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Women’s History Month: Reflecting on gender inequity in design

As Women’s History Month draws to a close, Marina Milosev, planning policy lead at the London Legacy Development Corporation, reflects on gender-informed urban design.

27 March 2024

RIBA Chief Executive Dr. Valerie Vaughan-Dick's insightful blog encapsulates the challenge of representation of women in accessing the built environment industry. Indeed, this is a critical issue, but it is also important that we discuss the agency our profession holds in dismantling gender-biased barriers built into the design of cities that hinder women from fully realising their potential as individuals and valuable contributors to society, communities, and economies. How well do we understand the connection between architecture and urban design and their impact on gender inequality, and what steps can we take to address this? 

Gender biases in city design

In her insightful piece for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, 'This is for the Majority', Jennie Savage, urban designer and social researcher, reminds us that, "Architecture makes our culture legible. It communicates the aspirations and values of the dominant culture (i.e. those with capital)". Our cities, predominantly designed by and for men in positions of authority, lack an understanding of the lived experiences of women and girls. This approach has embedded gender biases into every aspect of city design, compounding gender inequalities and limiting their opportunities for progress. 

This demonstrates that architecture and planning can considerably influence who benefits from development investments and how communities utilise and experience places. With this influence comes the responsibility to ensure that cities reflect the perspectives of all individuals, including women and girls. But how do we achieve this? 

This is the question that the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) has been tackling since 2021, where I have been part of the team leading the project aimed at generating evidence and developing guidance on gender-informed urban design and planning. As the first organisation in the UK to pioneer gender-informed design and planning, we have compiled our knowledge and good practice into a handbook titled 'Creating Places that Work for Women and Girls', which will be published later in 2024. This handbook outlines practical steps that architects, urban planners and developers across London and beyond, can take to ensure a gender-inclusive approach is applied in the planning and design process, through to delivery and long-term management.  

Women as trailblazers

It is important to acknowledge that our work has been profoundly influenced and inspired by the contributions of many remarkable women. These trailblazers laid the groundwork for us, while others supported and guided us along the way. This includes both professionals and the true experts - women and girls from the local community who actively co-designed this research with us. Their invaluable input has enriched our understanding and strengthened our commitment to creating gender-inclusive places that benefit everyone. 

As we celebrate Women’s History Month 2024, I urge readers to join us in advocating for gender-informed design and planning practices. Whether you are a professional, policymaker, or concerned citizen, your voice and actions matter. Let us work together to create cities that reflect the diverse needs and experiences of all individuals. For those interested in learning more, I encourage you to explore the resources and links provided below. Additionally, consider reaching out to local authorities to inquire about gender-informed planning initiatives in your community. 


Marina Milosev, planning policy lead at the London Legacy Development Corporation

About the author

Marina Milosev is a landscape architect and an urban planner with experience in the built environment sector across a range of specialist areas such as planning policy, development and urban regeneration. She is a passionate advocate for designing cities that are equitable for women, girls and gender diverse people.

Over the past three years, she has been leading a pioneering and award-winning research project that aims at generating evidence and developing guidance for built environment professionals on how to design cities that are more inclusive, safer, and equitable for women and girls, recognising that places which are more inclusive for women become more equitable for everyone. This work has gained recognition, resulting in Marina's nomination as a ‘Woman of Influence 2024’ by the RTPI.

Find out more about RIBA's EDI work.

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