City-bound migration as a phenomenon has been observed for centuries, with a decisive increase in the wake of the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century. Nowadays, major economic, social, political, and cultural developments originate in cities, making them the beating heart of many modern civilisation. More than half of the world’s population currently lives in urban areas, and the World Bank estimates this will rise to nearly 70% by 2050. In the context of the inevitable growth and adaptation of urban spaces to the needs of its inhabitants, it is crucial to consider city planning from a gendered perspective.
Historically, male-designed and male-centric paradigms of urban planning have dominated the construction of cities. These urban spaces cater to the needs of men and reinforce patriarchal norms, thereby failing to consider the unique challenges faced by women and girls in the city. Although many of these needs are shared by women, the way they are transposed into urban reality betrays a lack of understanding for the hurdles women face everyday. By doing so, they perpetuate patterns of exclusion which entrench socio-economic inequality and limit women’s participation in urban life on the same footing as men.
To understand how gender can influence urban planning, it is necessary to consider the gendered needs that citizens face when navigating the city, and how these can be taken into account when designing urban spaces. For example, in patriarchal societies, women are often tasked with care of children, seniors and the home. This directly impacts women’s mobility patterns, who often merge duties related to paid and unpaid work in complex commutes, which require adequate public transportation in terms of both construction and costs. Navigating the city with children or elderly persons also poses questions of infrastructural accessibility. Furthermore, women in cities live with the constant threat of gendered violence, both verbal and physical. This leads them to avoid areas such as parks, public spaces lacking proper lighting, and isolated stretches of road. Braving a dimly lit road lined by bars or clubs past midnight is a completely different endeavour for a man, a woman, or a LGBTQ+Lesbian (L), Gay (G), Bisexual (B), Trans (T), Queer (Q), Intersex (I), Asexual (A), + denotes an umbrella term used by 'marginalised sexual and gender diverse people whose gender, gender expression, or sexual identity do not conform to cis-gender or hetero-dominant gender identity'. This acronym is intersectional by virtue of its nature as well as non-exhaustive and inclusive (as denoted by the +). Over the years, the + has been understood as encompassing Questioning (Q), Two-spirit (TS), or Pansexual (P). In other words, this term represents fluid (non-conforming) notions of gender identity and sexual orientation supposedly transgressing the binary constructs of our society (male v. female and heterosexual v. homosexual).close individual, especially when we know that these groups are more at risk of sexual harassment and gender-based violence. Enhancing road illumination and including women in city planning can help with this.
These considerations open the way for a new perspective on urban planning, known as feminist urbanism. This critical approach seeks to create urban spaces that meet the needs of every member of society, including those groups marginalised on the basis of gender, class, age, disability, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic. Feminist urbanism focuses on fostering inclusion by ensuring that women and minorities can navigate public spaces safely, efficiently, and autonomously. It is a holistic approach that goes beyond merely practical considerations of road planning or infrastructure, building to embrace the full exercise of fundamental rights by every member of society. With its focus on inclusivity, sustainability, and human rights, it represents a valuable tool for the pressing demands of the cities of tomorrow.