Can Snow Clearing Be Sexist?
Woman on snowy road with baby stroller

Photo credit Maxim Krivonos on 123RF.

“It all started as a joke…” So begins the first chapter of Caroline Criado Perez’s book, Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. “At least snow-clearing was something those ‘gender people’ can keep their noses out of” an official in Karlskoga, Sweden, was reported to remark.

And so the Swedish gender equality initiative team began to explore whether snow clearing was sexist. Sure enough, they found the routine of clearing snow typically benefited men over women. In the winter, snow was cleared first on main roads leading into the city, benefiting commuters—who were mostly men. Foot- and cycle-paths were cleared last—not so good for pedestrians and cyclists, who were very often women traveling with children in pushchairs.

There was a cost to all this: 79% of pedestrian injuries occurred in winter, of which 69% were women. The estimated cost of these falls was SKr36m per winter, about USD$3.7m / £3m / €3.4m / Indian ₹279m. By clearing paths first, accidents decreased by half and saved the local government money.

So why were women in Sweden suffering a disproportionate amount of winter injuries? Was it because:

  • Policies and practices were designed without triangulating data sources from different public sector departments or utilizing sex-disaggregated data to highlight different experiences and outcomes of men versus women?
  • Decisions were being made by those in power that reflected only their experience and needs, namely those driving into the office on snowy days?
  • Deeply embedded values, biases, and mindsets that guide our daily interactions and views of the world, such as valuing paid employment over unpaid care work and working in office jobs in the city center over frontline service-sector and domestic workers?

As we enter 2020, shifting mindsets, power dynamics, policies, and practices will be vital for us to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5 “Women’s Equality and Empowerment.”

Foundations and nonprofit organizations will need to bring a gender perspective to their strategic planning processes, data gathering activities, and learning practices. Companies must consider how their products and services serve the needs of women to derive competitive advantage, while also preparing for shareholders to demand more demonstrable progress towards gender equity across all levels of their workforces and supply chains.

As part of our commitment to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, FSG is fiercely dedicated to supporting our clients to better serve the needs of women and men, and close the inequity gap. We are committed to bringing a pragmatic, holistic, and sensitive approach to exploring the role gender plays in contributing to the holding in place of seemingly insurmountable (or hidden) problems. We must co-create gender-responsive strategies and solutions that include men and boys and that offer more effective routes to achieving equal outcomes in women’s and girl’s education, employment, health, and ultimately economic empowerment.

In the coming months, we plan to share our insights, lessons, and approaches to advancing the field more broadly. In partnership with our dedicated and passionate foundation, corporate, and nonprofit clients, some of our most recent engagements include:

  • Working with the H&M Foundation to develop a collective impact initiative to improve the quality of life for waste pickers in Bengaluru, India. The foundation aims to build resilient systemic change in the waste management ecosystem through a long-term cross-sector collaboration. The initiative will work with local nonprofits to improve the living conditions for waste pickers by supporting them with economic opportunities, education, health, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and access to finance. The initiative also includes a strong focus on gender equity, aiming to allow equitable access to interventions for women and girls in waste picker households.
  • Supporting Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV)’s Malaria in Mothers and Babies (MiMBa) team to explore how to make more medicinal options suitable in all trimesters of pregnancy and during breastfeeding available earlier than is the case today by making changes to the anti-malarial drug development process.
  • Partnering with Rhia Ventures to articulate the business case for reproductive health (RH). Through interviews and secondary research, our team found implications on talent attraction, retention, D&I commitment, public reputation, and cost. We examined corporate internal benefits for RH and public stances for reproductive rights to make recommendations about how companies can better support RH.
  • A project for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to research the changing landscape of menstrual health and hygiene (MHH) and identify opportunities for how different actors can work to improve the lives of ~500m women around the world who don’t have access to good MHH—a report coming out of this work is forthcoming in April 2020.

FSG is committed to supporting our clients and partners to bring a gender perspective to our approach. We strive to contribute to the field with lessons and insights that help “keep things practical” and continue to deepen and evolve our internal capacity and learning from leaders in the field.

We would love to hear from you about your experiences, reflections, and ideas, or if you just want to have a chat. Let’s make the 2020s count for moving towards gender equity together!

Learn more about our Gender Equity work >

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