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Melbourne trials female figures on pedestrian crossings to ‘reduce unconscious bias’

Ten lights at the intersection of Swanston and Flinders streets will be fitted out with female figures in a 12-month trial

Gulf News

Mebourne: Replacing male figures in pedestrian crossing lights with women is a step towards gender equality and will “reduce unconscious bias”, an Australian lobby group has said, as Melbourne rolls out a trial scheme on Tuesday.

Ten lights at the intersection of Swanston and Flinders streets in the centre of Melbourne will be fitted out with female figures as part of a 12-month trial spearheaded by the Committee of Melbourne.

The not-for-profit organisation comprising more than 120 community groups and businesses is striving for equal representation of men and women at all crossings across the state of Victoria with its Equal Crossing initiative.

The initiative came at no cost to taxpayers - a spokeswoman specified that a local electrical company absorbed the cost as part of its sponsorship. The first lights changed were outside Flinders Street station on Tuesday.

Martine Letts, the committee’s chief executive, told the ABC that having only men represented at pedestrian crossings discriminated against women.

“The idea is to install traffic lights with female representation, as well as male representation, to help reduce unconscious bias ... We know that Melbourne is the world’s most liveable city and we would really like to see Melbourne also known as the world’s most equal city.”

Last year the City of Yarra area commemorated its first female councillor, Mary Rogers, in a walking signal at an intersection in Richmond. But the response to rolling out generic female figures to the rest of Melbourne has been mixed, with some criticising it as lip service towards gender equality.

The lord mayor, Robert Doyle, was not impressed by the initiative. “I’m all for doing anything we can for gender equity, but really?” he was quoted as saying by the Herald Sun. “Unfortunately, I think this sort of costly exercise is more likely to bring derision.”

Letts told the ABC symbols were a “practical and meaningful way to demonstrate that in fact 50 per cent of our population is female”. A spokeswoman for the committee said, for the the trial to be extended beyond 12 months, “the risk assessment would have to be positive and we would need a legislative change via VicRoads”. Melbourne is not the only city to recognise women at its pedestrian crossings.

New Zealand celebrated being the first country to give women the vote by installing a silhouette of the suffragette Kate Sheppard at eight pedestrian crossings in the capital city Wellington in 2014. It immortalised a mayoral candidate and transgender woman last year. Ampelfrauen are widespread in several German cities — in 2014 local politicians in Dortmund debated a 50 per cent quota for women figures. Vienna installed lights depicting straight, gay and lesbian couples for a short time in 2015.

Responding to Melbourne’s initiative, the One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts posted an image to his Facebook page of one of these lights, showing two stick figures holding hands and glowing green. He commented: “You know what is coming next, don’t you?”

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