Sexism and the city

How much has gender shaped our cities? As International Women’s Day approaches, UQ urban planning expert Dr Dorina Pojani explains how battling sexism in the planning industry might lead to more cyclists and fewer dark alleys.

My name is Dorina Pojani.

I joined UQ’s urban planning program as lecturer in 2015 and was promoted to senior lecturer in 2017. In my school, the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, I have served as interim chair of the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee and I oversee the urban planning blog.

What achievements are you most proud of?

My latest book is The Urban Transport Crisis in Emerging Economies. One of the strengths of this book is that it highlights the enormous gender constraints on urban travel in developing countries.

Public safety is a major concern for female transit users in many cities, with sexual assault being a significant issue.

Strict cultural and religious norms prevent women from cycling in some countries, and traveling by bike or on foot is unsafe for women and girls in others. 

These are the beautiful women in my family (mum, sister, and niece), who I only get to see once or twice a year.

What barriers have you faced?

Originally from Albania, I have lived, worked and/or studied in Austria, Belgium, Italy, The Netherlands, and the USA, prior to moving to Australia.

Being apart from my family has been difficult. Moreover, as an international migrant, I have had to undergo processes of acculturation - sometimes excruciating, adjusting to new languages and lifestyles in different countries.

Many times over, I have formed new attachments to new people and places, only to say goodbye soon afterwards. That’s a lot of heartbreak. 

What would you like to see change for the next generation of women?

Sexism is inherent in urban planning.

Virtually everything in our cities – streets, squares, parks, buildings – has been designed and shaped by men.

Nearly all of the references for urban best practices, as taught in Australian universities, are written by men. Women planners are often relegated to help-mate roles.

I would like future urban planning research and practice to be female-led. I would like women to rewrite the rulebook. The women-led city might become less car-obsessed and more cycling-friendly. It might have fewer dark alleys and more sunlit parks and kindergartens. Its skyline might display fewer towering office buildings and more cooperative community spaces.

Learn more about Dr Pojani’s research here.

Read a research paper Dr Pojani co-authored with her sister on gender, job access and transport here. 

Watch a presentation from Dr Porjani on cycling here.

Watch Dr Porjani talk about her research in her hometown Tirana here, here and here. The language is Albanian.


1. My husband and I in Astana, the spectacular new capital of Kazakhstan. I was conducting fieldwork for a research project while my husband was being a tourist.

2. In Bangkok, next to a poster promoting cycling. 

3. In Brasilia, Brazil’s modernist capital city.

4. My first time visiting the Moreton Bay.

5. After I gave a seminar in Abuja, Nigeria.

Other images iStock.