What role can women play in helping to shape their built environment?

This post is an extract from a Q&A by sixty7 Architecture Road, a Canadian site devoted to the built environment, which asked four individuals, from various professional backgrounds, and from different parts of the globe, to give answers to the question

What role can women play in helping to shape their built environment?

Read my contribution below and check out the other responses here.


A survey was once conducted to find out what teenagers, girls and boys, feel about their built environment. Predictably, it found that many teenagers dislike schools, corporate and hospital buildings. However, surprisingly, it also revealed that neither are they fond of places like museums, theatres and art galleries. They find them boring and associate them with stale, restrained and hierarchical traditions.

I refer to this example as the results of the survey reveal a problem we have with much of our contemporary environment, namely that it reinforces dated traditional values rather than fosters modern, exciting ones. And many of the traditions that our environment strengthens are patriarchal ones. In other words, male dominance has not only shaped architecture but architecture has also supplemented male dominance.

This is why much of our built environment today does not cater to the needs of women. Take for instance, the comparatively long queues that women often meet when visiting a public space’s restroom. Or more gravely, consider maternity wards, where women are crammed into formal and emotionless spaces in which they must experience one of the most intimate, humbling and frightening experiences that a woman may go through.

Like all technology and development, architecture needs to be more inclusive and modern in the 21st century. Architecture must work for women not against them. As professors, architects, community leaders, politicians and other professionals, women have to get more involved in the act of creating space. We can exercise our power by choosing environments that cater to female sensibilities. Whether it’s buying and decorating homes, choosing universities, hospitals, grocery stores or making mundane lifestyle choices like which restaurant to visit; wherever possible we should go for environments that cooperate with our visual and practical comfort as well as with our safety and we should articulate why we make these choices. The more voice we give the issue, the more the market will respond accordingly.


What do you think? Do you notice ways in which the environment meets/neglects the needs of women and how can women continue to shape the environment?

  • http://myburntorange.wordpress.com freedes

    Great post. To be honest I viewed this from an industry point of view where the built environment extends beyond the boundary of the home. It includes infrastructure: our roads, electricity networks, rail system, drainage and water system. In the rural African context, this infrastructure could save the lives of many women and children. How to get to a hospital and linking that to a working transport system. Education and electricity? Collecting water all day vs participating in the productive economy. The connection between infrastructure and health? Surgeons having to operate in urban areas under the light of mobile phones even in high flying countries that still suffer chronic power outages? Phew… this is why I have not quit my day job. I still manage the process of building infrastructure, however it often escapes my mind what the connection is between my macho built environment of electrical engineering and women, but when I apply this to places that haven’t got a tenth of what takes me to work everyday, it becomes crystal clear. This has lead me to pursue studies in construction economics and management. A course that has been such a juggle, trying to manage working, studying, raising babies, blogging, writing that healthy afro food cook book? That huge void in the built environment is a reminder of why I shouldn’t give up. Thanks for sharing this post Minna.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Hi Freedes, thanks for sharing thoughts! It’s especially good to hear from someone who is highly involved in infrastructure development. The more I think about it the more frustrated I feel with how our everyday built environment works against us. Don’t give up, you’re doing truly important work.

      When is the cookbook out? :)

      • http://myburntorange.wordpress.com Freedes

        Hi Minna

        I gave myself a 2013 deadline. I am still hoping it will be picked up by a publisher, waiting to hear from a couple of literary agents, however I have a “do now” date in mind where I will pursue self publishing, I need to reach that 2013 goal!

        • MsAfropolitan

          How exciting, fingers crossed!