• Opinion
  • March 29, 2019
  • 6 minutes
  • 2

We’re reshaping Buenos Aires into a city that works for women, too

Opinion: Cities as we know them were built by and for men

This piece was written by Paula Bisiau, Subsecretary of Sustainable and Safe Mobility of the Government of Buenos Aires. For more like this, see our cities newsfeed.


Cities as we know them were built by, for and from men’s perspectives. This means that every public space has been designed thinking about what men needed and used to do when participating in the public sphere.

Now, women are part of this public life but the urban spaces and transport networks haven’t caught up and don’t always respond to their needs.

This presents a particular challenge for us women who have a public role as “decision-makers” in urban politics. How can we compensate and correct the inequalities that exist in so many dimensions of our cities? Should we intervene, or wait until cultural changes in society gradually begin to leave their mark on urban infrastructure and design?

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Personally, I think it is necessary to intervene with active policies. Social changes never “occur alone”, they demand a real commitment from real people. Struggles against injustices cannot be left to the laissez-faire.

A model that I find exemplary is the struggle for black emancipation in the United States: even after the end of the Civil War, it took many years for these conquered rights to become effective.

Today in many states, policies that are called “positive discrimination” are implemented across various fields (especially educational ones such as universities, but not exclusively).

Urban spaces and transport networks haven’t caught up

What does positive discrimination consist in? Basically in establishing “quotas” for women or ethnic minorities to participate in diverse spheres in which otherwise they would not have been included. The reasons for this are not always obvious on the surface, but are related to numerous micro struggles that many have to face on a daily basis in a patriarchal world.

But it is not only about correcting inequalities backwards, but also and fundamentally about eradicating them for the future. That is why I support parity policies at the state-level, both in quotas for women on legislative lists and in Congress.

And that’s why I also support them in the field in which I work, as Subsecretary of Sustainable and Safe Mobility. Our Gender and Mobility policy starts from that political premise.

In the transport sector, so traditionally masculine (even today in some conservative countries women barely have access to a driver’s license), we encourage the incorporation of women in all areas. We want women driving taxis, buses and trucks, and we know that this will not happen by itself. That’s why we work from Buenos Aires City Government with companies and Transport Apps, unions and organisations of the civil society to achieve this. We can already celebrate that women are being incorporated in all these areas.

Our goal is to build a city that does not discriminate against half of its inhabitants

On the other hand, we also work to make more visible the discrimination and harassment that women suffer every day, and how this affects women’s physical, emotional and economic autonomy. Sexual street harassment practices were always part of the urban landscape of most cities in the world: in varying degrees of violence or radicalism, but always naturalised as part of “popular culture”.

To combat this scourge, we launched an aggressive communication campaign in Buenos Aires, present on all means of transport and in the main train and bus terminals, with the aim of making daily harassment visible. We are complementing this by launching an anti-harassment telephone line, with the objective of giving victims a real-time reporting and control tool, which works as a deterrent for the same harassers.

These are the first initiatives of a program that is already in motion, and that will converge on a single goal: to build a city that does not exclude or discriminate against half of its inhabitants. A City for Women is, in the end, a city for all. — Paula Bisiau

(Picture credit: Unsplash)

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