The City of Vienna’s handling of gender mainstreaming

Von Katharina Nowak

The media plays a significant role in our society – it is not only an influencing factor but also a multiplier of opinions and a role model. According to the Ministry of Social Affairs, Health and Equality of Lower Saxony 2017 the media can either strengthen existing stereotypes in gender roles, or it can contribute to achieving equality beween women and men.  With the basic goals of gender equality of the City of Vienna: reduction of disadvantages, equal participation and a self-determined life style for both genders free of traditional role patterns, the metropolis has a role model function for the whole world.   Unfortunately, the very idea of gender mainstreaming, which is intended to contribute to a gender-equitable society based on solidarity, is, even today, anything but self-evident. In the education system, the concept of gender mainstreaming is being given more and more importance, which is very important. However the great mass oft he population that is not in education at this time will not be reached. What about politics? Is gender mainstreaming not unfortunately still a marginal issue here? In our seminar Research Practice my colleagues and I had the opportunity to conduct exciting expert interviews with contact persons of the City of Vienna on the topics of childcare/kindergarten, security, urban planning, community spaces and gender-neutral language. With the interviews we learned what a great commitment the City of Vienna is already making in the area of gender mainstreaming, but I would also like to highlight the weaknesses in the following.

While the City of Vienna with its basic theoretical concept and the considerations on how gender mainstreaming can be integrated into the various areas of everyday life definitely plays a pioneering role, there is, in my opinion, still some room for improvement as far as the implementation and publicising of ideas and measures is concerned.

One measure with which the City of Vienna is intensively engaged is gender-neutral language. This involves the targeted visualisation of men and women through language, as most people have grown up with a purely male-oriented way of writing. The City of Vienna develops numerous concepts and guidelines on how language can be used to change our consciousness and our perception of gender roles. However, Vienna can only use the spelling in everyday life to a limited extent, as people with a lower socio-economic status and less education are confused and therefore cannot be addressed. Even the Austrian Press Department refuses to use gender-neutral language. Gender-neutral wording has also met annoyance in secondary and higher schools: in a press article one reads about the so-called „gender madness“ in schoolbooks. Parents demand from the education department to ban gender-just spelling by means of slashes from all schoolbooks, just like the controversial Binnen_I. It is said that the comprehensibility of texts should be put in the foreground again and that children would be overwhelmed by any abbreviations and formulations.   Another example that underlines the need for the City of Vienna to communicate measures which are already implemented, is shown by the safety measures for women on public transport of the City of Vienna. For some years now, there has been a great safety system in subways, trains and trams which makes it possible, for example, to make direct contact with the driver in unpleasant situations. However, these services are almost never used, because they are not communicated properly. According tot he research from my collegues a lot of women are afraid to use the security system in public transportation systems because they think everyone will notice. Fact is, however, that a direct connection is made to the driver and nobody except the person and the driver is aware of it.

It is difficult to find a simple solution to the problems above. However, the next authority, namely those responsible in politics, should be called to account and pay attention to the issue of gender mainstreaming. A law that says that gender-neutral language must be used in press releases would be a first step. Furthermore, all politicians should use gender-neutral language in order to set a good example and to get people used to it. Thus, the gender measures of the City of Vienna would no longer encounter too much confusion, because people are much more often confronted with gender neutral wording. But something must be done now to break the stereotypes of the current generations. Especially with children, a lot can be done, which is why it is important to get children used to gender-sensitive language at a very early age.

In order to avoid that offers like the security system in public transport are not used, campaigns are needed that provide information. When reporting cases of abuse in trams, buses, trains or subways, it is possible to communicate in the news which services the City of Vienna offers to counteract this and how they should be used. Furthermore, these campaigns could be shown on the screens of the trams.

There is a lot of potential for improvement, but I would like to emphasise again that the City of Vienna is already a pioneer in what it does. There are few cities that deal with the gender mainstreaming issue as intensively as Vienna does. Finally, I would like to address the issue of childcare/kindergarten again. In this research I have learned about numerous strategies to combat gender inequalities and stereotypes. The „Education Box“ for example – provided by the City of Vienna – is a toolbox for educators, parents and caregivers to integrate gender sensitivity into their daily lives. Traditional gender roles are specifically reconsidered and alternative role models are designed. The City of Vienna thus enables girls and boys to develop a diverse interest and discover their talents. In my opinion, this is an important and very sensible starting point from which all those involved benefit.   In my future role as a media professional, I see it as my duty to always be open to new things and never stop learning. It is also important to spread the topic of gender mainstreaming and perhaps to achieve that more people take it seriously. SoundWomen is setting a good example – this is an initiative to build trust, networking and leadership among women in radio. Thanks to SoundWomen females have the opportunity to reach their full potential and gain more influence because someone believes in them.  There should be more such initiatives, whether for men or women, so that everyone, regardless of origin or gender, can realise their dreams.

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