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Sarah Lewis: Are we creating gender sensitive environments?

Sarah Lewis, MRTPI is the Planning Practice Officer at the RTPI

Five years ago, when my family were house hunting, we inadvertently stumbled upon the perfect demonstration of how differently men and women use space.

After considering the essentials of price and number of bedrooms, my partner would look at the distance to the nearest tube station to get to work. I would look at the route to the nearest nursery, then the nearest primary school, then the nearest tube station to get to work (whilst keeping half an eye out for local secondary schools and safe walking routes around the area ready for when my daughters were older and able to venture out independently).

Whilst I am certainly not suggesting that this is a scenario that all women experience, it is my experience, and an everyday example of women making plans, calculations and decision making about the places they live.

Women in Planning Part II - one year on

Today is International Women’s Day, which marks a year on from our ‘Women and Planning (Part II) research, and two years since Women and Planning (Part I).

Using qualitative data from 52 planners working across sectors and from around the world, the research gained an in-depth understanding of the success and failure to implement planning policies sensitive to gender specific needs in urban environments. The results suggested that gender mainstreaming has not been effectively implemented as a means of integrating the needs of women and men equally into spatial planning.

The research also found that the integration of a gender dimension into spatial policy making has been held back by a host of different factors. These include systemic inadequacies of both the education and planning systems, resulting in gender inequalities going largely undiscussed and hidden from view.

The conclusion was unfortunately as expected of a fragmented approach to planning for women. This has “implications for the way women are represented through the plan, policy and decision stages of projects and the outcomes that are achieved on the ground.”

The conclusion of the report called for the creation of practical advice on implementing gender mainstreaming measures. This will be the next step for the RTPI. As part of our practice advice series, we will publish advice on women and town planning later in the year. It will highlight the issues, the impact of the built environment on women and how they live and the opportunities they have, working within the existing legislative structure in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland. The advice will identify the techniques and tools available to mainstream gender equality within town planning.

“Successful developments, which have included gender specific needs in their design, need to be celebrated and shared as an example, to encourage and educate others in doing the same.”

The advice will come nearly twenty years after the RTPI published the Gender Mainstreaming Toolkit and will build on that work amongst more recent initiatives.

In order to do this successfully, we need to identify real world examples of where effective gender mainstreaming has taken place. The advice will need to show what can/should/must happen at a range of scales, and within a range of activities – from policy, to plan, through partnership, in consultation to individual schemes – in order to demonstrate the impacts on the ground and how they are making positive differences to women’s lives.

Many respondents in Women and Planning (Part II) advocated for the celebration of best practice examples of equality; showcasing women, workplaces and projects that are taking positive steps to achieve gender equality in the workplace, profession and in the built environment saying, “Successful developments, which have included gender specific needs in their design, need to be celebrated and shared as an example, to encourage and educate others in doing the same.”

Case studies and examples

Vienna is the most frequently cited example of a gender equal city, but I would like to hear about other examples, from around the world and in the UK. For example, how 20-minute neighbourhoods are being used to create better places for women, the impact of high street renewal, public transport integration, design of open space, children’s facilities and equal access to housing and employment.

In the years since the RTPI last published advice on gender our understanding of gender identities has changed and continues to evolve and though this blog reflects that more historic understanding of gender our new work must reflect that to create places that work for everyone.

I would really appreciate input from our members of successful case studies for inclusion in the advice. Please get in touch by 30 April 2022 with your examples at [email protected] I look forward to hearing from you.

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