Mapping out gender equality—for real

Dr Nicole Kalms

From badly lit streets, to sexist advertising, pram accessibility and limited change room access, patterns of gendered exclusion are everywhere—but a pilot Gender Equality Map has the potential to give planners and architects meaningful information to factor in future plans and create more inclusive communities.

This International Women’s Day, we spoke to UniSuper member and Director of XYX Lab at Monash University, Associate Professor Nicole Kalms.

What do you do and how did you get there?

I am the Founding Director of Monash University’s XYX Lab. We are a team of researchers exploring gender-sensitive design practices and challenging inequity in cities.

My background is in Architecture and Landscape Architecture, but I’ve always had a strong alliance with feminism and the specific challenges faced by women and girls in cities across the world.

What is the Gender Equality Map and how did it come to be?

The Gender Equality Map was commissioned by the Victorian State Government. The XYX Lab partnered with interactive mapping consultants CrowdSpot to launch the survey tool.

It allowed people of all genders and all age groups to map their experiences of gender inequality in public urban spaces. At present, the Gender Equality Map is being piloted in Darebin and Melton city councils with the hope of rolling it out across the rest of the state in the future.

And how does it work?

Crowd-mapping generates geolocative data. This is made up of points “dropped” to a precise geographical location. The data can then be analysed and synthesised for insights, tendencies and “hotspots”.

Through this research, the XYX Lab brings together planners, policy makers, local government and stakeholders to inform future work for gender equality in urban space planning, programs and facilities.

Now that the pilot program has finished, what are you hoping to achieve with the findings?

The Gender Equality Map and crowd-mapping projects more broadly reflect a shift in how we understand cities, architecture and urban planning. To understand patterns of inclusion and exclusion, to consider individual perceptions of cities—ones that may not align with our own—is one of the greatest challenges place-makers face.

Councils, town planners, architects, policy-makers and the community can use the Gender Equality Map’s valuable information to rethink how we care for all people in public places and identify design changes that make our community a better place for everyone.

More broadly, I hope the project will reveal the ways that architecture and design directly impact how people experience cities and public spaces. Some experiences in cities can be inspiring and uplifting, others may be isolating and even terrifying.  We need to understand why—especially when we’re thinking about gender.

The Gender Equality Map gives us new ways of seeing the world, of inventing urban solutions that provide for the well-being and dignity of every citizen.

What does this year’s IWD theme— ‘balance for better’—mean to you?

I think this year’s theme is all about challenging the status quo.  ‘Balance for Better’ is a call for understanding, it is a reminder that gender inequity is a not only a women’s issue. The theme asks everyone to play a key role in ensuring that there is gender balance in the work-place, in politics, on the sports field, in our families and to acknowledge the ways that the present lack of equity impacts everyone.

Are there any particular women—in public life or in your private life—who inspire you?

My mother (also a UniSuper member!) was the first feminist I knew, and her influence shaped my entire view of feminism. She introduced me to Germaine, to Ms. Magazine, and to female literature.

More recently—and at Monash University—I work alongside some of the most incredible female scholars. This means I have a range of inspiring and exemplary role models on which to chart my own ambitions and measure my success. I have been mentored both formally and informally by exemplary women who have thankfully paved a path ahead.

In Architecture, I am inspired by the work of PARLOUR – Women, Equity, Architecture – an organization that promote and advocate for gender equity in Architecture. PARLOUR was initiated as part of the Australian Research Council-funded research project Equity and Diversity in the Australian Architecture Profession: Women, Work, and Leadership. They have changed the professional landscape of Architecture not just in Australia but across the globe.

And finally, a question we like to ask all of the members we interview—what does your ideal retirement look like?

I am lucky that I work at Monash University with an excellent super package for academic tenured staff, but that does not mitigate the fact that – as a woman – my super may be nearly half that of my male colleagues. 

Should I be lucky enough to retire comfortably, I will be out in the world, still agitating for gender equality with a low slung Dachshund in tow.

Visit the Gender Equality Map.