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The MRCagney Blog

“Gender diversity” shouldn’t be code for “women”

Sun, September 26, 2021  |  Inclusion 

This post from Kiri Crossland, a Transport Planner at MRCagney, was originally posted on LinkedIn.

Gender equity initiatives in the transport sector currently focus on the differences in how men and women use the transport system and promote equity between men and women. This isn't radical and it's not going to solve our equity issues. Instead, I ask that we focus on challenging the gender binary in our profession and create a transport system that is genuinely universally accessible.

Numerous initiatives have been set up by governments, professional interest groups and infrastructure funders to address gender in transport. These initiatives tend to have one major flaw in common: they only focus on the inequities between men and women, and ensuring women's needs are considered in transport planning/policy. In other words, they reinforce a binary notion of gender which will limit the amount of change that can occur in the transport system.

It is thought that around 2% of the world's population identifies outside of the gender binary. Studies of millennials in the USA put this number as high as 12%.

This isn't a new phenomenon. Trans, non-binary and otherwise gender non-conforming people have always existed. What seems like an increase in the number of gender non-conforming people is actually an increase in visibility and acceptance to levels that don't exist in living memory. Prior to colonisation, third gender identities, such as Fa’afāfine in Samoa and māhū in Hawai'i, were accepted and celebrated. Complex queer identities have even been recorded in ancient African cultures, proving that if anything is new, it's the colonial gender binary.

If we as transport professionals are committed to improving gender equity both in our profession and transport systems, we need to stop using the binary-style thinking that got us into this mess.

I recently attended a webinar on gender equity in the transport system where a panellist shared research findings that women feel safer on public transport when uniformed officers (e.g. police or firefighters) were present. Her conclusion was that these uniformed officers make everyone feel safer. Trans people experience much higher rates of police targeting and report high rates of negative experiences with the police. These statistics are even worse for trans people of colour, so I'm skeptical that police presence will make everyone feel safer.

When we only consider solutions that make women feel safe and conflate this with everyone feeling safer then we're not fixing inequities in the transport system, we're simply shifting them.

Instead of adjusting our technocratic, male-dominated transport system so that it includes women, we should be figuring out how to create a transport system that serves anyone's needs independent of the marginalisation they face in other areas of their lives. It's not enough to include people in the system, we need a system where no one is excluded. Taking this approach, rather than solving problems women have with the transport system, is more likely to produce an intersectional result which will actually benefit more women. We've seen how the feminist movement left behind low-income women, trans women, queer women, disabled women, Indigenous women, women of colour and sex workers - let's not do that again.

It's a big job. It requires social change beyond the scope of a transport planner's job description. However there are a few things that transport planners can do, starting now:

1. Collect data

Do trans and gender non-conforming people make the same types of trips as cis people? How do their experiences differ? Where are they going? Why?

The folks at Counting Ourselves have already started collecting this data and recent work from MRCagney has made a similar recommendation to the government. We need data embedded in transport planning practice that measures who takes trips and who doesn't if we want to start providing transport equity.

2. Challenge your own assumptions, and those of your colleagues

Much like the woman from the webinar who assumed that interventions that make transport safer for women would make transport safer for everyone, we all have assumptions. Assumptions arise from our lived experiences and those of people who we regularly engage with. Not challenging those assumptions by engaging with those who have a different lived experience risks unintended consequences which are detrimental to achieving equitable outcomes. 

One example of a common assumption in many urbanist professions, and my pet peeve, is the assumption that CPTED makes places safer for everyone. This excellent piece on the value of queerness in public space by Marti Fooks is a great resource if you want to start challenging assumptions like this.

3. Hire a gender diverse workforce

Imagine how easy it would be if you already had someone in your office with the lived experience and community connections that come with being trans or gender non-conforming. Also, it's nice getting paid to help your own community, so thanks MRCagney.

4. Support professional interest groups tackling inclusive gender equity

I've been to countless webinars and professional meet ups for women in the transport sector, but only one which focused on queer perspectives in transport.

At the moment, I'm one person thinking about this by myself, jealous of the progress women have been able to make by coming together to champion their issues. I would love to see queer people being able to do the same thing. On that note: if you're queer and working in the transport sector (or urbanism generally), message me!