Sex & The City: Gender Equality in Urban Planning

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused setbacks all over the world, however, as restrictions are slowly lifting, a new light has been shone upon the inequalities within cities, which were already present, and has exacerbated them; capturing a wider segment of the population.

One of the most eye-opening inequalities is the widened gap in gender inequality. With working from home having become the norm for many, coupled with the added burden of home-schooling and childcare, this has put a strain on many families who have had to adjust to juggling both of these simultaneously. Studies have shown women were more likely to take on the role of becoming carer during the pandemic lockdowns, whilst men would continue the working role. This resulted in an increased gap in ‘workplace’ equality. The closure of public transport additionally made it difficult for women during the lockdown. Women are much more dependent on public transport than men—especially in the case of single-parent families—as, due to financial reasons, they are less likely to have a car. In countries where mobility restrictions have been tightened, public transport has been reduced, or even eliminated. This makes life more difficult for women who depend on these services and need to travel to perform everyday activities (work, doctor’s visits, shopping, etc.). There is increasing evidence to suggest that cities are experienced in different ways by both men and women and this is something which The Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP) has been researching for a while, trying to find ways to ‘reinvent planning’ (Farmer et al, 2006) by making it more inclusive. Suddenly, many feel out of place in their own cities, with a sense of vague fear and distrust of the other people we meet on the street. It seems that the limits imposed by COVID-19 have enabled others to understand how some women may feel within a public space. Whilst there has been a significant increase in the number of female architects, planners, geographers and politicians in recent years, male norms still guide the planning and functioning of cities. Cities are largely designed, planned, built and administrated by men for men, often shaping places/spaces in ways that it may appear are negative for women, for example, small alleyways that are poorly lit or not big enough for prams, as well as inadequate lighting in designated public spaces.

Not all inequalities within the built environment are gender based and, consequently, not all women experience the same inequalities. A study carried out by the RTPI explored the ways in which the planning system can address the challenges experienced by women in the built environment, with the outcome from respondents partaking being to adopt the view that we need to plan for everyone, with everyone being in mind - not just women. The pandemic has shone a light on the ways in which the city can positively be reinvented through planning to change this, ultimately tackling multiple issues at once.