Vienna’s reputation for gender-sensitive planning precedes it, having been one of the first cities to actively look to consider social gender roles across multiple areas of policy and urban planning – issues that most people wouldn’t associate with any gendered difference. This process is called ‘gender mainstreaming’, and for Vienna, it kicked off in the 1990s after city planners organised a photography exhibit depicting women’s everyday lives and travel patterns around the city. The photos drew attention from politicians and the public to women’s concerns over safety and travel.
In the 1990s, Vienna began to identify the gaps in data relating to how gender might affect public space usage, including studying how different groups were using space and transport differently. For example, officials noticed that after age 9, girls had almost entirely disappeared from parks. Rather than assuming that girls were not interested in sport, detailed surveys discovered that it was the presence of only one large space in parks that was driving them out – a space dominated by boys playing football, leaving the girls feeling like they couldn’t compete for space.
When paths were used to break up the space, and alternative activities added, park usage by girls shot up to almost parity with boys. Shifting away from prescriptive problem solving and towards exploring the lived experience of the people in the area – especially marginalised groups – was key for achieving inclusivity.
Another data gap closed after Viennese officials asked citizens to complete a questionnaire on how they used public transport. Most of the men finished the questionnaire almost immediately, while women “couldn’t stop writing”. While men reported travelling twice a day to commute to and from work, women used a greater variety of transport methods and made long strings of trips in a web centred around home – combining paid work, care work, shopping and other errands. Public transport and fare structures at the time were not geared toward this style of travel, so women’s time, money, and productivity suffered.
This is a familiar problem across the world, where the disproportionate time costs of care and running errands (disproportionately falling on women) led to women’s reduced participation in the labour market, be that working part-time or turning down better-paid work due to infeasible commute lengths – perpetuating gendered income inequality.
Crucially, this realised difference was deemed important, resulting in action to re-evaluate the city’s long-term approach to urban planning and shifting the focus to improving accessibility, safety and ease of movement.
So, how was transport inequality addressed?