Relying on women to drive a new urban dynamic

Ina Ranson, April 1999

Réseau d’information et de documentation pour le développement durable et la solidarité internationale (RITIMO)

It appears that cities have been thought of with a rather narrow vision where the plural society and its gendered character did not seem to be a problem. Is this reflection of Monique Minaca, architect and urban planner, still current? And how does it relate to the concept of sustainable development ? Can we speak of a spatial quality, an architecture, an organization of the city that is different if it includes a gender perspective ? That is, if the expertise and objectives of women were taken into account ? These are all questions that this sheet will address.

Women’s expertise and sustainable development

Women often have a more direct and consistent form of « expertise » on « ill-development ». Safety, water and food quality are their daily concerns; so are air quality and the consequences of the degradation of vital elements on health, since it is primarily women who take care of children and the elderly, who are more fragile to toxic aggressions. Their role as educators within their families makes them privileged actors of the necessary transformations.

Women, children and men use cities in different ways and therefore encounter different problems. Women are particularly concerned with issues of personal safety, infrastructure and detail in the design of buildings and spaces, especially in residential areas, public buildings, commercial areas and downtown.

Women also use public transport more often ; statistics indicate that they prefer trains to road transport. It is likely that they would more readily adopt alternatives to the private car if they were more involved in transport decisions.

Women in Europe are transforming cities - some recent examples

In GERMANY, the «  network of women for environmental protection  » (FrauenEmweltNetz), organized a meeting in March 1996 with the aim of raising awareness of Agenda 21 and developing strategies to integrate more women. It was found that women often participated in large numbers in working groups and forums on sustainable development, but that their specific interests were not addressed anywhere. Since then, there have been a number of interesting initiatives to better integrate the gender perspective into political decisions.

In HEIDELBERG, the mayor has initiated a series of local planning workshops specifically for women, which offer them the opportunity to analyze their daily lives and define the conditions for their well-being. They provide childcare and their hours are adapted to the needs of women with children. This form of participation has allowed for a better understanding of the women’s interests and demands. The result was the creation of two new weekly markets, the promotion of regional products, the transformation of traffic areas and parking spaces into children’s playgrounds, measures to facilitate bicycle traffic, and the strengthening of local and neighborhood safety. By integrating the project into the overall local planning concept of each Heidelberg neighborhood, all aspects of neighborhood development are taken into account. This is an important development to ensure that women’s demands are systematically taken into account in the future, » writes Beate Weber, Mayor of Heidelberg.

In BAMBERG (also in Germany), the «  Women’s Forum  » brings together delegates from different political parties and associations as well as women who are not members of an organization. In cooperation with the non-discrimination authority, it has been working for more than a year and a half on the theme of the city as a living environment for women. The results of numerous surveys, meetings in the neighborhoods and interviews, and the resulting concrete proposals, were published in a brochure for the city. The local media have very closely followed this work, which has made a decisive contribution to the launch of a local Agenda 21. The women’s forum accompanies the related processes and ensures that the specific interests of women are continuously integrated.

In the NETHERLANDS, the work of the « Women test their living environment » group, created in 1994 as a commission of the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment, has led to the creation of 30 sections in four Dutch regions. The successes of these groups are numerous. For example, they are at the origin of the «  Meldpunten ", regional offices where the inhabitants can testify about discomforts linked to air pollution, noise etc ; the information collected there is immediately analyzed and transmitted to the competent authorities.

In the UNITED KINGDOM, the association «  Gender 21 ", founded after the women’s summit in Beijing in 1996, has launched many initiatives to make British women aware of Agenda 21 : organization of a round table bringing together more than 300 women’s groups in order to prepare lobbying actions for sustainable development, national surveys, organization of conferences… Gender 21 wants to work «  for a holistic, harmonious and humane form of sustainable development.  »


MINACA M., BOOTH C. 1998. European Commission, DG X, in «  Les cahiers de femmes d’Europe ", (Belgium), 4-22, Frauenblicke auf die Lokale Agenda 21, March 1996, ed. Life e.V. FrauenUmweltNetz, Urbanism n°302, Sept/Oct 1998

MINACA M. The European Charter for Women in the City. For a right of city of the women.

RANSON I. 2000. S appuyer sur les femmes pour impulser une nouvelle dynamique urbaine, In «  Villes et développement durable : Des expériences à échanger ". Second collection. MATE, CEDIDELP, FPH, DPH and D4E. Excerpt pp 23-25.

To go further

Biography of Ina Ranson

CEDIDELP (Center of International Documentation for Development, Freedom and Peace)

Experiences quoted :

  • Association Groupe Cadre de Vie, Monique Minaca, 60 Av. Jean Jaurès, 92190 Meudon, Tel +33 1 45 34 27 17, fax +33 1 46 23 18 68, email ;

  • For experiences in Germany : FrauenUmweltNetz, tel + 49 69 74 07 57, email : ;

  • For the experiences in the Netherlands : Jacqueline Kuhn, Institute for Public and Political Affairs, tel 31 20 521 76 00, fax : 31 20 638 31 18;

  • For Sweden : Lise Warsen, Institute for Transport Research, tel + 46 8 652 41 30, fax : + 46 8 652 54 98 ;

  • For the United Kingdom : Angela Mawle, Gender 21, tel + 44 117 922 44 88, fax : + 930 43 80