Integrating Gender Mainstreaming into U.S. Planning Practice

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By Sherry Ryan

Planners seek to create communities of value and plan improvements that benefit all residents and improve quality of life. Planners are also mindful of the degree to which local governments' planning processes and outcomes are equitable and just, especially for groups who have endured histories of isolation and exclusion.

Much attention is rightly paid to how racial and ethnic minorities and low-income households do or do not participate in shaping the future of their communities (see, for example, Garcia et al. 2019). Less attention has been paid to uneven planning processes and outcomes by gender.

Increasingly, evidence suggests that men and women have different wants and needs when it comes to built environments, public services, and amenities, and that planning interventions may not meet all those differing needs, especially those of women. It is time for planning approaches in the United States to take a fresh look at the role gender plays in community building, as this historically excluded group comprises half of our communities' populations. When women are not well supported, communities are not well supported.

This PAS Memo explores a relatively well-established governing and policy-making strategy — gender mainstreaming — employed most notably by the European Union to address the persistent imbalance in women's access to and control of resources. The Memo provides a working definition of gender mainstreaming, explains why these considerations are so important, discusses the vibrant application of gender mainstreaming in European Union member states, and concludes with recommendations for enhancing gender considerations in U.S. planning.

A portion of the Memo also demonstrates how gender mainstreaming could be applied in two U.S. planning contexts: long-range bicycle planning and local comprehensive planning.

What Is Gender Mainstreaming?

Gender mainstreaming is predicated on the idea that men and women have different concerns, experiences, preferences, wants, and needs. If these differences are not understood, identified, and addressed, the results of planning interventions can be uneven and inequitable. Benefits can accrue to one gender and not the other, or perhaps even work against one gender.

There is a significant body of academic research on gender and planning, with major strands of this literature addressing differences in men's and women's travel behavior, daily time-use patterns, and zoning's effect on women.

For example, in terms of travel behavior, research has shown that women take shorter but more frequent trips, and trip chain more frequently than men. Reasons for these differences are thought to stem from the larger share of household responsibilities and child care falling to women and the resulting travel implications (Figure 1) (Wachs 1987; Ng and Acker 2018).

Regarding daily time-use patterns, the U.S. Bureau of Statistics 2018 American Time Use Survey reports that women spend more time on household activities than men (2.17 versus 1.36 hours/day), less time on leisure and sport than men (4.87 versus 5.69 hours/day), and more time on caring for household members (0.7 versus 0.32 hours/day) (BLS 2018). In terms of zoning and land-use planning, Ritzdorf (1994) suggested that strict separation of land uses complicates and thereby burdens women's abilities to accomplish household and caretaking activities.

Figure 1. Women’s travel needs differ from men’s due to their greater household and child care responsibilities. Photo courtesy Flickr user nevermindtheend (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Figure 1. Women's travel needs differ from men's due to their greater household and child care responsibilities. Photo by Flickr user nevermindtheend (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Gender mainstreaming is a policy mechanism that first acknowledges these gender differences, and then seeks to ensure that equitable outcomes are forthcoming from the implementation of all policies, plans, and programs, given these inherent differences between men and women.

The concept of formal versus substantive equality is key in addressing this problem. Formal equality states that all people should be treated equally; treatment should not vary based on individual characteristics like race, ethnicity, and gender. Substantive equality, however, recognizes that "same" treatment does not always result in equal treatment and in some cases can perpetuate existing inequities and disadvantages (Bellitto 2015).

Gender mainstreaming seeks to achieve substantive equality in all plans, policies, and programs, acknowledging that women have been systematically disempowered in cultural, social, and economic realms.

The power and appeal of gender mainstreaming is that it goes beyond gender-targeted policies and supports assessing all policies for their impacts on men and women, with the explicit goal of addressing potential inequality of outcomes. Gender mainstreaming is preemptive rather than reactionary. It attempts to avoid unequal outcomes rather than ensure equal treatment. Gender mainstreaming describes a policy development process that is ripe for application to local long-range community planning in the United States.

