Sexism and the City: Looking for Potential Catalysts for Change

And The City | Hagar Abiri

Listen to the related podcast: Sexism and the City by And the City.

50.8% of the world’s population are women and girls but this number does not have the corresponding weight when it comes to public space planning, a discipline that is still dominated by men. Women are under-represented at all levels of government, with less than 15% of mayors worldwide and up to 36% of representatives on European councils and in regional assemblies.[1] This article aims to review and articulate the problems, as well as the potential catalysts for change, while pointing out the advantages of equality for all public space users and suggesting ways to introduce equality into existing urban infrastructures.

Statistics show that the majority of victims of violence are men (victimized by other men). In cities where data is available, for example in the Netherlands, it shows that most violent crimes take place in the street.[2] At the same time, the victims of sexual violence are mostly women. “In a multi-country study from the Middle East and North Africa, between 40 and 60 per cent of women said they had ever experienced street-based sexual harassment (mainly sexual comments, stalking/following, or staring/ogling), and 31 per cent to 64 per cent of men said they had ever carried out such acts.”[3]

Equality is not a woman-only problem. Looking broadly at the accompanying effects, the phenomenon of inequality in the city, and in general, affects society as a whole. Inequality in the city includes other minorities in society such as disabled people who struggle with physical infrastructure barriers and people facing cultural-based discrimination based on skin color or religious and sexual affiliations, about half of whom are also women. Equality also refers to a sense of security for all. When it comes to street violence, the chance that a member of the aforementioned minorities will be physically attacked by a woman is very low to non-existent. So, the base assumption is that a public space occupied by many/only women is a safer space for everyone.

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[2] Fewer women than men fall victim to violence. “Approximately half of all violent crimes committed against men are street crimes; among female crime victims, 43 percent of crimes are street crimes.”
[3] Facts and figures: Ending violence against women /
[4] Women made up 49% of the overall workforce but accounted for 55% of job losses in April. After a Full Month of Business Closures, Women Were Hit Hardest by April’s Job Losses / Claire Ewing-Nelson
[5] Why do occupations dominated by women pay less? How ‘female-typical’ work tasks and working time arrangements affect the gender wage gap among higher education graduates / Kathrin Leuze and Susanne Strauß
[6] Why Americans Are More Likely to Work for a Large Employer, in 20 Charts / Wall Street Journal
[7] Childcare in the workplace / Tracy Trautner, Michigan State University, Sep 14, 2016
[8] Why do occupations dominated by women pay less? How ‘female-typical’ work tasks and working time arrangements affect the gender wage gap among higher education graduates / Kathrin Leuze and Susanne Strauß
[9] Blaming the Victim / William Ryan 1972 Random House, Inc, NY, US
[10] The History of Women’s Public Toilets in Britain / Claudia Elphick, Historic UK,
[11] Toilet-sharing “app” Airpnp highlights lack of public bathrooms in Warsaw / Notes from Poland,, Sep 15 2020
[13] Public Transportation: Rethinking Concepts and Theories
[14] Understanding Urban Travel Behaviour by Gender for Efficient and Equitable Transport Policies / Wei-Shiuen Ng and Ashley Acker, International Transport Forum, Paris, France
[15] Shedding NHTS Light on the Use Of “Little Vehicles” in Urban Areas / Kavin J. Krizek, Nancy McGuckin
[16] Umfangreiche Studie: E-Scooter-Nutzung in Deutschland / Michaela Vogel, Brandwatch