Is the world’s most liveable city also about to become the most equal? That’s what lobbyists at the Committee for Melbourne’s Future Focus Group are hoping.
A day ahead of International Women’s Day, the Australian city of Melbourne has replaced ten of the little green and red men at pedestrian crossings with their female equivalents.
Approved by VicRoads on a 12-month trial, the traffic signals are an effort to address an ‘unconscious’ gender bias on the streets of the Victoria capital.
The not-for-profit Committee for Melbourne is behind the initiative.
Its chief executive, Martine Letts, said having only male silhouettes discriminates against women and she’d like to see both sexes represented on all pedestrian crossings.
“The idea is to install traffic lights with female representation, as well as male representation, to help reduce unconscious bias,” she said.
“The aim is to move towards one-to-one male and female representation across the state of Victoria.”
The group hopes this will be achieved through a legislative change to the Road Safety Act.
Not the first
Melbourne is not the world’s first major city to promote gender equality through pedestrian lights. Women’s silhouettes have been used in parts of New Zealand and Germany, while in 2015 the Austrian capital temporarily used gay and lesbian couples on its signals in the run-up to hosting the Eurovision Song Contest.
It costs an average of 6,035 euros to change just six traffic lights. The Committee for Melbourne and Camlex are footing the bill for the trial.
According to VicRoads, there are more than 3,900 sets of signals across Melbourne and five other rural cities alone, without delving deeper into the state. To change them all would, then, cost 3.9 million euros at the very least to change the whole state’s traffic lights.
Gender equality in Australia
Is there a visible gender bias in Australia? According to women’s equality advocates Equality Rights Alliance, “gender inequality continues to be a major barrier to the realisation of rights and access to opportunities for women in Australia.”
It says the average full-time weekly wage for a woman is 18.2 percent lower than a man’s, while the average superannuation payout for women is two thirds less than the payout for men.
Other inequalities include mothers spending twice as much time looking after children per week than fathers, the group’s website states, adding:
“In the 21st century inequality and discrimination continue to be experienced by women and girls in every area of their lives, from school to work, home, in the community and within peer groups. It is present in women’s health and reproductive rights, access to services, financial security, housing and representation in the media.
“This inequality is restricting the ability for women and girls to achieve their potential and play an equal role in Australia and globally.”
State Minister for Women and for the Prevention of Family Violence, Fiona Richardson, said she believed the addition of a female figure at traffic lights would encourage inclusivity in the public space.
“There are many small – but symbolically significant – ways that women are excluded from public space,” she said in a statement.
“A culture of sexism is made up of very small issues like how the default pedestrian crossings use a male figure – and large issues such as the rate of family violence facing women.”
She was keen to stress the initiative had been rolled out at no cost to the taxpayer.
Victoria Governor Linda Dessau is also said to have given it her backing.
But not everyone is on board.
Evan Mulholland, from think tank the Institute of Public Affairs called the move:
“Politically correct gesturing by policy makers that want to feel good about themselves.”
“Ordinary Victorians are concerned about job security, rising crime and transport infrastructure,” he added.
“If this is what our politicians, bureaucrats and policy makers think is the biggest issue facing road users then perhaps it goes a long way to understanding why we are stuck in traffic everyday.”
In addition, a poll carried out by newspaper Herald Sun found 94 percent of over 12,000 respondents were against the new traffic light symbols.
One reader, named as Amanda, commented: “Having a green and red walking man doesn’t make me feel less of a woman. Having these women push for this makes me an embarrassed woman!”
The Twittersphere has also been abuzz with reactions.
Better equality PR would be if Melbourne left pedestrian light signals the same and said "See, it doesn't matter what women choose to wear!"— Tudor Holton (@LordHootNut) March 6, 2017
So. The "women on traffic lights" thing:— Jessie Taylor (@taylor_jessie) March 7, 2017
a) women wear pants too
b) How many nights at a DV shelter can we buy in lieu of $8,400/light?🤦🏻♀️