Origins of Gender Mainstreaming

The concept of gender mainstreaming is generally thought to have sprung from the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace in 1995, at which the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted by 189 United Nations member states. It outlined strategic objectives and actions for 12 critical areas of concern relating to women's empowerment and equality: poverty, education and training, health, violence, armed conflict, economy, power and decision making, institutional mechanisms, human rights, media, environment, and the girl child (United Nations 1995).

In 1997, the United Nations' Economic and Social Council adopted the Report of the Economic and Social Council for 1997, outlining the concept of gender mainstreaming (United Nations 1997):

Mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned actions, 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 perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.

The report laid out the following commitments (United Nations 1997):

  • The adoption of gender mainstreaming policies and the formulation of specific mainstreaming strategies for sectoral areas;
  • The use of institutional directives rather than discretionary guidelines for gender mainstreaming;
  • The improvement of tools for gender mainstreaming, such as gender analysis, the use of data disaggregated by sex and age and sector-specific gender surveys, as well as gender-sensitive studies, guidelines, and checklists for programming;
  • The establishment of instruments and mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation, such as gender-impact analysis methodologies;
  • The creation of accountability mechanisms for gender mainstreaming.

And in 2010, the United Nations General Assembly voted unanimously to create UN Women, which is the United Nations entity "dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women," specifically established "to accelerate progress on meeting [women's] needs worldwide" (UN Women n.d.).

Gender Mainstreaming in Europe

The European Union has a long history of actively addressing women's empowerment. The Treaty of Rome in 1957 included an article on equal pay for men and women, and the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997 declared that the advancement of equality between women and men would be a fundamental task of the EU and required EU member states to eliminate inequality between men and women.

In 2000, the EU adopted the Charter of Fundamental Rights, wherein equality between men and women was explicitly addressed (EU 2000):

Article 23: Equality Between Men and Women. Equality between men and women must be ensured in all areas, including employment, work and pay. The principle of equality shall not prevent the maintenance or adoption of measures providing for specific advantages in favour of the under-represented sex.

About 30 pieces of legislation on gender equality have been adopted in the European Union during the last 40 years, spearheaded by the European Parliament's Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality.

Additionally, in 2006 the EU launched the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), which promotes gender mainstreaming in its member states by providing toolkits and publications on methods and best practices. EIGE initiated the use of the Gender Equity Index in 2013. This is a focal point for monitoring gender mainstreaming success in the EU that uses various metrics, including violence, work, money, knowledge, time, power and health, to develop a composite score of equity (Figure 2). In 2016, EIGE authored a guidebook, Gender Impact Assessment: Gender Mainstreaming Toolkit, discussed further below.

Figure 2. European Institute for Gender Equality’s 2013 Gender Equity Index. Courtesy EIGE.

Figure 2. European Institute for Gender Equality's 2013 Gender Equity Index. Courtesy EIGE.

Thus far, gender mainstreaming has been largely limited to European countries. Though the key U.S. international development agency USAID has a tremendous focus on gender inequality in its work, other federal agencies in the United States remain almost silent on gender inequality. As Bellitto (2015) asserts, U.S. domestic federal institutions have largely ignored the international human rights norms regarding equality between men and women.

There is some leeway on how the EU member states implement the gender equity directives of the EU. Some EU member states have national agencies for achieving gender equality across their various governmental departments. A sample of these state-level approaches is highlighted below.

  • In Sweden, which describes itself as having the world's first feminist government (Sweden n.d.), the Swedish Gender Equality Agency has published guiding documents for over 58 national Swedish agencies, including Statistics Sweden (Sweden's equivalent of the U.S. Census Bureau); the National Board of Housing, Building and Planning; and the Swedish Armed Forces.
  • Denmark adopted the Gender Equity Act in 2000, which spearheaded several key actions, including establishing a Minister for Gender Equality, creating a Gender Mainstreaming Action Plan, and in 2013 adopting a National Gender Mainstreaming Strategy. Importantly, all governmental agencies must now provide a biannual report on the status of gender in their respective agencies, and there is a targeted focus on gender impact assessment in public administration and planning.
  • In France, the Service for Women's Rights and Equality between Women and Men (SDFE) was established in 2010 and is the national agency charged with gender equality and gender mainstreaming for the Ministry of Social Affairs, Health and Women's Rights. The SDFE coordinates gender mainstreaming and gender impact assessment activities in the 26 regions of France.
  • In Spain, the State Secretariat of Social Services and Equality, within the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality, oversees gender equality, and importantly mobilized an amendment to the national constitution in 2007, which stated that gender mainstreaming should shape actions for all public administrations and a gender perspective must be included in all governmental budgets and other actions.

