Glasgow’s apparent move to more progressive town planning is impressive, but insufficient without action to back it up.
Last month, councillor Holly Bruce put forth a motion which aimed to make public spaces in Glasgow safer and more inclusive for women and people of marginalised genders. The motion, which has since been passed, states that “a gender neutral approach to city development does not work,” and the needs of women require urgent attention in this department. Therefore, the aim is to adopt a feminist approach to town planning and allow women to become central to planning, budgeting and policy development.
Now on paper, this sounds fantastic, a step in the right direction for sure. It’s the first motion of its kind to be passed in the UK, and the importance of that shouldn’t be understated. It shows we’re making progress, and that Glasgow councillors recognise the issues that people of marginalised genders are facing.
That being said, I’m on the fence about the publicity it’s received since. Refinery29 reported that Glasgow is being called “The UK’s First Feminist City,” as a result of this motion being passed. As much as I want to agree with this, I don’t, at least not yet. Here’s why.
Earlier this year, I wrote about an interactive map developed by Women’s Safety Scotland which allowed women to mark out locations where they felt unsafe due to reasons like isolated pathways and poor lighting. While I thought this was a great idea in principle, I wanted to see action from city planners. What was Glasgow City Council doing about the fact that women felt unsafe, even on their daily walk home from work? Months later, my doubts have only multiplied. I feel even more uncertain about whether the council will be able to take appropriate action, despite the positive change seemingly promised by this motion. The reason for this comes down to budget cuts: Glasgow City Council will reportedly be facing a shortfall of nearly £120 million next year, primarily because of inflation. Knowing that they’re almost guaranteed to face immense budgetary restrictions, how are we supposed to believe they can enact necessary change? Dealing with issues of poor lighting and the safety of marginalised groups in areas around the city requires more than inclusion. It requires funds.
At the same time, I think any move towards positive change should be recognised and appreciated. A few months ago, Scotland became the first country in the world to provide free menstrual products, and I think that is a tremendous milestone that should be celebrated as such. In my opinion, though, we should be wary of excessive praise. We should always strive to question things, especially when they seem too good to be true. My fear is that, as our vision of Glasgow becomes increasingly rose-coloured, we run the risk of prematurely deciding our work is done. When I see headlines like this, it reminds me of the type of romanticisation we often see when people discuss the Nordic countries, which are widely regarded to be leading the way with social progressiveness. That isn’t to say that the successes shouldn’t be celebrated, but it is to insist that they should be questioned at every turn.
So to those calling Glasgow the UK’s first feminist city: until actual change comes about as a result of this motion, until city planners are held to account and they prove categorically that this goes beyond tokenism – I do not believe you.