The Progressive Post

Sex and the City – a progressive perspective

Deputy-mayor of Budapest, member of the European Committee of the Regions, vice-chair of the ENVE Commission, vice-chair of the PES Group in the COR
08/11/2023

In the intricate maze of urban planning, progressive policymakers are bringing the gender topic to the forefront, understanding the different mobility needs, redesigning public spaces and bolstering women’s representation on streets. From enhancing safety perceptions to combating violence against women and building new care facilities to take off some care load from women’s shoulders – cities are witnessing a transformative shift. Here is how Social-Democratic leaders are redefining cities with an inclusive lens.

As urban centres continue to sprawl and adapt to the ever-changing dynamics of the 21st century, a critical focal point emerges: gender equality. Progressive European mayors understand the pressing need to integrate gender-specific considerations into urban policymaking and have clear ideas on how to carve a path towards inclusive urban spaces. 

The daily narratives of men and women in cities are strikingly different. Conventional infrastructure often lacks the foresight to acknowledge that women navigate city spaces distinctly, with varied purposes and schedules, primarily due to their roles as caregivers and professionals. Public transport and well-illuminated streets are not mere facilities: they are lifelines that foster mobility and safety, especially for women, who are the predominant users of public transport services.

A commitment to safe spaces: #SafePlace4Women 

In a concerted effort to curb violence against women and promote safer urban environments, the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) has initiated the #SafePlace4Women campaign. This campaign heralds a commitment from progressive local and regional leaders to translate the zero-tolerance principle towards violence against women into concrete actions. From awareness-raising communication campaigns to educational programmes in schools and universities, the campaign encapsulates a range of commitments. These include banning sexist advertising, inaugurating shelters for victims of violence, and rethinking the overall design of our cities to create safe, inclusive spaces. As an example, the city of Zagreb plans to develop free retraining and education programmes for female victims of violence, strengthen the housing programme for women, to develop a special tender for civil society organisations dealing with protection from violence and develop a new social service providing organised housing to those leaving shelters.

Energy crisis – who is carrying the burden?

Amid the energy crisis, where cities contemplated slashing budgets on street lighting and public transport, Budapest took a notable stand. Recognising the diverging safety perceptions between men and women, the city considered dimming streetlights as a safety issue rather than an energy one. The local government understood that limiting streetlights could potentially confine women to their homes, an unacceptable situation. Furthermore, in the realm of workspaces, biological differences were considered when addressing the heating and cooling in public buildings. Budapest acknowledged that men and women perceive temperature differently due to varied circulatory responses. Particularly in offices where women constitute a significant portion of the workforce, maintaining a comfortable temperature became a priority, ensuring that the measure did not disproportionately affect women.

As during the Covid-19 pandemic, many cities contemplated extending winter breaks at care facilities, a decision that would inadvertently increase the burden on women, the primary caregivers in many households. Budapest called out this trend. The local administration comprehended that shutting down care facilities would place an undue burden on women, who have already shouldered a significant share of caregiving responsibilities during the pandemic.

Representation and political participation

The streets, parks and corners of a city tell stories of its history, values and aspirations. Ensuring equal representation of women in these narratives is key. Also, the political participation of women matters. Specifically in Hungary – the country I come from – where the proportion of female leaders is one of the lowest in the EU encouraging women to take part in the decision-making about their lives is of utmost importance.

Pioneers

There are other examples from Progressives-led European cities. One of the champions of gender equality is Vienna: the city has been proactive in incorporating gender perspectives into all aspects of city planning transportation, housing and redesigning public spaces. Stockholm has embraced gender-responsive budgeting, a commendable initiative that promises an equitable allocation of resources addressing the needs of various genders. In Barcelona, the concept of gender-neutral cities is gaining ground, with concerted efforts to ensure the safety and accessibility of public spaces for women and marginalised groups. These cities embody the spirit of inclusivity, encouraging other urban centres to adopt progressive policies that transcend traditional gender roles.

Paving the way to an inclusive future

The stirring narratives from cities like Vienna, Stockholm and Barcelona serve as luminous beacons in the quest for genuine gender equality. They epitomise the progressive change that is not only possible but already underway, transforming urban spaces into realms where diversity is not just respected but celebrated. The efforts of the #SafePlace4Women campaign alongside other initiatives amplify the urgency and necessity of this shift, heralding a movement where inclusivity is embedded in the very fabric of urban life.

This is more than a call to action – it is an invitation to forge a new path, to build cities that not only empathise with the diverse spectrum of gender experiences but actively nurture and protect the rights, freedoms, and opportunities of all. Let us join hands in crafting a future where the city is a haven of equality, a place where progressiveness is not just a vision but a vibrant and living reality.

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