There have been many lessons from the #MeToo movement, which, since it became a household name in late 2017, has encouraged people to speak upon about experiences with sexism and gender equality. One of the most powerful lessons may be the scope of the issue of gender inequity — especially in cases where sexism is so institutionalized. Now, a tool from the Australian government is opening up a door to address this systemic inequity: the Australian government's gender equality map lets users "pin" places where they've seen sexism in action. While the tool is currently only available in Australia, it is helping bring awareness to the subtle ways sexism is ingrained in society — and has lessons for those of us not in Australia, too.
The Gender Equality Map is currently only available for two city areas in the state of Victoria in Australia, where the University of Monash, which came up with the map, is based. The idea is pretty clear-cut: whenever people see an instance of gender discrimination in the way something is laid out, they note it down on the map. Examples could include a lack of women's or gender-neutral bathrooms, no stroller access, no effort to make a dark place well-lit and safe at night, and facilities that are locked or in some way unwelcoming.
"In isolation, individual experiences of gender inequality, like a lack of female change facilities at sports grounds, may not seem significant. However, when we view them collectively, we see the very real impact inequity has on daily life for women, men, trans and gender-diverse people," Anthony Aisenberg, director of Crowdspot, the company that helped develop the tool, said in a statement reported by Mashable. Aisenberg said that the information gathered by the app will "help councils, town planners, architects, policy-makers and the communities rethink how we care for all people in public places, and to identify design changes that improve public spaces, services and facilities to make our community a better place for everyone."
People have already started to use the maps to talk about both positive and negative elements of their experiences. A set of murals outside a women's health clinic, one participant noted, "includes colourful [sic] images of women and messages of empowerment. This makes me feel welcomed and safe, and brightens up a neglected space."
The tool is starting very small, but the fundamental idea behind it is a big deal. #MeToo has been empowering, but has also inspired conversations about how to effect real, structural change. The Time's Up Now Fund, which provides legal support of women pursuing sexual harassment claims, is one example of an initiative targeting the societal conditions that lead to harassment in the first place.
The Gender Equality Map isn't just about cataloguing evidence of gender-based discrimination in design and public space, thought that's important. It's also a direct line to people in charge of designing these spaces to be mindful of internalized biases about how people use space, and how design can contribute to sexism in small but profound ways.