In addition to the national practices reviewed, several local examples also exist. The City of Vienna, Austria, publishes guidelines for its city administration departments to enact gender mainstreaming practices such as gender budgeting, gender impact assessment, gender equity trainings, guidance on running meetings equitably, and other gender-sensitive management tools (NCPE 2010). Vienna's Executive Office for Urban Planning, Development and Construction in particular is known for its gender mainstreaming strategies that include observing how women use public space and transit and then working to implement designs with women users in mind (Foran 2013). Closer to home, the City of Toronto is considering the establishment of a gender equity office and strategy for the city based on Vienna's practices (Pelley 2019).

Gender Inequities in U.S. Planning

Planning analysis in the United States is ripe for gender mainstreaming. A 2015 issue brief prepared by the Cornell Women's Planning Forum and the Planning and Women Division of the American Planning Association found that women's needs do not command a strong focus in U.S. planning practice, and suggested that gender equity remains a significant unaddressed problem in the United States.

The report was based on a national survey representing over 300 local governments across the United States that asked questions about how women's needs were considered in land use and zoning, transportation planning, comprehensive planning, public participation, community attitudes, and planner attitudes and actions. A full 98 percent of respondents answered "no" when asked whether their community's comprehensive plan gave specific attention to the needs of women, and 42 percent of planners indicated they rarely or never consider how their work decisions may affect genders differently (Micklow et al. 2015).

Given the broad understanding that women do in fact have different lived experiences than men — they earn less money relative to men, do more housework and childcare, experience higher rates of poverty, have more complicated travel patterns, and are more frequently victims of violent crime — it seems reasonable that this group should receive more focused attention in long-range planning processes. Many of these current conditions endured by women in U.S. cities can indeed be addressed through land-use planning, mobility planning, housing regulations and programs, and the design of streets and public spaces.

Some encouraging recent studies may be indicating a much-needed shift in thinking about how women are integrated in planning, especially mobility planning.

LA Metro, the transportation planning and transit operations agency for Los Angeles County, recently published Understanding How Women Travel (2019), an innovative study wherein the agency made a concerted effort to develop and then integrate an understanding of the unique needs of women who use the county's public transit system. Women make more transit trips than men in Los Angeles, have more complicated travel patterns and inordinate travel time burdens, and suffer from barriers related to safety while accessing and using transit.

The study originated from LA Metro's Women and Girls Governing Council, which was established in 2017 with the mandate to illuminate the needs of women using its services and spearhead implementation efforts that would respond to these unique needs. The report acknowledges that even though LA Metro has long collected gender-specific data, the agency has never analyzed the travel data disaggregated by gender to inform its understanding of how the system could better serve this group, which makes up more than half of its riders.

Another recent study out of New York University's Rudin Center for Transportation cites the "pink tax" assessed to female travelers in New York City (Kaufman, Polack, and Campbell 2018). A survey was administered in fall 2018 with 574 respondents (about 52 percent female and 48 percent male). The researchers found that 75 percent of female respondents had experienced some form of harassment or theft while using public transportation, compared with 47 percent of male respondents. Furthermore, 88 percent of women who experienced harassment or theft did not report it.

The authors estimate the cost burden — approximately $26–$50 per month — to women who need to change their behavior, such as wearing different clothes and avoiding trips later in the evening, in order to stay safe. The report recommends improvements in safety, monitoring, and reporting tools for public transportation, as well as recruiting women to participate in initial transit station designs so that safety systems are built in from initial construction, rather than added as an afterthought.

