Considering gender equity in Toronto city planning
Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam says 'it's about how the city delivers these services, how we build our parks and community centres, to make sure we're not building in unconscious bias.' Wong-Tam calls the potential office 'long overdue.' (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Considering gender equity in Toronto city planning

In this article from CBC, reporter Lauren Pelley discusses a proposed framework and strategy for gender equity in Toronto.

Officials at the City of Toronto are pushing for the creation of a gender equity office and strategy for the city. According to one supporter on council, this effort is “long overdue.”

At a recent executive committee meeting, staff outlined a plan for bringing a gender-based lens to city programs and services. For example — in areas like housing, transit, child care, and urban planning. The staff also proposed the creation of a new unit that would monitor and deploy the strategy.

“It’s about how the city delivers these services, how we build our parks and community centres, to make sure we’re not building in unconscious bias,” said Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam.

Says the city’s chief people officer Omo Akintan: “gender inequities still persist in Toronto.”

The Fight for Gender Equity in Toronto

Women working in Toronto still only earn an average of 78 cents for every dollar a man makes. Moreover, more than 20 per cent of women in the city are low-income.

The city needs to design infrastructure and neighbourhoods to fit the needs of “men and women, including non-binary and trans people,” Wong-Tam said.

“Often we have to factor in safety in a particular way for women and girls … for example, having better-lit streets,” she explained.

A recent study put Toronto in eighth place in a ranking of gender equality in 26 major Canadian cities. The report looked at economic and personal security, education, health, and leadership positions.

The centre said the largest gap is specifically in the domain of leadership, which echoes Akintan’s new report.

To illustrate, women hold only 20 per cent of senior leadership positions in the city’s corporate sector. Further, women only hold around 30 per cent of positions on Toronto’s city council.

Mayor John Tory plans on backing the proposal and new recommendations at executive committee this week.

If approved by council, the city’s gender equity unit would be launched at a cost of more than $333,000. This would cover community consultations and hire two new full-time positions in 2020, with a strategy developed by the end of 2021.

Toronto would be taking cues from Vienna

Wong-Tam believes it’s “long overdue” and effort well spent, and says the city would be taking cues from Vienna, Austria. Vienna has been long recognized as a leader on the gender equity front.

Vienna’s leadership in gender equity began two decades ago. City officials administered a survey two decades ago on how residents use public transportation, notes coverage from CityLab. It found women used public transit more often than men, and made more trips on foot. 

With that in mind, urban planners added more lighting to make walking safer at night. They also widened sidewalks so pedestrians could navigate narrow streets.

For Vienna, gender is now a direct part of the decision-making process. The city no longer has to tweak new designs—instead, it gets them right for all genders the first time around.

“It’s actually good business-sense at the end of the day,” Wong-Tam said.

Andrea Gunraj, vice president of public engagement for the Canadian Women’s Foundation, is among those hopeful the office could lead to “people-centred solutions to common city problems,” and help build more accessible public spaces and better municipal services and transit options.

“Building gender equity translates to better quality of life and opportunities, period,” she said in a statement provided to CBC Toronto.

“It’s not just the right thing to do to uphold human dignity and rights and comply with the law, it’s a very smart use of resources and energy.”

Want to help promote equality in your city? Get Involved with WFCC, or Submit a Wise Practice.

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