A new report by the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women emphasizes the need to dramatically increase the representation of women, girls and nonbinary people in public spaces such as public art, buildings and street names in the city and the county.

Women are vastly underrepresented compared to men in public spaces across San Francisco, according to the 2022 Representation of Women in City Property report that was released last month. It found that women average 14 percent of representation in public property, less than half of the city’s goal of 30 percent representation.

“If we are serious in our commitment to become a fully gender equitable city across all indexes, then the equal representation of women, girls and nonbinary people in public art, buildings, streets and parks is essential,” the report reads. “People must see themselves reflected throughout our community.”

The department recommends for the foreseeable future that all new representations of historical figures in San Francisco should be named after, or represent, historical women, girls and/or nonbinary people. Additionally, plans for new projects similar to the Rainbow Honor Walk — a “walk of fame” in the Castro District — showing these groups would have a huge impact on improving their representation in public spaces.

A new plaque is installed on the Rainbow Honor Walk in the Castro District in September 2019. The San Francisco Department on the Status of Women says similar projects could help improve the representation of women, girls and nonbinary people in the city’s public spaces. (Courtesy of Rainbow Honor Walk)

In October 2018, the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance to expand representation and commemoration of women in the public sphere through artwork, statues, street names, facilities and parks, among other things. It established a city policy that mandates that at least 30 percent of historical figures depicted or recognized in the public sphere should be women.

According to the report, this level of representation is critical because studies suggest at 30 percent, a critical mass is reached so that a member of an underrepresented community is no longer seen as a token but can influence organizational culture and decision-making.

Too little progress

Key findings of the report:

• On average, women were represented in 14 percent of the 1,001 representations of historical individuals in San Francisco.

• Women were represented in 21 percent of art pieces, 7 percent of street names, 30 percent of building names and 24 percent of park and facility names.

• The representation of women in San Francisco has increased very little in the past two years, with less than 10 new cases of female representation added.

A plaque commemorating a visit to San Francisco by American educator and suffragette Frances Willard is displayed outside the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park. (Melinda Young Stuart/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND)

This low level of representation is problematic, according to the report, because it demonstrates that very little progress has been made toward the city’s goal over the past few years, with only small increases since the department’s last report in 2020.

In order to reach the goal of the ordinance in every category, the city would need to add 21 pieces of art, 200 streets and 14 parks named solely after women, according to the report’s figures. Although building names have met the goals of the ordinance, 35 new buildings need to be named after women to accomplish true equality between men and women.

The report suggests that the data collection process should continue to be refined and improved for future reports. There should also be more focus on finding out about the representation of transgender and nonbinary people and expanding the types of representation such as including two-dimensional art pieces.

Prachi is a Dow Jones News Fund intern at Bay City News. She is a journalism graduate from University of Southern California. She previously worked at Annenberg Media as a Multimedia Journalist and the Managing Editor. Prachi has covered social justice, climate and human interest stories. She is interested in written and visual storytelling.