Another transportation-related area in which gender differences are significant is that of active travel planning — bicycle planning in particular. While women comprise about half of the U.S. population, they are sorely underrepresented among those who use bicycle facilities. The ratio of male to female cyclists in the United States is roughly 2:1 (Emond et al. 2009; Krizek et al. 2004), as compared with western European countries where the ratio is closer to 1:1 (Pucher and Buehler 2008). These differences in gender cycling rates suggest that certain factors in the European context facilitate female cycling, while other factors in the U.S. context discourage female cycling.

Multiple recent studies identify characteristics that likely influence female cycling rates, including the presence and type of infrastructure, perception of safety, weather, connectivity, social and domestic responsibilities, and distance (Garrard et al. 2007; McNeil et al. 2015; Gossen and Purvis 2005; Beecham and Wood 2013). For example, three recent studies found women have preferences for protected bikeways where cyclists are protected from moving vehicles (Emond et al. 2009; Krizek et al. 2004; Akar et al. 2013).

Other studies have reported that women are more sensitive to safety when cycling and tend to perceive cycling as an unsafe activity. Two studies found that women's sense of comfort while cycling was strongly associated with their willingness to cycle, with the bicycle facilities contributing greatly to feeling comfortable and safe (Akar et al. 2013; McNeil et al. 2015). Another found that gender differences in cycling start at an early age, with boys being more likely to ride in the street than girls (Tulach et al. 2015). Furthermore, women are more likely than men to rate lighting as "very important" (68 percent versus 45 percent) and more likely than men to report a lack of separated paths as a barrier to cycling (55 percent versus 41 percent) (Krizek et al. 2004).

These studies offer suggestions for promoting equal levels of male and female cycling, such as implementing higher-quality, safer infrastructure (Akar et al. 2013). Indeed, European cities adopted protected bicycle facility many decades ago to allow for safe cycling protected from vehicular traffic, but these types of facilities only began appearing less than 10 years ago in U.S. cities.

The sidebar below details the results of a study in San Diego County showing that female cyclists are significantly underrepresented throughout the region. The bike network within the San Diego region is predominately composed of Class II bike lanes on larger, high-speed corridors (Table 1). These lanes provide little sense of safety to cyclists and are intimidating to inexperienced cyclists. The delivery of such a bicycle network by the local government, from planning and design to implementation, has led to an outcome that does not benefit women in the same manner as men.

Table 1. State of California bicycle facility design classifications. Images courtesy Caltrans, Highway Design Manual 2016, and Chen Ryan Associates 2019.

  Classification Description
Figure 3a. Class I Bike Path – Also referred to as a multi-use path or shared-use path, Class I facilities provide a completely separated right-of-way designed for the exclusive use of bicycles and pe
Class I Bike Path – Also referred to as a multi-use path or shared-use path, Class I facilities provide a completely separated right-of-way designed for the exclusive use of bicycles and pedestrians with crossflows by motorists minimized. Bike paths can provide connections where roadways are non-existent or unable to support bicycle travel. The minimum paved width for a two-way bike path is considered to be eight feet (10 feet preferred), with a two-foot wide graded area adjacent to each side of the pavement. Photo of Bayshore Bikeway in Chula Vista, California.
Class II Bike Lane – Provides a striped lane designated for the exclusive or semi-exclusive use of bicycles with through travel by motor vehicles or pedestrians prohibited. Bike lanes are one-way facilities located on either side of a roadway. Pedestrian and motorist crossflows are permitted. Additional enhancements such as painted buffers and signage may be applied. The minimum bike lane width is
Class II Bike Lane – Provides a striped lane designated for the exclusive or semi-exclusive use of bicycles with through travel by motor vehicles or pedestrians prohibited. Bike lanes are one-way facilities located on either side of a roadway. Pedestrian and motorist crossflows are permitted. Additional enhancements such as painted buffers and signage may be applied. The minimum bike lane width is considered to be five feet when adjacent to on-street parking, or six feet when posted speeds are greater than 40 miles per hour. Bike lanes can also have striped buffer areas a few feet in width to provide separation from vehicles. Photo of Telegraph Canyon Road in Chula Vista, California.
Class III Bike Route – Provides shared use of traffic lanes with cyclists and motor vehicles, identified by signage and/or street markings such as “sharrows.” Bike routes are best suited for low-speed, low-volume roadways. Bike routes provide network continuity or designate preferred routes through corridors with high demand. Photo of Third Avenue in Chula Vista, California.
Class III Bike Route – Provides shared use of traffic lanes with cyclists and motor vehicles, identified by signage and/or street markings such as "sharrows." Bike routes are best suited for low-speed, low-volume roadways. Bike routes provide network continuity or designate preferred routes through corridors with high demand. Photo of Third Avenue in Chula Vista, California.
Class IV Cycle Track – Also referred to as a separated or protected bikeway, cycle tracks provide a right-of-way designated exclusively for bicycle travel within the roadway and physically protected from vehicular traffic. Cycle tracks can provide for one-way or two-way travel. Types of separation include, but are not limited to, grade separation, flexible posts, or on-street parking.
Class IV Cycle Track – Also referred to as a separated or protected bikeway, cycle tracks provide a right-of-way designated exclusively for bicycle travel within the roadway and physically protected from vehicular traffic. Cycle tracks can provide for one-way or two-way travel. Types of separation include, but are not limited to, grade separation, flexible posts, or on-street parking. Photo of J Street Two-Way Cycle Track in San Diego.

