Urban Spaces and How They Exclude Women

Like anything in life, excluding women, or indeed any group, from a conversation about something in society that directly affects them produces biased, unrepresentative results that do not reflect the full truth or experiences of every group in society.

Urban planning is no exception to this rule; excluding women from urban planning discussions and processes will result in urban spaces that do not consider the needs of women. And this is the reality for many cities around the world. Below, we will look at how gender inequality and exclusion manifest in cities, and what we can do to improve them.

How Do Cities Exclude Women From Their Infrastructure?

There are a number of ways in which cities can – and do – leave women unaccounted for in their infrastructure. To name a few examples:

  • A lack of ramps or pram accessibility;
  • A lack of baby-changing facilities in public spaces;
  • Ill or dimly-lit pathways render such spaces inaccessible by night;
  • A disproportionately high number of male-focused statues, monuments, and street names around cities, deterring women from joining the fields of politics and science, tech, and math.

The simple reason why this happens is that cities have historically been designed largely by men, for men.

How Can We Combat This?

The first thing we should be striving for in making urban spaces more representative is having a greater representation of women (and vulnerable groups) in urban planning. This means having them at the table when urban planning is taking place. Only a discussion that invites all urban actors of various backgrounds and experiences to participate will pave the way for a more gender-inclusive city.

Specifically, the following things can be done to make cities safer and more inclusive:

  • Increasing the lighting in public areas.
  • Implementing security stations/emergency buttons in public areas.
  • Public transport should be designed around increasing safety, as a principal site of sexual harassment against women.
  • Increasing the number of toilets and baby-changing facilities in public areas.
  • Adding ramps and lifts for pram users and the disabled where possible.

Progress in Chiang Khong

Presently, plans are being put in place to make Chiang Khong a more gender-inclusive city, thanks to UN-Habitat’s initiative, Her City. This initiative will be implemented in Chiang Khong so that vulnerable populations will feel safer and more acknowledged in public spaces.

The Her City initiative has been implemented in more than 350 cities across 100 different countries, guiding urban actors to implement projects that support urban development from a girl’s perspective.

Ultimately, cities whose infrastructure does not meet the needs of women, half the population, and whose urban planning blanks them out of the process altogether, perpetuate gender inequality and suspend women and minority groups in a more vulnerable position to their male counterparts, unable to move freely and unflinchingly around their own cities. That’s why campaigns like Her City are so vital; they are embedding gender equality in the very foundations of our environment, thereby creating an equal world for everyone.

Katie Lestner


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