Gender Equality. It is the fifth of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly. Its full title is: “Achieve gender equality by empowering women and girls”. Target 1 of this goal is to “end all forms of discrimination against women and girls everywhere”.
Discriminations against women and girls are numerous in society and interfere in various forms in many areas of our societies. The most everyday form of this discrimination is perhaps the inequality of safe access to public spaces. Two major sources of inequality between men and women in public space can be distinguished. The first is an urban planning that is not designed and attractive to women, and the second is women’s feeling of insecurity in public space. These two issues represent discrimination against women on a daily scale and will be discussed below.
Taking gender into account in urban policies is a very recent phenomenon, and still not very developed yet. The city of Vienna has been a pioneer in this respect, as in the 90’s it has been the first to think about urban planning through the gender perspective and the inequalities linked to it. Men are the main users of the city, and in particular of its recreational facilities. Among the most popular sports in clubs, men often represent a large majority of members and women a very small minority. This inequality is caused and accentuated by the allocation of budgets by competent public authorities. Facilities such as football fields, city stadiums and skate parks, which are in fact mainly used by men, also often represent a clear majority of public sports facilities expenses. Similarly, studies of the use of common areas in school playgrounds show that very often the space is largely occupied by boys playing sports, especially football. As a result, girls are forced to use a limited space at the bordlines of the playground. As a result, the rhythms of women’s and men’s lives in the public space remain different, although it may not automatically appear. Public policies, through their choices of facilities, funding and actions, can legitimize discriminatory practices against girls and women in public space and thus maintain unequal access to these spaces. Public authorities thus have big responsibilities in that domain.
The insecurity felt by women in public space is also a daily problem and a vector of profound inequalities. This problem affects women in many ways. A 2021 Fundamental Rights Agency’s report of an EU-wide study shows that 83% of women aged 16-29 either avoid being alone in certain places, going to certain streets or neighborhoods, or getting isolated with another person. This is nearly 30% more than men in the same age category who were asked the same question. This problem of women’s insecurity has a very concrete impact on women’s movements. This insecurity mainly affects young women, who are also the most vulnerable in public space. Statistically, these women rarely travel at night, and prefer to use private or privatized transport such as cabs rather than public transport, bicycles or walking because of the risk of violence, insults and intimidation. Lighting policies, the location of bus stops, the quality of signage, the provision of recreational facilities and toilets are all factors that can either penalize women or encourage more equal use of public spaces. UN Women is a United Nations organization committed to advancing women’s human rights and ensuring that every woman and girl can realize her full potential in life. In a press release on their website in 2010, the association listed the safety needs of women in public spaces : (https://www.endvawnow.org/en/articles/251-conception-et-amnagement-despacespublics-srs-pour-les-femmes-et-les-filles.html).
Thus, these two issues are still factors that hinder gender equality today, and many actions are still to be taken, both locally and globally, in order to make public space less discriminating for women and thus more equal. To do this, it is important to first understand these inequalities as well as women’s needs regarding these situations by conducting local surveys, and then to act on them through public investments. It’s a gender equity issue.