The Gendered Landscape - Challenging power in European cities
City/Region : Umeå , Sweden

What does a bus station, a park or a tunnel say about equality and gender issues? The Gendered Landscape allows visitors to travel through the city of Umeå, a municipality that has worked broadly with issues of gender equality for a long time. The method exemplifies successful changes and landmarks in the city and illuminates remaining issues and challenges in relation to the goals for gender equality. The purpose is also to underline the importance of gender in society and to try to show some results of long term work within Umeå municipality.

Agendas addressed
DecarbonisationUrban mobilityPublic space
HousingSocial inclusion and integrationLocal economies and employment
Pathways followed
  • Ensure equal access to municipal services
  • Involve citizens through participatory implementation
  • Encourage local private and civic engagement
  • Promote social innovation supporting inclusion
  • Guarantee equal access to information & digital services
  • Prepare policies for socio-cultural changes due to innovation

There are three examples in which the Gendered Landscape approach has been adapted for several different challenges relating to Umeå’s cultural, environmental and social sustainability ambitions:
1. As part of Umeå as European Capital of Culture 2014 (where one of eight programme themes was called “Challenging power”), and several international contexts were introduced to the Gendered Landscape tour. The ECoC programme was delivered with a high degree of gender equality from the city and all co-creating organisations.
2. 2. As part of Green Umeå (and Umeå as a three-time finalist for the European Green Capital award in 2016, 2017 and 2018), with the work on climate mitigation in the city.  
3. As part of Umeå's work with a Commission for social sustainability (underway in 2017), inspired for example by the EU Social progress index, where 12 indicators covering basic human needs, foundations for wellbeing and opportunity are addressed.

In Action

The tour is a way of making the statistics in the “Gendered Landscape” report come alive, currently outlining 25 integrated practices in the city, and is an innovative way of demonstrating concrete effects of striving for gender equality. The work has been led by the municipality, but also by other organisations and persons. The idea of the tour is both to highlight the city and the need for cooperation and collaboration in creating an inclusive city. One example is the park “Freezone”, a collaboration between different parts of the municipality and groups of girls in the city. The collaboration led to a better understanding of expectations that young women deal with every day and the need for public spaces where nothing is expected of those who visit it. With this new knowledge, a park was built in the city centre. Collaboration between the municipality, Umeå University and the Swedish For Immigrants school led to an understanding that there is a difference between being seen and feeling like an object or a subject in public spaces. How does background, age, gender and disability play a role, and how is the city planned? This led to changes in how public forums are arranged in the city to ensure that more inhabitants take part in the process.

Both these examples are part of the Gendered Landscape tour, which also includes places with work done by NGOs or public works of art, and highlights the constant interactions between public and private that are present in a city.

The Gendered Landscape is a very cost-efficient best practice, thus enabling easy transfer to other interested cities. The annual running cost of the Gendered Landscape tour for the city of Umeå is 40 000 SEK (around €4 000), which finances bus rental and other minor costs (communication, etc).

The approach was highlighted by the European Green Capital jury, writing that Umeå “has worked hard to identify groups not normally engaged in the discussion around environmental policy. In several instances, Umeå has taken into account how gender impacts engagement with the environment. This approach was appreciated by the Jury.”

Umeå and the tour have also been highlighted by the CEMR as an international model town for gender equality, where the Gendered Landscape approach is a core strategy for urban development (

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Since 2009 the city of Umeå provides guided bus tours around the city to show “the gendered landscape of Umeå”. This is an innovative way of showing how working with gender equality takes form in a city - exemplifying successful changes and progress in the city, as well as illuminating remaining issues. In line with Umeå’s high ambitions on sustainability and gender equality, the Gendered Landscape method has been developed in Umeå and, to the best of our knowledge, it is the first of its kind in Europe. The method is not about traditional neighbourhood safety/security surveys, but rather about taking the city itself as the starting point, highlighting gendered power structures throughout the city and how they can be understood and transformed.

The method of "the Gendered Landscape" is being used for education and creating awareness of the importance of a cohesive understanding of gendered power structures concerning all urban planning in the city. The method raises important questions about the city’s development and identity issues that are norm critical and in some cases provocative as well as challenging and dynamic. How do we build new tunnels, playgrounds, meeting places and recreation centres? Do we plan our public transport for those who use it or for those we wish would use it? Why do women use public transport more frequently than men? Who has the power to decide? What knowledge do we use when we are working to develop the city and our public spaces?

A VR version of the tour of part of the Gendered landscape tour is available at: 


There are several examples of how the initiatives of the bus tour have made an impact in the planning and development of the city.
The Freezone initiative (described in question 4) has impacted the work of the Umeå Street and Parks department, changing their methods for dialogues with citizens and gender-mainstreaming the content of steering documents. Another example from the tour is the example of the Gammliavallen football stadium and the city’s ambition for more equal use of public spaces and sport arenas. In 1999, a political decision by the municipal board of leisure led to practice hours being divided according to what division soccer teams played in, regardless of gender. As a direct result Umeå’s leading women’s soccer team, Umeå IK, got to choose their practice hours before the leading men’s team, Umeå FC. Since then, the decision has impacted the distribution of practice hours in all municipal arenas in Umeå.

A third example is from Umeå as a cultural city, where the cultural sector continually monitors gender representation in the city cultural scene. A positive trend towards more gender equality is observed over the last few years. As of 2015 there were 45% women (in 2000 total events) represented on the main cultural stages in Umeå.

The environmental impact of a Gendered Landscape approach is also visible, for example in the transport system, where the city of Umeå transport habit survey currently indicates a 16% difference between men and women in car usage for trips up to 5km within the city. That is, if everyone in the city travelled like women in the city do, the city's sustainable transport targets (55% sustainable transport modes 2014, and 65% 2022) would be met.

Challenges and lessons learned

In an international context, we see great potential to reuse the methodology as it is easily adaptable to different local cultural and social contexts. International exchanges have been done within the framework of Umeå as European Capital of Culture, and around 30 other international exchanges. The continuously expanding strategic and legislative context for these issues at all levels are also observed in the interest that the methodology is generating both locally and in regional, national and international cooperation, for example connecting to UNSDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls and UNSDG 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

The gendered city landscape


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