These patterns of cycling observed in San Diego are consistent with many metropolitan regions across the country, where facilities are constructed that women do not use and overall rates of female cycling are significantly lower than male rates of cycling. The typical bicycle planning, design, and implementation efforts carried out by many U.S. local governments are primarily serving men, while leaving women largely marginalized. Women do not benefit from public investments in bicycle infrastructure in the same manner men benefit, so these investments perpetuate uneven access and gender inequity.

Examining the processes leading to this outcome and then rectifying both the process and outcome so that investments similarly benefit men and women is a key goal of gender mainstreaming.

Cycling Inequities in San Diego County

A recent study, funded by a grant from the CDC's Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) program to the County of San Diego's Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA), examined cycling outcomes by gender in the San Diego region.

Between 2010 and 2011, researchers from San Diego State University collected 196 PM peak period (4 p.m. to 6 p.m.) bicycle counts from locations across San Diego County. Counts were collected on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays (considered to be the most representative travel days) at sites that were selected to achieve variability in roadway facility type, bicycle facility type, and population and employment density. Researchers recorded gender and facility type at each count site.

Of the 5,625 cyclists counted across the 196 sites, females represented roughly 17 percent of all cyclists (Figure 3). The vast majority (about 70 percent) of count sites had few (1 to 20 percent) female cyclists (Figure 4). Only five percent of sites had almost equal numbers of female and male cyclists, while 16 percent of sites had only male cyclists.

Figure 4. Female versus male cyclists at count sites. Chart by the author.

Figure 3. Female versus male cyclists at count sites. Chart by the author.

Figure 5. Sites categorized by female usage rates. Chart by the author.

Figure 4. Sites categorized by female usage rates. Chart by the author.

Figure 5 shows the distribution of bicycle facilities across San Diego County where, even after decades of bicycle planning, the majority of facilities are "in-street" without protected buffers or rights-of-way for cycling. About 70 percent of all bicycle facilities in San Diego County are Class II striped bike lanes adjacent to moving vehicles, and about 20 percent are Class III bike routes that consist only of signage and no allocation of space in the roadway right-of-way. Only about 10 percent of bike facilities in the county provide protection from moving vehicles in the form of a separated Class I bike path.

Figure 6. Bicycle facilities by type for San Diego County. Chart by the author.

Figure 5. Bicycle facilities by type for San Diego County. Chart by the author.

The active travel context described in San Diego and found in many U.S. cities underscores the fact that women do not use bicycle facilities constructed by local and regional governments at anywhere near the rate that men use these facilities. This raises equity and ethical issues related to how local governments fund, design, and implement bicycle facilities.

Gender Mainstreaming Frameworks

It is clear that gender inequity is a substantial issue in a wide range of planning-related areas. As planners are uniquely positioned to influence the way cities are designed and developed, it is imperative that this profession pay close attention to correcting these nagging inequities. From the federal to the state and local levels, planners can work to shine a light on this issue, motivate the adoption of legislation and guidelines, and importantly, advocate for gender-disaggregated analyses in all the work they do.

