Why gender mainstreaming in city planning is the cure to the street harassment epidemic

February 18, 2020

By Ania McDonnell

This article was originally published on October 11, 2019 in MinnPost Community Voices. The original piece can be found here.

I will never forget the day that I was harassed and followed after taking the light rail in St. Paul. This was one of the scariest moments I have encountered in a public space. My story is, unfortunately, not unique. I have friends who have been followed, filmed, and kissed, among other forms of harassment, on public transportation. Many of my graduate university colleagues feel a need to carry pepper spray or tasers in order to protect themselves. Scientific studies show that the effect of harassment resembles the same physical reaction as in PTSD.

Transportation planners should be required to implement gender mainstreaming in all comprehensive plans created for the city. Gender mainstreaming is defined by UN Women as a way to make women’s and men’s experiences a key part of the design for policies and programs to equally benefit both men and women.

The planning profession’s focus on efficiency and physical space has neglected to focus on the social aspects of the systems created. This leads to spaces built for specific groups of people, leaving out the gendered perspective necessary to create an equitable space, which inevitably leads to inefficiency.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) shaped the way our public infrastructure accommodates those with disabilities through modifications like curb cutouts and buses lowering height. The ADA has increased accessibility to public transportation for millions of people, such as the elderly, and those who have strollers or grocery carts.

Gender mainstreaming will increase the collective understanding of street harassment and ameliorate it for three reasons. It will:

  1. Reduce vehicle congestion on highways because more women will use public transportation.

  2. Reduce the costs of police on public transportation.

  3. Allow for more targeted and efficient use of police time and energy to ensure safety on the light rail.

Similar to the ADA changes, gender mainstreaming in city planning could lead to increased bus stops closer to residential areas late at night, increase lighting at bus shelters, opportunities for safe ride programs for late shift workers, or better targeted harassment reporting mechanisms such as texting.

Thus, transportation planners should be required to implement gender mainstreaming in all comprehensive plans. Gender-based concerns will come to the fore by following a model of gender mainstreaming in all governmental actions, ahead of the harassment epidemic women experience on the light rail each day.

Ania McDonnell is a Master of Public Policy student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. You can contact her at mcdon928@umn.edu with any comments or questions.