Toronto is, in many ways, a good place for women. It’s relatively safe. We can earn a living.
And like all big cities, it offers anonymity or a sense of community, depending on your preference.
But there are also signs that women’s needs are discounted when it comes to making key decisions. York University Prof. Gerda Wekerle is more blunt: “Women,” she said recently, “have disappeared in terms of the way we’ve been talking about cities and the kinds of solutions to urban problems that we’re coming up with.”
The problem is most obvious in governments’ responses to the ailing economy. Wekerle, an expert on gender and cities, observes that the publicly-funded infrastructure investments and bailouts announced so far mainly address job losses in male-dominated sectors such as construction, manufacturing and finance. At the same time, government cutbacks put health-care and child-care jobs in jeopardy. Women’s jobs, in other words.
Is it a coincidence that there’s enough money for an auto sector bailout with its mostly male workforce, but not enough to continue funding thousands of subsidized child-care spaces that women, many of them single mothers, need in order to work? Or that city development fees for companies — most of them run by men — have been frozen, but mothers must dig deeper in the family budget to pay a 3.7 per cent increase in recreation program costs?
Assessing women’s needs might also change how we think about new transit investments.
“The whole push to build an extension to the Yonge subway may not help as many women workers as male workers,” Wekerle says. That’s because researchers know women make multiple stops on their work commute, ferrying their children around. This suggests women would benefit from a web of local transit improvements rather than a new subway line that
whisks them from home to work — or to the airport and back — with few stops in between.
Who decided this is the way it should be?
Not, I suspect, the people who are most affected.