While women represent more than half of the Brazilian population, they occupy only 10.7 percent of the seats in Congress and only 5 percent of CEO positions in the country’s companies. The general absence of women’s voices in the processes that define a large part of their daily lives contributes to cities becoming hostile and unfriendly environments. Without a gendered perspective in urban planning, women often feel afraid to walk around their cities because their unique needs are left out of the conversation.
On the other hand, initiatives and projects that empower women and transform the urban reality, are on the rise. For example, on December 5, WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities joined partner organizations—Cidade Ativa, Corrida Amiga, SampaPé, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), Pé de Igualdade and the National Association of Public Transport (ANTP)—to discuss urban mobility from a gender perspective. The event’s women-led discussions were attended by at least 18 panelists, experts from the mobility and planning sectors, women active in contemporary debates on the urban environment and an audience of about 100 people.
WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities sat down with seven of these women to discuss two key points that took center stage during the event: 1.) Why increasing female representation in decision-making is fundamental to building more humane cities 2.) And the nature of a woman’s relationship with her ideal city.
Diversity of thinking is essential when it comes to planning the city’s public spaces. In comparison to men, women tend to behave in a more cautious and anticipatory manner, which can contribute significantly to urban planning processes. In the ideal city, we would have the effective participation of women in decision making. I would love to see women occupying more senior positions— as mayors and mobility secretaries. I’m sure that positive effects would be felt in practice, with more well-planned environments.
Having a voice in decision making is a matter of securing our rights. It is necessary for women to occupy these spaces, so that we can help make important decisions that directly affect us. Violence, disrespect, abuse—none of this can be fought from only a man’s perspective. Lack of security, sexual violence, difficult access, all this limits the autonomy of women. We need to fight against what limits us.
The balance is not in ensuring a one-to-one gender ratio— the balance is thinking from the point of view of the other; to think about the distance each person has to travel from his/her starting point to the finish line. In an ideal society, everyone would be able to reach this finish line together. Not only in terms of living conditions but also regarding our rights.
We are the majority in almost all spaces, so it is not fair that we do not have a voice in the decisions about them. When we are not part of decision making, these decisions, that greatly impact us, are solely made by men. In public hearings, councils, different types of meetings, we need to make our voice heard to secure our rights.
In an ideal scenario, women would be in all different governance structures. What we usually see is that a man holds the position of power, and the woman is his assistant—the one on the side, who takes notes and does not speak. Occupying representation and decision making spaces is to have a voice.
Equity—this is the word that sums it up. Gender equity, social equity, racial equity. By achieving fairness, we can reach the main goal in all discussions. If we talk, for example, about feminism or racism—if we talk about urban mobility and create an event to discuss it from the perspective of women— this happens because there is a need to talk about this subject because there is an inequality of rights in our society. There is a very significant drop in women’s rights in urban mobility, and we need to change that. It is an ongoing process of struggle and resistance: in mobility, in gender discussions, in access to the city, in equal rights, in health and in education. Including gender in discussions about urban mobility is not just important; it is essential. This holds true for mobility and all other social spheres.
It is not possible for the city to represent its residents when the actors involved in all decision making processes are always the same. There are problems that only we—women—go through and from which, consequently, we have our own understanding. Solutions have to be built together, considering the perspective of women. Specifically in cases of violence and sexual harassment; we are the main victims; we live this experience. Therefore, in order to reach a truly effective solution, we must have a voice in this process.
In my ideal city, leaving the house should not be a question for women. It should not be something that requires special care. A city where both my husband and I—my father, my grandfather, my son (if I ever have one)—we could think in the same way about our commuting. This is my ideal city: where we are not afraid. And that includes fear of everything—sexual harassment, assault, being run over. A city where we can choose the time and the route of our commuting.
As long as we do not effectively participate in decisions about how the city is planned, designed and built, it will not be a city that meets the needs of women.
In an ideal world, we should feel safe and welcomed, enjoy the spaces we walk through, and our commutes should be carefree. When I think of an ideal city, I think of a city where I can move without having to worry—where I can leave my house and walk in my city without being at risk.
Without women, the city does not exist. We need to participate, so our city can be more humane and safer. Our relationship with the city can and must be more active and stronger. We need to have a voice and occupy both the urban and the decision-making spaces.
Between moments of reflection and smiles, resistance and positivity, the messages of these women are an example for all of us: together we are stronger. “We are many, we are strong, we have the right and the power to fight so that urban mobility and cities as a whole are designed to guarantee our safety and dignity,” said WRI Brasil Communications Analyst and author of this blog, Priscila Pacheco.