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Lottomatica Foundation and Percorsi di secondo welfare started a collaboration on the topic of sustainability. Our Laboratory will accompany the Foundation in defining a programme agenda that takes sustainability issues into consideration. Alongside more strictly research activities, we will also propose some thematic in-depth studies that will be published on the Foundation’s website. This article is the first of a number of articles we will write on the various facets of social and environmental sustainability. It has been published on the Lottomatica Foundation website and is also available in Italian.

In recent years, we have seen a gradual combination of environmental and social issues. This has happened in the field of politics – especially at a European and international level – but also in scientific literature, which increasingly questions the social consequences of the effects of climate change. The paradigm connecting environmental and social sustainability has therefore spread into public measures, as well as into the private world, for example thanks to ESG business approaches and the adoption of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda by companies and philanthropic organisations.

But what does it actually mean that environmental sustainability affects social sustainability and vice versa? Can the green transition towards more sustainable lifestyles and work really be right for everyone? How does the gender variable interact with climate change and with the measures in place to limit its consequences?

The illusion of ‘neutral’ policies

In Italy and, more generally, in Western countries, the life paths of men and women are still very different from each other, despite the profound cultural changes that have taken place since the 1970s. Belonging to one gender rather than another leads to different training and job opportunities (not only in terms of career choices, but also remuneration, as we have discussed here), different social expectations in various areas (including looking after the house and those living in it) and different possibilities when choosing how to manage one’s parenthood in relation to the world of work.

The lives of men and women are therefore very distant, both in terms of big decisions and daily rhythms and movements. This is why, for decades now, scholars have emphasised the importance of designing measures and interventions from a gender perspective, highlighting how there can be no “gender-neutral” policies. If a policy does not take into account the expected effects even when applying the lens of gender, it is not neutral, it is “blind” with respect to gender.

Academic research highlights the importance of adopting a gender assessment for all measures, not just for social policies. For this reason, it is important that states and organisations that promote environmental sustainability initiatives in various capacities always consider the consequences that the different measures may have on men and women.

The transport challenge

Is sweeping snow sexist? This is the question that opens the book entitled “Invisible. Exploring Data Bias in a World Designed for Men”, a journalistic investigation conducted by Caroline Criado Perez. The journalist and activist accompanies the public in an accurate reconstruction of the many areas in which women are considered “invisible”, since they are not involved in data collection and decision-making processes, and are ignored in the design of services and interventions.

Criado Perez’s reflection begins with transport, a particularly relevant topic when we talk about environmental sustainability. The first chapter tells the story of the Swedish town of Karlskoga, where at some point in 2011 all the measures were examined and modified in the light of gender equality. Despite resistance from officials, the snow plan was analysed as well, with interesting results: the busiest roads were evacuated first, with very different effects on the daily movements of women and men. And this is because, as Criado Perez says, “men and women have different ways of moving around”. The differences are manifested first of all through the means of transport: statistically, women use local public transport much more than men. The trajectories of movement are also very different: men are mainly engaged in paid work, therefore their movements take place twice a day, usually in the morning and in pre-school hours, with trips that leave from residential or peripheral areas and lead to the city centre or industrial and commercial hubs.

Women, on the other hand, statistically are more engaged in domestic work and care: in an average day, a working woman will not only travel to the office, but will also accompany her son to school, go to visit an elderly parent, bring her partner’s clothes to the dry cleaner, get the groceries, and buy new clothes for her daughter who has grown taller. In the daily life of a woman, travel – on public transport – is multiplied and is often characterised by so-called trip-chaining (several linked stops, possibly for different reasons, in various areas of the suburbs and city centre). This dynamic is combined with other socio-economic variables: statistically, women belonging to less affluent groups rely even more on local public transport. In addition, they are more likely to perform domestic chores and care work themselves without relying on paid professional support.

In light of these considerations, a convergence between environmental and social sustainability in the field of transport emerges: strengthening and improving local public transport and promoting urban initiatives such as the 15-minute city have a positive effect on the environmental impact of our cities. At the same time, these measures have specific positive effects on the daily lives of women in particular and, more generally, on the lives of groups that are more exposed to discrimination and inequalities.

Designing with women and for women

The design of urban infrastructure and transport must increasingly take environmental sustainability into account. At the same time, of course, it must consider the specific needs of citizens. In this sense, the fact that the gender perspective is increasingly adopted when analysing a certain problem and when proposing solutions is useful.

The example of transport is instructive. Women are the main users of public transport, therefore it needs to be designed by listening to their needs as well. This is something that rarely happens: public transport in our cities is often designed to give priority to work needs, both from the point of view of schedules and routes, just as was the case with the snow plan for Karlskoga.

Cycling infrastructure and public transport services can improve the environmental conditions of cities and metropolitan areas. The transport needs of men and women are different, but have the same value. For this reason, women can, and must, be involved in data collection and in the development of participatory processes (as we recently discussed here).

Therefore, giving priority to local public transport, even at the expense of private means, is not only a matter of sustainable mobility, but also a matter of inclusion and combating gender, racial and social inequalities.

Foto di copertina: Miran Lesnik via Pixabay.