Cities through a 'gender lens'

Edited on 10/04/2024

Lots to do for our new GenderedLandscape network!

Despite the leaps and bounds made over the past century, there is still a long way to go to achieve global gender equality. Inequality still impacts the way women and girls travel, work, play and live in urban environments.” 

URBACT's Gender Equal Cities report


Why is urban development a gender issue?


Gender is everywhere, even if we do not always see it or take it into account in our decisions. Women and men simply use the city and its services differently. This makes gender a significant – and often neglected – factor in the equitable design and delivery of public spaces and services.


Cities as public organisations have an extremely important role to play in creating conditions for gender equality. In order to do this, however, there needs to be a holistic understanding of how gender inequality is created by the combination of specific local conditions, including social norms, political and administrative structures, and the built space itself.


Awareness of the need to take gender aspects into account in the design of certain public services seems to have grown in recent years. Belatedly, there is more appreciation of how fear of violence can unequally restrict urban mobility or how needs in terms of public amenities differ between genders. But this is only scratching the surface of the many gender issues at play in cities. Let’s look at a couple of illustrative examples.


There are crucial gender dimensions to the topic of affordable housing, for example. The cumulative effect of labour market segregation, increased frequency of part-time work and lower wages overall is less available income for housing during women’s lives. Put simply: while affordable housing crises affect everyone, they affect women more on average.


And have you ever considered the gender dimension of waste management planning? In general, women take a more proactive approach to recycling and waste reduction than men. Taking a gendered perspective into account can therefore lead to changes in the way we design waste management services and help move cities closer to their ecological goals. Including gender-sensitivity into the design and location of recycling bins or the design of recycling publicity campaigns, for example, are concrete steps towards reducing the gap in recycling between the genders and increase recycling overall. After all, there are plenty of consumer campaigns that sell the same goods to men and women in different ways – why not recycling? 


Gender blind urban planning


The starting point for creating public services that are user-sensitive and promote inclusion is being aware of and taking into consideration the experiences of different groups, as well as an understanding of how gendered power structures affect the way women and men feel about, use, and access the city.


The physical structures of the city and public service design can work towards ensuring equal rights and opportunities for a diverse range of groups, but only when these are a visible, conscious part of the planning process. Urban planning which doesn’t consider gender is called ‘gender blind’.


At the city and regional levels, much service planning is currently gender blind - it simply fails to consider the different needs or structural barriers facing different genders. This is despite the fact that gender equality has been a fundamental tenet of EU policy since the 1990s and has been explicitly included in the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda.


Furthermore, where methods are in place for working with gender equality, they are often based on inappropriate ‘one size fits all’ approaches. However, gender sensitive policies should not just be about “ticking boxes” or increasing the number of women without consideration of ther qualitative and substantive contribution. Rather, they should take careful consideration of the local policy framework, administrative structures, and degrees of openness to the topic of gender as a first step towards authentic, if incremental, progress.


Another risk of 'one size fits all' approaches is that polices become based on the experiences of a subset of the population in question. However, in reality, the barriers people face are as diverse as they themselves are. This means that an intersectional approach – one which respects the complexities of persons who belong to multiple disadvantaged groups simultaneously, such as women of colour or women with disabilities – can help to increase the inclusivity and effectiveness of gender-sensitive policies even further.


Finally, cities should be cautious of the fallacy that technical solutions to municipal challenges, especially those which include big data, are inherently gender neutral. The advent of big data and smart cities – whilst promising more efficiency – also brings increased risks of algorithms which build gender blindness or even (unintended) gender discrimination into the planning system. A lack of consideration of gender, whilst using big data sets to tweak existing service design and delivery, can lead to services are less and less attractive and accessible for women and minorities - as this recent book explores in detail.


URBACT leads the way towards Gender Equal Cities

URBACT worked in partnership with CEMR in 2019 to deliver new understanding and fresh thinking to the topic of gender equal cities.

Visit our Knowledge Hub to find ten actions that cities can take towards gender equality, an overview of what makes a gender equal city and a number of video testimonials from important voices in the ongoing campaign for gender equality in Europe. Illustrated by case studies from across Europe, the Gender Equal Cities reports highlights where and how cities can act in terms of:

  • representation and participation;
  • governance;
  • economic equality;
  • public services;
  • planning and public space; and
  • migrant integration.



Exploring the Gendered Landscape


These are precisely the complexities and challenges that the new URBACT Action Planning Network ‘GenderedLandscape’ will tackle. The network, which kicked off its Phase One activities in 2019, will focus on two topics: increasing the visibility of the gendered perspective in integrated urban development and the local contextualisation and interpretation of tools and approaches for reducing gender inequality in urban policy and development.



To do this, the network will employ the URBACT method, taking an integrated and participative approach to urban challenges with a focus on transnational exchange and learning. Co-learning and peer exchange on the network level will be translated into integrated action plans on the local level and contribute to capacity building among city administrators.

The seven partners will explore both the global and local expressions of gendered power structures and use knowledge gained at the local level to inform and improve policy instruments on the global level.


The URBACT GenderedLandscape Network kicked off on 10 & 11 October 2019 in Umea, Sweden.


We are excited to begin this journey together! You can keep up with our network’s and URBACT’s work on gender equality by following the hashtags #genderequalcities and @GenderedLandsc1 or by subscribing to URBACT’s newsletter.

Submitted by Mary Dellenbaugh on 05/03/2020
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Mary Dellenbaugh

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