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Gender in Spatial Development – Perspectives, Similarities and Differences

Barbara Zibell

 AK in Luzern




The discourse on sustainability is based on two normative elements: the concept of justice (intra- as well as intergenerational) and the concept of integration. It presupposes as non-controversial that justice between women and men, especially the equality of paid and unpaid labour, is a prerequisite for sustainable development. This includes symmetrical relations in terms of the variety of options for the realization of life plans. Since 1997 this element of sustainability discourse is backed by the Treaty of Amsterdam which requests that the “… community shall aim to eliminate inequalities, and to promote equality, between men and women” (Article 3). The strategy gender mainstreaming which is based on this article has meanwhile been introduced in all member states. However, in the professional world of spatial development and research the contents of the Treaty of Amsterdam have not yet become a natural and integrative part of planning practices and scientific reflections.


These key ideas and observations lead to the guiding questions of the IWG activities: „What effect does the acknowledgement of gender relevance have on the organisation and the structure of spatial planning and spatial use taking into account different European cultures?” Following this guiding question the IWG aims at presenting a theoretically based research framework. This framework is the starting point for the development of a gender-oriented survey focussing on the specific patterns in steering mechanisms of spatial usage, spatial planning and development in the European countries represented in this group. Based on this survey, a comparative analysis aims at identifying and describing differences and deficits which subsequently help identify new research questions.


The research framework proceeds in three steps, which reflect the different levels and degrees of implementing «Gender in spatial development»: from transfer, to integration and finally to implementation:  Transfer Why and how a gendered project / process can be started at all?  Integration How and when, under which conditions gendered projects can be anchored in given structures?  Implementation What kind of structures allow gender-oriented projects and processes to become a permanent integral part of spatial development? This research framework illustrated in form of a triangle (Fig. 1) can be used to analyze and discuss the conditions of gendered sustainability in spatial development including its processes, outcomes and institutional structures in relation to the required actions (transfer – integration - implementation) and builds the basic structure for the core chapter arrangement.

Figure 1: Research Framework; Diagram by Zibell, Dahms, Karacsony (2006), adapted

 Optional guiding questions may be the following:

  • Which concepts are relevant within the contexts of transfer resp. integration, implementation or/and evaluation on gender in spatial development?
  • How are they negotiated, by whom, when and where?
  • How can we communicate them more effectively in practice to achieve wider recognition in practice and planning theory?

Crucial points of the discussion were and still are definition of terms and concepts and their application – concerning Gender (Mainstreaming) and Gender Planning, built and social space as well as implications of sustainability for a gender-sensitive spatial development. An analysis of the terms and concepts findings will be incorporated into the common theoretical framework, which combines different discourses. An overview of the different frameworks on national levels will form the basis for comparing legal, organisational and cultural similarities and differences in the countries represented in the group. At the moment five subgroups work on selected topics, which have crystallized from initial analysis and are of joint interest for the participating countries. Another contribution offers critical reflection on simplifications and stereotypes in the use of gender concepts in the practice of spatial development and provides a state of the art of the European countries involved.

Mode of cooperation and working steps

Members of the working group are researchers as well as planning practitioners, who were recruited through a call of membership. They represent nine European countries: Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Finland, Great Britain, Netherlands, France, Spain and Greece. Besides eleven universities also the City of Vienna with its longstanding experience in gender-oriented city development and planning, offices from Austria and the Netherlands, with inter- und transnational research competence in space-related gender questions, are members of the group. The members meet once or twice per year at varying locations in the participating countries. Open discussion, collaborative learning processes as well as work on concrete subjects in mixed groups characterize the mode of cooperation. The five meetings, which have taken place so far, focused on the following topics:

1 October 9th – 10th 2014, Hanover

  • Objective: getting to know each other
  • Orientation phase: possible research topics, objectives, expected results
  • External input by Sara Reimann (ARL) on «Comparing systems of local land-use planning in Europe. An analysis of potentials and limits of research methodologies and academic discourses»

2 April 27th - 28th 2015, Lucerne

  • Personal approaches to the IAK topic
  • National perspectives: Gender in spatial development in the participating countries
  • Narrowing down of objectives and products: it was decided that the IWG will publish its findings as a book
  • External input by Beatrice Durrer (Lucerne University of Applied Science) on «Gender competence in Swiss regional policy and regional development»

3 November 19th – 20th 2015, Vienna

  • Preparatory work for publication: target groups, structure and outline
  • Brainstorming and collection of ideas: transnational thematic chapters
  • Field trip to Lake City Aspern

4 September 19th – 20th 2016, Dortmund

  • Field trip Dortmund PHOENIXSEE
  • Structure and modalities of the publication
  • Presentation and discussion of chapters drafts
  • Collection of open questions

5 April 6th – 7th 2017, Berlin

  • Discussion of reworked chapter drafts
  • Concretizing chapter contents and book structure
  • Publishing conditions  External input by Christiane Droste (UrbanPlus) on «Gender consultancy in housing and spatial development in Berlin and elsewhere - Potentials and barriers»
  • Field trip gender planning in Berlin

6  November 9th – 10th 2017, Vienna

7 2018, Hanover


Through their participation in the meetings and their written contributions the members of the group do not only broaden scientific findings in the field of research, the transnational exchange of ideas also helps to gain new insights into national distinctions and international similarities. Working results will be published in a book. Position papers and articles in learned journals will be written to help disseminate the findings to practicioners.