8 questions for Kathryn Travers
International Women’s Day Special
1. Can you tell us more about your career path and how you got to where you are now?
I always knew I wanted to do international work, so I approached the International Centre for the Prevention of Crime to complete an internship as part of my BA. I worked under one of my mentors, Margaret Shaw, and the Centre hired me on, allowing me to hold different positions within the organization.
I then left to do a Master’s in Costa Rica at the UN mandated University for Peace and went on to complete an internship in the UN Department of Political Affairs Mediation Support Unit afterwards. While I was there, I worked on a chapter for the second edition of the Human Security in Cities report for the Canadian government and Women in Cities International asked me to join their team. Over the years, I had a number of different positions within WICI but I stepped back from the Executive Director role a few years ago and I am still involved as a Senior Advisor.
Simultaneously, I work as a consultant for cities, international organisations, local governments and UN agencies, which I suppose makes me a small business owner!
Most recently, I was asked to support the MTElles project to make citizen participation more inclusive, especially to improve the representation of women in all their diversity in democratic life. This action research project is jointly implemented by Concertation Montréal (where I work), Relais-femmes and the Coalition montréalaise des Tables de quartier.
In all, it’s been a lot of luck and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have been given opportunities to continue to challenge myself, to innovate and to experiment while also feeling as though I am working towards making our cities safer and more inclusive.
2. What do you think of International Women’s Day in general?
Great question. I think it is incredibly important to have a day to celebrate women to not overlook their achievements and contributions. Let us keep a city focus to illustrate.
In 2016, in Montréal, women represented only 6% of the toponymy that are named after people. When we look at who are commemorated and celebrated for their historic contributions, we can easily observe that these are overwhelmingly male figures. Just think of the streets, public parks or places, transit stations or statues bearing people’s names and image. The city has been working on improvements, but we are a long way from equality.
If we take a broader example, think of all of the contribution’s women make around the world through unpaid care work, which is essential to ensure that cities keep running as they have been.
In Canada, it is estimated that women’s unpaid work represents the equivalent to 14% of the GDP, according to a study by the OECD, a figure which goes up to 33% of the GDP in other countries such as China.
International Women’s Day is and should be political. It is meant to highlight and celebrate women’s social, economic, scientific, political and cultural contributions. It is also meant to shed light on persistent systemic imbalances and inequalities (cough, the patriarchy) that maintain and reinforce inequality and oppression.
Unfortunately, I think that it has lost some of its political significance as it is increasingly commercialized.
3. How do you see the situation evolving in the next decade/how has it evolved in the past few years?
At this time, it is imperative that we do not move backwards. We have to take bold action to accelerate progress for gender equality, which is said to be the greatest potential accelerator for achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. But it is a challenging time for women right now.
On the one hand, we have movements like #MeToo which have created space for discussions around the everyday violence women and girls face in various spaces, from the workplace to college campuses to city streets that remains overwhelmingly underreported. This means that we are now having more conversations around consent, sexual harassment and the consequences of violence or fear of violence than ever before.
However, there is an important backlash and pushback emerging where the gains that the women’s movement has secured over the past decades are under threat.
We are far from making progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment across various sectors and issues. For example, twenty-five years ago, the world adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action which is currently under review and we see that while we have made some progress, there continue to be gender gaps across all sectors. What’s even worse, a recent study by UNDP demonstrated that globally, almost 90% of people – men AND women – are biased against women.
4. What can you do to make cities safer spaces for women?
In a city’s context, I would love to see more cities adopt a gender-based analysis plus approach to all urban development, service provision and governance. Gender responsive urban and transportation planning is essential to improving women’s daily lives and to increasing their perception of safety in the city.
All public policies should make use of a mix of quantitative and qualitative data taking into consideration the daily lives of diverse women and girls to inform policy, plans and strategies.
There are a number of participatory tools, such as the women’s safety audit, that can be used by local women and grassroots groups to audit the spaces in their communities and to advocate for change.
These are some examples, but at the end of the day, we really need to transform social norms and fundamentally transform systems to truly address inequalities, power imbalances and the root causes of violence against women and girls.
Change needs to happen everywhere, at every level and all at once to end violence against women and girls.
5. Why is this so important?
Creating safe cities is essential for gender equality and women’s empowerment. Violence against women and girls is a violation of their human rights. It also has important consequences on their daily lives, as they experience harassment and have to change their mobility choices, resulting in limited access to opportunities.
You can make all kinds of cases about why it is important, linking it to economic costs, social costs, environmental costs but at the end of the day, women have a right to live a life free of violence and that should be enough. Women are being killed all over the world simply for being women. This is completely unacceptable.
We all have a role to play in making this happen, so let’s use this International Women’s Day to accelerate the change, starting in our respective spheres of influence.
6. How can women help women?
Women must help women from every horizon! Everyone has a role to play. From the way we speak to and raise our children. To step in to support another woman when you see she is being harassed. To be sure to cite the work of women in academic research. To never plan another ‘manel’ at a conference. To stand up for and celebrate women. To break glass ceilings and ensure that the path is clear for other women to reach these same levels. To ensure that we are intersectional in our support for other women to ensure that all women move forward, not just some. To believe women. To believe in women. To hold space. To create space. To amplify women’s voices. To call out misogyny and sexism.
Women are not equal anywhere in the world. We have to stand in solidarity with one another and to support and learn from one another at home and across horizons.
We are stronger together.
7. Have you discovered any initiative recently that you’re really excited about?
I’m really into the MTElles project I’ve been working on lately! We have been teaming up with municipal and paramunicipal bodies to strive for greater representativity in democratic life by changing the way we are doing question period during city council meetings or public consultations for urbanism projects.
I feel like there is increasing pressure on cities, architects, planners and developers to do public consultations but that few of them are given much training. It’s not all high cost and complicated solutions, there are many things that cities and others can do that are simple and have a positive impact on the experience of participation.
8. Last but not least, what is your priority as the NewCities Gender Inclusive Cities Fellow?
As Gender Inclusive Cities Fellow, it is important for me that NewCities embodies the change we want to see by integrating a gender responsive approach to all of its work and by working more explicitly on issues related to gender inclusion in cities.