< ctrl-f > or how to read a planning document

My, how many planning documents there are on earth. Guidance, strategies, plans, proposals, frameworks. They are dense, technical and generally don’t have much of a plot. And suddenly, as Make Space for Girls, we need to look at a lot of them.

There is of course one efficient way of dealing with the problem, and that’s the find function. A quick word search can reveal pretty much everything we need to know.

So, <ctrl-f>, let’s start with ‘gender’. No, that’s not mentioned anywhere in this. How about ‘sex’. No, not that either. Let’s try ‘girl’. Nope. ‘Woman’. No. As a last chance sometimes I’ll even put in ‘boy’ just to check. That’s not there either. Houston, we have a problem. No one out there is thinking about sex and gender issues at all.

Two big strategy documents came our way this week, and both of them, when subjected to <ctrl-f> were reliably disappointing.

The first is the National Model Design Code, which the government have put up for consultation here. This sets out a framework on which local councils and other authorities will base their own design codes, so it’s an important piece of work. It says that it should lead to ‘beautiful’ buildings, which is so subjective and undefined that I can’t wait to see local councillors applying that to their planning decisions. More importantly, it also sets out guidelines about how new estates and areas should be built, what their open spaces and play areas should be, how transport links should work and the importance of consulting residents. But the words gender or sex appear absolutely nowhere in this document, even though there is a whole body of published research which shows that gender mainstreaming in planning absolutely works in creating better – and different – places which work for everybody, not just men.

At the bottom of the consultation the final question is as follows:

Q16. We would be grateful for your comments on any potential impacts under the Public Sector Equality Duty.

Our comment, boiled down, is that because it fails to mention sex or gender the whole document is in breach of the Public Sector Equality Duty. If you want to say something similar, the consultation closes on Friday 26th, so you’ll have to be speedy.

I had higher hopes for The 20 Minute City, which is published under the aegis of a whole group of people who ought to know better, including the Design Council, Sustrans and Sport England. Again, this is a blueprint for building places which work better for people, covering everything from jobs, sustainable transport, green spaces and parks. In short the whole concept of liveability for which gender mainstreaming is so important.

But what does our search function tell us? Gender is mentioned once (I have a whole rant about the exact context, but will spare you*). Sex is mentioned twice, and once that is simply because a case study was built in Sussex. Women are also mentioned twice, and one of these is to say that they must have their needs met. Hurrah, but given that the entire rest of the document fails to consider women and girls, or sex or gender that’s a bit of an empty statement.

If we’re not even talking about sex and gender, how on earth are we ever going to address the many, many inequalities?

Now, these are general documents, and while they are disappointing, they are not central to the work of Make Space for Girls. Where the search function gets really fun is when we apply it to play strategies. But we haven’t had to look at any of those this week and this is already quite long enough, so we’ll save that for another blog.

*Oh alright, if you insist. The only time gender is mentioned in the entire 20 minute neighbourhood document is in the context of schools being at the heart of the community. This comes in a table which shows how the concept fits in with various key strategies. Putting schools close by homes aligns with Goal 5 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which is Gender Equality.

This absolutely fries my brain. So the document simultaneously manages to acknowledge that gender equality is an important goal, as set out by the UN, while at the same time totally ignoring it in every other aspect of its scope. The logical inconsistencies of this are so intense that all I can do is lay my head on the desk and gibber.

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