks, and entertainment venues, should systematically take these gendered realities into account, and recognise the impact of location, cost, and facilities on women’s social and economic equality. Women are often at the heart of community or regeneration initiatives to improve their built environments, but gender equality concerns are primarily absent from statutory planning processes.

So, what can be done? The UK is already a signatory to the United Nations New Urban Agenda, which commits to cities that are designed to achieve gender equality. National planning frameworks and policy should therefore embed gender equality as a key design standard in regulations and guidance.

At all levels, from the national to the community, planning initiatives should include measures to enable women’s equal participation and to ensure that a diversity of perspectives are included. To facilitate this, government should also support women’s employment in built environment professions and work to improve knowledge around gender-inclusive planning.

Jill Wood is policy analyst for Engender, which campaigns for women’s equality in Scotland

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