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Co-creative artwork made by participants at the Women for Sustainable Infrastructure event in Frankfurt. 

How to consider women in commissioning, managing and benefitting from infrastructure projects? Health, urban design, energy and mobility projects require investment and long term planning to deliver the hospitals, roads, and basic utilities we all depend on. Taking account of the needs of all those who use public infrastructure services, including women, seems obvious. And yet, we all know that women tend to feature less in the sectors that develop infrastructure.

It was therefore exciting and intriguing to be invited to speak at the first Women for Sustainable Infrastructure Projects & People-first Public Private Partnerships networking event in Frankfurt, organised by Natalia Korchakova-Heeb of SDG.17 Consulting. As advisors on EU policy, projects, funding and sustainability, Irina Michalowitz and I were delighted to find ourselves in a group of successful female professionals from across the world – Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas – all experts in our fields with decades of experience to share, and to shape the future.

Women representing The World Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Tanzanian government, European Commission, German government, Afghanistan … were joined by experts from Bosnia Herzegovina, Brazil, Brussels, Poland, Switzerland, Turkey, the US  and Ukraine. Looking around the room, it was hard not to feel pleasantly surprised by such a diverse group of women, each forging their own path, influencing the world of work but also society around them.  

It was heartening to learn about truly innovative projects in some developing countries. Just as it was surprising to discover that in developed countries the needs of women (and children) are not taken into account. How to cater for women when designing a hospital, for example? Not simply women-only toilets and treatment areas, but looking after the specific needs of a large female workforce, making access by public transport easier, parking safer, building an onsite creche, etc. 

At the EU level, it’s tempting to think that we have gender equality mainstreamed in public-private projects.  However, a review of EU institutions and funding programmes reveals that we still have some way to go. The European Investment Bank, which manages the EU’s biggest public-private investment fund of Euro 500-650 billion, has a gender equality initiative. But it is still working on its own internal gender equality programme. In 2018, the European commission was asked by a female MEP how many women were involved in the projects it has funded. The EC was unable to answer because they had not measured it. In her Mission Letter, and the composition of her team, the President of the European Commission, Ursula  von der Leyen, commits to gender equality. But the Commissioner-designate for Budget and Administration, Johannes Hahn, had to be reminded in his Parliamentary approval hearing that gender equality is now also in his mandate.

Mainstreaming gender equality should not mean box ticking however, or neglecting other demographic groups – criticised in Frankfurt as counterproductive. But I could imagine the European Commission deciding to make gender equality considerations a precondition of every future project or proposal that is funded from the EU’s 2021-2027 budget. Does the project take into account gender in its design, development and implementation? How will the project consult the people affected by it, including women? How will it measure impact on them and on society?

In Frankfurt, we learned about tools and techniques available to measure project sustainability and compliance with the UN SDGs. We also heard about groundbreaking projects that had been successful, as well as those that had failed because they neglected to consider gender aspects. And we learned that each of us is contributing towards making our societies more gender-friendly and therefore sustainable. 

Sometimes, it helps to meet others from different parts of the world to realise how far we have all come, but also to see how much further we can go. 

The next Women for Sustainable Infrastructure and People-first Public Private Projects networking event will be held in July 2019. Contact us at if you are interested in mainstreaming gender equality. 

Rue Charles Martel 5, 1000 Brussels

Irina       : +32(0)478.39.03.73
Cristina : +32(0)475.67.52.75
Natalie  : +32(0)474.42.74.38
Julia       : +49(0)