Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

From Equal Opportunities to Gender Awareness in Strategic Spatial Planning: Reflections Based on Swedish Experiences

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

From Equal Opportunities to Gender Awareness in Strategic Spatial Planning: Reflections Based on Swedish Experiences

Article excerpt

The Swedish government aims to mainstream the policy of equal opportunities into all policy areas, including spatial planning. This paper draws on the key findings of a research project on good planning practice, based on a survey and in-depth interviews, to investigate achievements and good examples in this area. The good examples turned out to be few and instead a number of shortcomings were found. This can be partly explained by the inherent limitations of the concept of equal opportunities. The aim of the paper is, therefore, to demonstrate why and how an alternative approach, based on a combination of feminist theory and planning theory, must and can be developed to mainstream equal opportunities into spatial planning.

The Swedish government is well known for promoting equal opportunities between women and men1 in its policy development. As a result, many policy areas today include relatively successful measures for implementing such objectives. However, this is not the case with regard to the field of spatial planning. Aside from a few interesting attempts by some municipalities, the promotion of the 'equal opportunities' concept in and through planning has not been successful. The concern of gender issues is, at best, limited to the general objectives listed in the introduction of planning reports. When interviewed, planners demonstrate ambiguity regarding the incorporation and promotion of gender issues, particularly at the level of strategic planning. Therefore, the integration of gender issues into planning has been a very slow process despite a general willingness among planners to achieve equal opportunities in society. A similar situation seems to be the case in Britain (Reeves, 2002; Greed, 2005).

The aforementioned findings are derived from a research project2 which attempted to find out what the gender perspective of Swedish strategic planning praxis was, or could be. The project's objective was to question the gender-neutral approach to planning and the subsequent failure to incorporate women's experiences, especially those related to their home life, into strategic planning. By combining principles of practice and theory, the research project aimed to be a project both for and about planning. My many years of practice experience combined with academic research provided a good opportunity to identify and to close the gap between practice and research in mainstreaming equal opportunities into spatial planning.

Sweden serves as an appropriate case study due to its 'woman-friendly' politics (Engelske and Astrom, 1992) and the development of what is characterised as state feminism in Scandinavian countries (Hernes, 1987; 2004). Policies based on the concept of the 'two roles of women', originating from Gunnar and Alva Myrdal, and the norm of the two-breadwinner family, have been developed to promote women's participation in the public sphere - especially as wage workers (Engelske and Astrom, 1992). For this reason, the research project focused on the public sphere and its relation to the private/domestic sphere.

The data collected for the research project suggest that there are several major reasons for the slow advance of 'gender-awareness' in Swedish planning praxis:

* Most spatial planning praxis is based on the assumption of being 'gender neutral' by focusing on the general public interest. However, the working definition of 'public interest' is seldom discussed.

* Comparatively few planners demonstrate an awareness of gender theory.

* The concept of equal opportunities, as defined by the Swedish government, is not useful in the field of planning.

* Planning is a field mainly developed by practitioners in their practical work.

In addition, the findings provided only a limited articulation of what a gender perspective in strategic planning could be. Therefore, two important questions have to be asked:

(i) whether the approaches developed by practitioners regarding the implementation of equal opportunities in the field of planning are inappropriate; and

(ii) is planning a policy area which is not prompt to the application of equal-opportunity objectives? …

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