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Gender Equality for a Better Eskilstuna

Lighting, public art and public transport – the city planning department in Eskilstuna, Sweden, is in the middle of an intense process of gender mainstreaming. The staff have received training and are right now implementing a wide range of improvements that will make the town more safe for both women and men.

Anna Bergfors Fall, project coordinator for public transport, was asked to have a look at the new planning programme for the central town square, from a gender perspective. Fristadstorget has served as a popular meeting place for many years.

‘We’re about to start renovating and redesigning Fridstadstorget, the heart of Eskilstuna. It’s important that we do it right. There’re so many things we need to think about.’

Good Lighting for Safety

Research shows that women feel less safe in public places than men. People’s perception of safety is affected for example by the lighting in an area.

‘We can help people feel more safe with good lighting, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we need a lot more lighting,’ says Bergfors Fall. ‘Instead the keyword is optimal lighting.’

‘You may also get blinded by too much light, which makes it harder to follow what’s going on around you and therefore makes you feel less safe.’

‘It’s not good when you feel totally illuminated, like you’re on a stage, while your surroundings are darker. You may also get blinded by too much light, which makes it harder to follow what’s going on around you and therefore makes you feel less safe.’

The Working Group is not Gender Equal

Anna Bergfors Fall has also looked at the art in the public space. For example, was the artist a man or a woman? What does the art show and what gender signals does it give?

A bit too late it was discovered that the staff group that is in charge of the planning programme is not gender equal. Men are clearly overrepresented. The lesson learned for future projects is that the earlier gender equality enters the process, the easier it is to make an impact.

‘Next time we appoint a working group we’ll think more about the gender distribution. Women and men still have different experiences to some extent, and of course it’s good for the group if it represents many experiences and if those who’re planning the city reflect the citizens well.’

Gender Equal Traffic Plan

Eskilstuna’s traffic plan lays out how the city’s traffic system is to be developed. As Bergfors Fall joined the work at an early stage, gender equality has been given thorough attention.

The transport habits of women and men differ to some extent. Women walk, ride bicycles and use public transport more than men, who in turn travel more by car. The city’s goal is to get more men to travel like women, since that would reduce the pressure on the transport system and the environment.

‘We need gendered statistics. We still don’t know enough about who the travellers are.’

‘We need to collect more information about the citizens for whom we are planning. We need gendered statistics. We still don’t know enough about who the travellers are.’

Statistics Necessary

The statistics from the city’s latest transport habit survey were separated by gender. Yet since the survey is conducted only every five years due to high costs, the information tends to get a bit old before it is updated.

The public transport provider Länstrafiken is also unable to present yearly gendered information about its customers. It is known that four million trips are made every year, but the gender breakdown is unknown.

Bergfors Fall feels that this presents a challenge since information about transport habits is needed in order to meet the citizens’ needs and accommodate their everyday life through optimal traffic planning.

‘We think a lot about how we can improve our services. Today when the city carries out studies based on observations, for example when we assess cyclists’ use of helmets and reflectors, the results are separated by gender.’

Savings to Society

The city knows that female cyclists in Eskilstuna use helmets and reflectors more often than their male counterparts. The fact that male cyclists do not wear helmets and are harder to see implies a higher risk for men on the roads.

Besides the unnecessary suffering, the injuries are costly to society. At the same time, however, the behaviour is difficult to change.

‘The city can’t really come out and tell adults how they should live their lives. This is probably more a matter of long-term efforts to change people’s attitudes,’ says Bergfors Fall.

Edited: 25 Oct 2016
Published: 18 Feb 2014
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