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Plan spaces to encourage equal social relations between men and women

Last edited: December 03, 2010

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 A “gendered perspective” occurs when planners, designers, decision-makers and community actors look at problems with the needs of both women and men in mind. In the planning process, this means that all policies and design interventions should be reviewed by women and by officials in order to determine whether or not they will make women’s lives safer and more convenient.

Case Study: Gender-sensitive Park Design, St. Johann Park, Vienna, Austria

St. Johann Park is one of six parks to be designed or redesigned as part of the initiative “Fair Shared City: Gender Mainstreaming Planning Strategy in Vienna”. The objective of this design/redesign project was to ensure that parks were public spaces designed from a gender-sensitive perspective that drew on women’s and girls’ specific safety needs and desires. The project also aimed to promote the incorporation of gender mainstreaming within all levels of city planning (UN-HABITAT, 2008). The evaluations of what design features were needed to make these parks safe and useable public spaces for women and girls helped to establish gender-specific criteria for future planning decisions. Some of these gender-specific criteria include the following:

Sufficient lighting throughout the park and on park trails,

Adequate visibility around the area,

Some play areas close to adjacent to housing to permit social monitoring,

A clear spatial layout of the whole park and play zones,

Multifunctional play areas, i.e. special areas for activities favoured by girls, such as volleyball and badminton,

Hollows in the open field that can be used for ball games, as arenas, for gymnastics, for sitting together and for sunbathing,

Park keepers.

Sources: City of Vienna and UN-HABITAT. 2002. “Gender sensitive park design
Einsiedlerplatz & St.-Johann-Park, City of Vienna”
in Platform for the Best Practices and Local Leadership Programme of the UN-HABITAT and the City of Vienna. Available in English; Harth, A. 2007.




 Open Space and Gender - Gender-Sensitive Open-Space Planning” in Deutsches Institut für Urbanistik 46.1. Available in English; and UN-HABITAT. 2008. “Fair shared city: Gender Mainstreaming Planning Strategy in Vienna” in Best Practices Database.

Caption: St. Johann Park, Vienna.  

Image Source:; Picture: Gisela Erlacher.










Plan and design spaces with attention to the different experiences of men and women

Women and men experience the city differently. This difference is due in part to the different roles in society that men and women are expected to fulfil. Actors involved in any planning project should consider what opportunities women have to use, enjoy and work in public spaces. These opportunities will define women’s perceptions of whether a place is safe or unsafe. In addition, women’s personal experiences with private and public forms of violence will influence their use of space. All of these points should be taken into consideration at the outset of any planning project.  For example, middle-aged men might use a park with groups of other men on their lunch break from work.  Young mothers might use the same park in the morning with their children and other young mothers.  At night, teenaged boys might use the park with their friends as a social meeting place.  For older women, the park might not feel like a safe place in the afternoon or evening because it is filled with men and/or teenaged boys.

People who plan and design public spaces need to be aware of all of the ways the space will be used. Planners and designers can take measures to combat space being used in ways that feel threatening to women and girls. For instance, in the case of the park, planners and designers might include different areas for different groups of people – by providing an area for men to get together with their friends that is separate from exercise equipment that could be used by women. This way men and women could use the park independently, but at the same time.

In order to avoid gender roles being prescribed by public space, spatial planning and design can be linked to the objective of achieving gender equality.

Example: Las Mujeres por una Ciudad sin Violencia (Women for a City without Violence), Colombia.

This short animated video demonstrates how public spaces, such as parks, can be planned in a way that is safe and inclusive for all users, including women. Available in Spanish; 0:36.


CASE STUDY: How can spatial planning be linked to gender equality? Royal Town Planning Institute, United Kingdom

Spatial planning can be linked to the objective of achieving gender equality by addressing issues of particular concern to women as well as men and taking into account the different social roles, access to resources, choices and aspirations of men and women of different ages, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation. By recognising and valuing the differences and similarities between women and men and their varied roles, resources and aspirations, spatial planning can ensure safe, healthy, sustainable and enjoyable environments for all.

A gendered understanding of spatial planning highlights issues of safety and security, and ensures that the quality of places and spaces reflects everyone’s needs.

A gendered understanding of how people use space and places improves our ability to achieve economic, social and environmental goals.

A gendered understanding of how people see their environment is important in developing policies to combat climate change.

A gendered understanding of design ensures that places and spaces work well for everyone.

A gendered understanding of what local facilities people need ensures that we create places that are useable by everyone.

A gendered understanding of how people want to live their lives ensures that places and spaces incorporate the facilities everyone needs. 

From page 4 of Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). (2007). Gender and Spatial Planning: RTPI Good Practice Note 7. London: RTPI. Available in English.


Case Study: Using Spatial Planning for Gender Equality, Royal Town Planning Institute, United Kingdom.

Gender relations and gender roles are embedded in space. When the planning and design process incorporates a gender perspective, the result will automatically tend towards gender equality, making spaces more safe, accessible and equal for women and for all. Good practices for ensuring the relationship between gender equality and spatial planning include the following:

Find out how women and girls in the area want to be involved.

Ask women directly what the environment is like for disabled women, women of different ages, minority ethnic women, lesbians and transgender people.

Ensure that there is a statement of community involvement that addresses the needs of women as well as men and that there is a gender balance and diversity on youth liaison groups, including gays and lesbians.

Ensure that all materials are gender-proofed, i.e. take gender into consideration, and that publicity material portrays women and girls as well as men and boys positively.

Produce child-friendly versions of policies and ensure child-friendly approaches to involvement, targeting girls and boys.

Use gender-neutral or inclusive language to communicate and avoid the risk of excluding and therefore offending people.

Ensure adequate resources are provided to allow equality of access to the planning processes.

When meeting with women, provide for childcare or eldercare needs, ensure that the timing of events is convenient and consider access to Information Communication Technology (ICT) is fully considered.

Involve women in the design of web-based approaches to ensure that websites are gender-sensitive and user-friendly.

Ensure that People’s Panels and Citizens’ Juries are sufficiently large for information to be disaggregated by equality categories including gender, race, disability and age.

Hold meetings with men and women separately as part of community consultation, acting on the differences in need that emerge.

Ensure timely feedback to different equality groups to encourage ongoing involvement.

From page 5 of Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). (2007). Gender and Spatial Planning: RTPI Good Practice Note 7. London: RTPI. Available in English.