Planners can use the deep history of gender mainstreaming in the European context as a springboard for embarking on this same work in the U.S. context. Among the many resources produced by European and global agencies on gender mainstreaming, two recent guidelines provide especially useful frameworks for planners.

In 2016 EIGE published Gender Impact Assessments: Gender Mainstreaming Toolkit as the core analysis approach for all governmental structures to use in their pursuit of gender mainstreaming. The European Commission (1999) defines gender impact assessment (GIA) as follows:

Gender impact assessment is the process of comparing and assessing, according to gender relevant criteria, the current situation and trends with the expected development resulting from the introduction of the proposed policy. Gender impact assessment is the estimation of the different effects (positive, negative or neutral) of any policy or activity implemented to specific items in terms of gender equality.

A GIA follows a two-pronged approach. First, the current condition of women and men in relation to the action under consideration is analyzed and documented; and second, the impact of the proposed action on both men and women is projected and used to refine the proposed action so that inequities are not perpetuated.

EIGE's guide for GIA includes a five-step process intended to illuminate how a proposed initiative may affect women and men differently, particularly in terms of their relative access to and control of resources (Figure 6). These five steps include defining the policy purpose, checking the gender relevance, conducting gender-sensitive analyses, weighing the gender impacts, and finally, summarizing findings and proposing improvements to the proposed policy or program to promote gender equity. The outcome of this process is the modification of proposed initiatives to reduce gender imbalances and inequity.

Figure 7. Overview of the gender impact assessment process. Courtesy EIGE.

Figure 6. Overview of the gender impact assessment process. Courtesy EIGE.

In relation to mobility in particular, the World Bank Group recently authored a primer entitled Gender Equality, Infrastructure and PPPs (2019) wherein a comprehensive argument is made for reducing the persistent barriers faced by women in their efforts to access opportunity (jobs, education, childcare, household maintenance) using public and private travel modes and infrastructure.

The primer recommends integration of gender considerations in three key stages of the project development process:

  • The preparation of gender analyses under current conditions, using appropriate gender analysis techniques, gender-sensitive stakeholder consultations, and sex-disaggregated data.
  • The integration of gender actions in project design and delivery by developing a gender action plan, allocating resources accordingly, and establishing mechanisms for ensuring gender considerations.
  • The monitoring and evaluation of outcomes by gender using gender indicators, monitoring techniques, and gender impact analysis.

Although the context for this particular guideline is international development efforts, local U.S. government planning and engineering departments could benefit tremendously from following a similar process as part of any long-range transportation planning or facility design effort.

Integrating Gender Mainstreaming into U.S. Planning

Gender mainstreaming could be integrated into U.S. planning practice in two key ways. It could take the form of an impact assessment similar to the preparation of an environmental impact report, which typically occurs toward the end of a planning process with the key purposes of documenting relative impacts of proposed alternatives and spelling out required mitigation measures. Or, gender mainstreaming assessments could be woven into the planning process as a purposeful component at all stages, from outreach, to data collection and analysis, to the development and adoption of recommendations.

Below are two scenarios exploring how planners could integrate gender mainstreaming using these two different approaches: first, as an impact assessment, and second, as an integral part of the planning process. The first case examines how a gender impact assessment could be used with a long-range active travel planning process, while the second case examines how gender analyses could be integrated holistically across an entire long-range, general plan update process.

Figure 8. Planning process for a bicycle and pedestrian master plan. Courtesy Chen Ryan Associates.

Figure 7. Planning process for a bicycle and pedestrian master plan. Courtesy Chen Ryan Associates.

During the preparation and adoption of a city-wide bicycle or pedestrian master plan, local agencies could integrate a GIA at the point where network alternatives have been developed. As shown in Figure 7, planned network alternatives would be generated after the existing conditions assessments. The GIA would require project planners to consider implications of these planned network alternatives for women and for men, as well as to ensure the proposed networks do not perpetuate inequity in cycling or walking levels for men and women.

