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If women planned cities they would like this: Gugu Sithole-Ngobese

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South Africa’s cities were not designed with women in mind. From insufficient pavements and safe walking spaces to scarce public toilets and family facilities, the country’s cities do not factor in the needs of the women and children who use them.

So, how would our cities differ if they were designed by women? We asked Gugu Sithole-Ngobese, founding chairperson of Women in Planning SA (WiPSA) what her city design would entail. These are her plans:

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She should not have to think about the ways in which she is limited by the way her city is designed. She should see herself in the policymakers and know that they are making decisions on her behalf and in her best interests.

South Africa’s cities have not been built to suit the needs of women. And one of the key areas in which planning and urban design has failed, particularly in this country, is in the area of gender mainstreaming, which is the practice of ensuring that all genders are accounted for equally, in policy, legislation and resource allocation in all areas and at all levels.

In spatial planning, both urban and rural, it is about considering how different gender groups use public spaces.

City planning needs to consider who is using the space, the number of people, how they use it, why they use it and where most uses take place.

With more than half of the population of South Africa being female, our country’s cities need to be planned with women in mind. Women are the primary caregivers of our society, and studies have shown that, by designing cities with women in mind, the entire city benefits.

Following the frameworks provided by cities such as Trappes in France, Turku in Finland, and, most notably, Vienna in Austria, South Africa could benefit from:

• Providing public transport outside peak hours, as women use public transport more often and make more trips on foot than men. We also have more varied transport routes as we go between doctor’s appointments, fetching children from school and shopping, while men are more likely to leave for work in the morning and return in the evening without making additional trips during the day.

• Developing wider pavements and staircases with ramps to allow for prams and wheelchairs.

• Providing additional street lighting to make it safer for women to walk at night.

• Increasing the number of public toilets. By increasing the number of public restrooms, sexual assault could be reduced by 30%.

• There are baby-changing facilities in shopping centres and restaurants but we need more of these elsewhere. In places like taxi ranks, parents need to be able to change their children in safe and clean environments.

• Increasing the number of affordable and accessible childcare centres in cities, so all parents – from domestic
workers to business people – have access. These should provide safe, qualified childminders to parents who are
unable to watch over their children during the day.

• Designing parks with gender diversity in mind. Doing so would provide a space for children to play without the pressure of conforming to stereotypes.

The ways parks could be redesigned include:

• Providing a range of spaces for a variety of sports. This could include soccer fields and volleyball courts.

• Providing more benches for children who are not interested in sports but who want to interact in a public space.


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