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Why does gender inclusive urban design matters?

There are still several gaps between policies, practices, intentions, and actions when it comes to the inclusion of gender issues in urban planning and design.

Woman on rock platform viewing the city architecture.

Woman on rock platform viewing the city architecture. / Photo: Pexels

The Woman Post | Luisa Fernanda Báez Toro

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Leer en español: ¿Por qué es importante el diseño urbano inclusivo de género?

According to the World Bank, women occupy only 10% of the most important positions in the world's leading architecture studios, and cities have historically been planned and designed to reflect traditional gender roles and the gender division of labor. That's why cities work better for men than for women.

Everyone has different needs and tends to use public space differently, however, most cities are built for a “neutral” male user, leaving the needs, interests, and habits of women and girls in the cities unattended.

"Most" because, as read on RTVE, since 2017 some cities like Barcelona have been trying to include reforms in their urban policies to “achieve a more just, equal, safe, and barrier-free city”. Improving street lighting, making the most insecure areas more visible or increasing the frequency of intraurban buses in some more isolated areas are some of them.

At the international level, gender policies began to be integrated into public policies following the World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 and strengthened with the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999, but the Handbook for Gender-Inclusive Urban Planning and Design, which promotes planning and design with a gender perspective that actively incorporates the voice of women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities, shows us how there are still several gaps between policies, practices, intentions and actions and how to incorporate the inclusion of gender issues in urban planning and design.

The statistics revealed by the Handbook are very hopeless: in 17 countries, married women cannot travel outside their home in the same way as married men, 104 economies around the world have some form of restriction on women’s work, with about 2.75 billion women denied access to the same opportunities as men, in the US, 1 in 5 transgender people avoided using a public service for fear of harassment, across Europe, 50% of LGBTQ individuals surveyed reported avoiding public spaces because of fear of harassment. 

Also read: Gender violence related to higher risk of death for women

Also, in developing countries, lack of access to and safety of transport reduces the probability of women’s participation in the labor force by 16.5%. In addition, poor lighting, limited “sight lines”, overcrowded transit, deserted areas, enclosed spaces, and other design shortcomings may facilitate violence and also provoke feelings of fear for women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities, especially at night. 

Also, when it comes to land access, nearly 40% of the world’s economies have at least one legal constraint on women’s rights to property and only 37 countries out of 161 have specific laws granting women and men equal rights in land ownership. 

This is why the World Bank Handbook claims that a city that works well for women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities of all ages and abilities, and that therefore supports their economic and social inclusion, is:


1. Accessible: everyone can access the public realm freely, easily, and comfortably to use the spaces and services on offer.
2. Connected: everyone can move around the city safely, easily, and affordably to reach key opportunities and services.
3. Safe: everyone is free from real and perceived danger, in public and private.
4. Healthy: everyone has the opportunity to lead an active lifestyle, free from environmental health risks.
5. Climate Resilient: everyone has the tools and social networks to successfully prepare for, respond to, and cope with climate disasters.
6. Secure: everyone can obtain or access secure housing and land to live, work, and build wealth and agency.

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