Planners would need to anticipate the negative, neutral, or positive effects on women and men of these alternative networks. The impact would be considered positive if, for example, women's cycling or walking levels were estimated to increase to about 40 percent of total cyclists or pedestrians. Similarly, impacts would be considered positive if women's sense of safety and comfort traveling by bike or foot was anticipated to improve. Finally, the impact assessment would need to document ways to make the planning recommendations stronger in terms of their positive impact on women's conditions.

The identification of existing gender inequities and the subsequent development of gender equity-promoting recommendations require the existing conditions analysis and community engagement to be conducted in a gender-sensitive manner, disaggregated by gender. The existing conditions analysis could be used to determine local female and male cycling rates and uncover key causes for any widespread imbalance or gender inequity found.

In developing future recommendations, planners could use this data and stakeholder input to consider whether there are specific types of bicycle facilities that might contribute to women's increased comfort and willingness to ride a bike; whether there are educational or safety programs that could improve women's confidence in owning, operating, and riding bikes; and whether there are employee-based accommodations for childcare and showering that could facilitate the choice to ride a bike rather than drive.

By conducting a GIA in conjunction with a long-range bicycle or pedestrian planning process, U.S. cities could develop, propose, and adopt recommendations — policies, programs, and planned networks — that equalize the level of access women have to cycling and walking.

A second scenario for applying gender mainstreaming might consist of integrating gender analyses at every step of the planning process. Long-range planning has been considered a "gender-blind" process, but as this PAS Memo has made clear, women and men do not equally benefit from many land-use and mobility recommendations adopted by local governments in their planning processes. As the core function of city planners, the long-range planning process and plan adoption could provide a cornerstone of gender mainstreaming in local cities, establishing data, evaluation, and outcomes to build foundations of gender equity and female agency.

The California Governor's Office of Planning and Research (OPR) provides guidelines to local governments for long-range community planning in its 2017 General Plan Guidelines.This document describes a classic, rational planning process that begins with visioning and goalsetting and ends with implementation and monitoring of the adopted plan (Figure 8). The words "gender," "women," or "sex" appear less than 20 times in this almost 400-page document. But at every stage of this seven-step process, consideration of gender could be integrated.

Figure 9. California’s recommended process for updating a long-range general plan. Courtesy California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research.

Figure 8. California's recommended process for updating a long-range general plan. Courtesy California Governor's Office of Planning and Research.

Table 2 summarizes how the CA OPR's General Plan Guidelines recommended planning process could be adapted, from beginning to end, to integrate gender mainstreaming at every stage of planning process. The key to integrating gender-sensitive analyses across the planning process is to ensure that gender-disaggregated data is collected and analyzed; that community engagement, visioning, and goal-setting has at least equal input from women and men with trends analyzed by gender; and finally when recommendations are made, that their impacts on access and control of resources of any kind is evaluated by gender before adoption. Recommendations should be adopted only once it is determined that unique impacts to women do not perpetuate marginalization and inequity.

Table 2. Integrating Gender Mainstreaming in the Long-Range Planning Process

CA OPR's General Plan Flow Chart Gender Mainstreaming Adaptations
Vision and Engagement
  • Employ engagement modalities that garner women's input
  • Assess participation by gender
  • Ensure representation by gender
  • Summarize opinions, needs, desires by gender
Formulate Goals
  • Employ engagement modalities that garner women's input
  • Assess participation by gender
  • Ensure representation by gender
  • Consider gender equality as an explicit goal
Collect and Analyze Data
  • Ensure all population and behavioral data is collected and presented disaggregated by gender
  • Utilize ethnographic, observational, and focus group methods to obtain qualitative data that informs women's experiences, needs, and desires
Refine Goals
  • Assess participation by gender
  • Ensure representation by gender
  • Include goals that address women's unique needs and desires
Alternatives Analysis
  • Assess alternatives in terms of impacts to women and to men
Plan Adoption
  • Ensure preferred alternative does not have disparate impacts to one gender or perpetuate gender inequity
  • Preferred alternatives should address any identified gender imbalances
  • Ensure design and implementation of preferred alternative does not have disparate impacts on one gender
  • Disaggregate data by gender for monitoring and evaluation
  • Assess alternative selected for implementation for disparate impacts to one gender

Action Steps for Planners

What steps can planners take to begin integrating gender mainstreaming into practice? As with many groundswell movements, a multi-pronged approach including advocacy, legislation, and practice guidelines will be necessary.

