Recently, an app called SafetiPin was released for public use. The phone app seeks to create safer cities through technological solutions. Safetipin allows users to conduct a “safety audit” of areas--rating lighting, visibility, and levels of harassment. The audit may then be viewed by other app users to gauge whether a given area is safe, or better left avoided. Co-founder, Dr. Kalpana Viswanath, stated that the company currently has 50,000 spots audited, but wants to expand. Viswanath stated, “We are looking to map at least another 20 cities in the coming year so that there’s data across the globe on safety in cities.”

However, Viswanath had an additional motive for creating the app--to promote gender-inclusive cities.

The idea of creating gender-inclusive cities focuses on creating a city in which women may live, work, and travel without difficulty and without fear. In the last twenty years, various programs, such as the UN Women Safe Cities Global Leaders’ Forum, have been enacted by NGOs, federal governments, and even by localities. What brought about the increase in programing? Rapid urbanization in developing countries has increased the magnitude of gender-based violence against women and girls, resulting in an increase in programming and intervention. In Delhi, India for example, one of the most rapidly developing cities in the world, a survey found that 70 percent of women avoided secluded places and 50 percent avoided going to crowded places in order to avoid the risk of sexual violence or assault. Then, where in the city can women travel to without difficulty or without fear?

While programs such as SafetiPin are shaping the ways in which women navigate cities, I was curious as to what role planners adopt in creating gender-inclusive cities. The idea of gender mainstreaming frequented the articles I read about planning and gender-inclusive cities. The concept of gender mainstreaming was relatively new to me, and after further research I found the initial definition, established at a United Nations Economic and Social Council Meeting in 1997:

“The process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetrated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.”

Gender mainstreaming is the practice of taking gender into account in public policy. The city of Vienna, Italy has been at the forefront of employing gender mainstreaming strategies in planning inspired by an exhibit titled “Who Owns Public Space -- Women’s Everyday Life in the City.” Housing has been built in away that allows children to play outside without going far from home. Parks were designed to engage both males and females, employing Jane Jacobs’ idea of “eyes on the street.” However, while gender mainstreaming strategies hold promise, the same strategies may reinforce gender stereotypes. It is important that planners remain cognizant of both the benefits and drawbacks of gender mainstreaming strategies.

Rapid urbanization requires that the gender-inclusive city be brought to the forefront, and in doing so, it brings planners with it.