Why London needs a gender lens
As part of the City of London’s 2015-2019 strategic plan, Council made the decision to include a gender lens within the document. Specifically, the Strategic Plan says that the city must “consider a gender lens during the development and execution of new policies”.
We applaud all the City Councillors who voted in favour of including the gender lens. We would also like to recognize our women City Councillors who spoke up eloquently about the need for a gender perspective at city hall.
What is a gender lens?
Many people often assume that when we talk about a gender lens, we are talking exclusively about women. In reality we are examining how people of all genders and gender expressions are affected by policy, programs or decisions, and how we can make our city more inclusive and accessible for everyone.
The gender lens is also a framework that naturally lends itself well to intersectionality. When we are exploring the needs of our community based on a gender, we can easily dive into cross sections of the population that include racialized, Aboriginal, newcomer, low-income, queer, disabled and elder men and women.
Why is the gender lens important?
Women are often not as included in decision making processes that affect them. Women are statistically underrepresented in municipal government and women who carry any combination of an intersectional identity (a woman who also identifies as Aboriginal or having a disability) are even more underrepresented.
Using a gender lens is a commitment to looking at the ways that diverse men and women use and are impacted by policies and practices of our city. It’s a great tool to ensure our city is accessible to everyone, and again, intersectionality is a critical component to that lens.
The gender lens does not assume that all women or all men experience their cities in the same way. It does not privilege one kind of user over another. Instead, it uses data and statistics to explore how different people use services such as park space, transit, recreation facilities and the downtown area differently. It asks that the city engage and accommodate people and groups who aren’t always easily included, so that we can ensure our City’s decisions work as well as they can for everyone.
The gender lens in action: improving transit
Recently, Women and Politics partnered with the City of London’s SHIFT initiative to host an event on how women use transit. We invited women from the community to come out and hear more about the city’s rapid transit initiative, while also sharing their perspectives on barriers to accessing and using transit. We heard a variety of issues ranging from mobility concerns for those with unseen and seen disabilities, sexual and physical harassment on buses, women feeling unsafe at transit stops, challenges using transit with kids and difficulty getting to jobs, particularly in outlying areas of the city.
What was apparent by the end of the night was that women’s experiences on transit are diverse and often dependent on other aspects of their identities (race, age, mobility, sexual orientation, income, and parenting.)
There are specific issues that women are more likely to face when using transit, compared to men. This doesn’t mean rapid transit should be designed only with women’s needs in mind, but it does mean that women’s needs have to be heard and identified; otherwise they go unnoticed and unmet.
Looking at transit from a gender lens means that we acknowledge that men are more likely to go from point A to point B when taking transit, while women multi-trip (meaning they make multiple stops along the way). Rapid transit should reflect both of these forms of use and using a gender lens allows us to see these differences and address them.
Making positive change
We know from looking at many decades of social equity research and work in the community, that social change happens when we are courageous enough to acknowledge that we aren’t there yet and bold enough to take steps to change the system. Inequities exist. Women, particularly marginalized women, still experience higher levels of violence, income insecurity and have more precarious health. They are more likely to take transit, avoid cycling, and access child care.
Much of this occurs because systems and institutions (governments, businesses, education systems) don’t acknowledge that inequities and gender differences exist. These institutions also don’t acknowledge the vital role they have in the creation and sustainability of gender based inequities. By acknowledging that there are differences, the city can work to systematically change these issues.
The addition of a gender lens to the London Plan is the City’s acknowledgement that differences do exist and is the first step towards positive change. It also reflects the City’s commitment to an overall diversity and inclusion strategy – one that will make London a better, safer, more inclusive place for everyone.