Learning about this little-mentioned term is certainly a good start, as many U.S. planners may never have heard of gender mainstreaming before. Our European counterparts have done much work on this topic to develop a rich collection of studies, guidelines, and model policies. and we should learn from their efforts. The sidebar below offers a list of good resources to start with.

Gender Mainstreaming Resources

The following list of resources offers more information about gender mainstreaming.

Once planners have a better understanding of how this works and what the benefits are, they can share the concept with their departments and suggest adding gender-sensitive analyses and considerations in plans and policies. What would this look like?

  • Evaluating performance of policies, programs, and investments to look for gender outcome differences
  • Auditing existing plans, programs, and policies to determine whether gender mainstreaming considerations apply and should be integrated (EIGE (2009) offers guidance on gender audits)
  • Adding gender mainstreaming analysis along with other impact analyses required for projects
  • Adding gender mainstreaming analysis and mitigation requirements to local funding programs (e.g., CBDG funds) if allowed — or at least as a consideration in the prioritization and ranking process (i.e., extra points if gender mainstreaming is considered and mitigated)
  • Adding gender mainstreaming considerations to the comprehensive plan as a policy basis and a more specific tool to support other equity goals

The path of least resistance for local planners interested in gender mainstreaming practices is to begin by integrating gender-disaggregated data at all stages of the planning process, rather than attempting to conduct full-scale gender impact assessments. When embarking on a planning process, planners should take time up front to develop "gender prompts" for each stage of the planning process, such as provided in Table 1 above.

Initially, the focal points should be the two cornerstones of the planning process: the existing conditions analysis and community outreach. For existing conditions analysis, disaggregate all relevant census data by gender, such as poverty by sex, commute time by sex, commute mode by sex, rates of female-headed households, educational attainment by sex, occupation by sex, and earnings by sex. Work on building expertise by collecting, presenting, and speaking about gender-disaggregated data.

Within community outreach efforts, develop mechanisms to distinguish women's and men's experiences, opinions, viewpoints, needs, and desires. Conduct stakeholder interviews that inquire about experiences living daily life and summarize how these vary for men and women across the relevant topic areas. Use stakeholder interviews to develop focus group discussion guides, and conduct focus groups for men and women separately. Require community input to be coded by gender so that these differences can be summarized.

If the agency you are working in is not supportive of gender mainstreaming efforts, go for the small things first, such as analyzing and presenting census data disaggregated by gender.

At a higher level, in U.S. states where general plans are mandated, a major step would be to include requirements for gender mainstreaming. In California, for example, cities are required to address eight elements: land use, mobility, noise, housing, open space, conservation, safety, air quality, and environmental justice. The state legislature could require "gender justice" in much the same way as environmental justice is required. With environmental justice, we assess whether disadvantaged communities suffer disproportionate negative environmental impacts from any of the planning recommendations. With gender justice, we could be required to answer the questions, "Do women benefit at the same level as men from planning recommendations? Do women suffer disproportionate negative impacts from any of the planning recommendations?"


U.S. planners need to do more to raise awareness about gender inequity and how our current practices tend to perpetuate this inequity in our built environments. We can look to the European Union for well-developed examples of how, at every level of government, gender is carefully considered, from policy development and implementation to evaluation and monitoring.

Going forward, in addition to issues around female empowerment, transgender and nonbinary gender topics will also need to be addressed. The gender mainstreaming literature thus far does not appear to address this topic, and planners will ideally begin to explore and incorporate considerations for these groups in the future.

Women have suffered power imbalances for too long. By seeking out and developing critical paths through the planning profession to address these imbalances in land uses, mobility, housing, and economic development, planners can contribute significantly to the improved status of our communities overall, and to the empowerment of women in particular.

About the Author

Sherry Ryan, PhD, is professor of city planning and director of the School of Public Affairs at San Diego State University.

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