Award-winning project Women Friendly City Project

Seoul , South Korea

This project aims to increase gender equality in Seoul by involving women in the decision making process.

Existing women’s policies prove to have difficulties with issues regarding women in various areas such as: education, environment, health, culture, transport, and housing policies, which all influence women’s’ everyday lives, because of a lack of gender-sensitive perspectives. Acknowledging the limitations of existing policies, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has adopted a new policy approach which, beyond gender equality, incorporates women’s perspectives and experiences in a broad range of city policies.
The Women-Friendly City Project, as it is called, started in July 2007 and is ongoing. The policy aims to encourage social participation and to establish a woman-friendly socio-cultural environment by means of 90 projects in the following fields:
  • childcare and other activities for under-privileged women (i.e. single mothers, migrants, etc…)
  • job creation, improving work conditions,
  • cultural activities,
  • upgrading safety facilities,
  • upgrading restrooms, transport facilities.

The project uses capacity building of women to give women a seat at the table and invite them to shape the development of Seoul to be women friendly. The theory behind the project is that when women are happy, society is happy. This project is easily transferable to other cities. It only requires a city initiative to involve more women in city decision making processes.

Award-winning project

This project was awarded the 'Metropolis Award' in 2011 in the following category: Honorable Mention. Learn more about the award.


City information

Size and population development
2011: 9,736,000; 1990: 10,544,000; 2025: 9,867,000; 2010-2015: -0.02% / year

Population composition
declining population due to high living costs and aging population; religions: Christianity and Buddhism

Main functions
Capital City, national and international economic hub

Main industries / business
finance, IT and electronics, food and beverages

Administrative structure
25 districts ("gu"), 423 neighbourhoods ("dong"), 13,787 "tong", 102,796 "ban"

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Background and objectives
The project began in July of 2007 with the objective to make Seoul a city in which women feel involved, safe, and happy. The project aims to increase gender equality in Seoul through the capacity building of women by involving women in decision making processes, and ensuring women’s rights throughout the city. Previously, the city’s urban design had a structural bias towards men. The main idea of the project is that urban space should be designed in order for equal use by both women and men.
The Women Friendly City Project (WFCP) focuses on several project areas to increase gender equality of the role of women in society: work, caring, culture and leisure, health, safety, environment, and urban space. The WFCP brings women into the decision making process in these areas. Local government provides incentives for city departments to place a high priority on women’s participation, and gender sensitivity training has become mandatory for all civil servants.
The project is supported by city departments, investors, government institutions, and women’s policy departments in Seoul. They develop programmes such as “The Mom is Excited Programme” which puts mothers back into the workforce, and a taxi service sponsored by the WFCP to bring women home safely at night.
The project received some disapproval from male critics, who complain that there is no “Male Friendly Seoul Project.”However, the idea of the Women Friendly City Project is that women, as a marginalised group in society, need special attention to improve their happiness in city living.
The Women Friendly City Project aims to increase the happiness of women in the city of Seoul by empowering women and increasing gender equality. WFSP strives to ensure equal rights for women by using capacity building measures to increase women’s involvement in the policies that affect their lives. WFCP focuses on seven dimensions of urban life to increase women’s happiness: work, caring, safety, culture and leisure, health, environment, and urban space.
The WFCP defines women as having multi-facet roles and identities in society. Therefore, the WFCP designed programmes to help women in all dimensions of urban life. The “work” initiative of the WFCP aims to bring working women to higher positions, and help women who chose to stay at home with children re-enter the work place. The programme “Mom is Excited” programme encourages women with professional degrees, who left with workforce to care for their children, to re-enter the job market. The programme also created 28,000 jobs for women in apartment complexes, supermarkets, etc…to bring women from all walks of life into the workforce. The programme provides further assistance to women wishing to find employment through consulting services, a “Women CEO Academy,” and a “Hope Call” services, which aids women in finding employment. The WFCP also provides certification to women friendly work places. Companies are assessed on their friendliness towards women under the guidelines of education for the prevention of sexual harassment and operation of an ombudsman agency, maternity and childcare leave, women employment rate, rate of white women in the workforce, and rate of female executives. In order to enable women to freely work, the caring programme of the WFCP provides quality, affordable, and diverse child care.
The safety aspect of the WFCP provides services for women to feel safe in Seoul. A team of women from the WFCP evaluate public spaces, and rate them on how safe they are for women. In order to increase safety in the city, the WFCP has installed surveillance cameras on streets, in parks, and in parking garages with special parking spaces just for women. Women’s restrooms have been installed with emergency alarms. The team of women evaluate public spaces and give them the title of women friendly, or make suggestions to increase the safety for women in an area. So far 240 out of 359 evaluated restrooms and parking lots have been certified as women friendly facilities. A women friendly taxi service has been created to get women home safely at night. The license plate, departure location, and departure hour are sent to the woman’s family through a text message.
The culture and leisure aspect provides entertainment to women for a low cost. Brunch concerts, events with cheap ticket prices, and concerts specifically for women and their children are organised for women to relax and enjoy the benefits of entertainment.
The WFCP provides affordable and accessible health and medical assistance to women so women can achieve physical, psychological, and social well-being. In addition the environment measure aims to protect the urban environment through eco-friendly sustainable development. Development projects include a garbage disposal system, which separates food waste.

The urban space initiative creates greater accessibility and space in the urban environment for women. Sidewalks have been improved to ensure that women’s heels will not break in the cracks. Busses have become women friendly. This ensures that busses do not make sudden stops when pregnant or elderly women are on board, bus stops only for women at night, improving accessibility and space for strollers, and lowering the stabilizing straps on busses and metro trains to account for women’s height.

The WFCP carries out programmes by empowering women to take part in the development, policy making, and monitoring. The Women and Family Policy Bureau manages the project while 16 offices of Seoul City, investors, and government-funded institutions development programmes contribute to the implementation of women friendly measures.

Financing and resources

The project was originally funded by the Seoul City Government with a budget of 512 billion won (US- $408 million). Additional funding was granted after the initial run of the programme in the sum of 221 billion won.

Local government, investors, and government institutions have also contributed funding and effort.

Results and impacts
The WFCP increased gender equality and the position of women in Seoul. Outcomes include:
  • An increase in the number of employed women and jobs for women
  • Women friendly areas and parking spaces
  • Women friendly sidewalks and Streets
  • Women friendly public parks and open spaces
  • Women friendly restrooms
Other impacts include capacity building for women through gender awareness programmes and gender sensitivity training for civil employees.
Barriers and challenges

The WFCP experienced relatively few barriers or conflicts. The project was seen by some critics as giving women unfair preferences and treatment. Some men for instance complained about the women friendly parking spaces saying that they must now park farther away and have limited space. However, these parking spaces are available to male drivers if other parking spaces are full. Both male and females questioned whether the WFCP was the best way to spend the funds appropriated to it.

Lessons learned and transferability

The WFCP has already been transferred to other cities in Korea. At the 2nd Metropolis Women International Network Forum, Seoul proposed the WFCP as a project all cities should consider adapting. The WFCP began working with the UN in 2010 to create women friendly policy manuals and country specific projects.

External links / documents