The Real Issue is AccessBack
In response to an email received from Matt Ritani in 2014, regarding access (or restrictions) to the Architecture+Women•NZ membership (database), A+W•NZ Co-Chair Lynda Simmons wrote a Letter to the Editor of the architecturenz magazine. The email questioned the inclusion or otherwise of trans*women in the A+W•NZ community, and prompted the public reply as a way to remind all in the architectural community that A+W•NZ was set up with 'visible' and 'inclusive' as the two core aims - ie. to remove barriers which keep so many unseen. The Letter to the Editor was published in the 05•2015 (p18) edition of architecturenz, and is re-printed below.
Often the relevance of the existence of a gendered architectural community in the early 21st Century is questioned, when the term ‘sexism’ is considered to belong to another era and to be a problem already solved. Yet the issue of diversity is currently topical, and gender equity especially is found being discussed almost daily in media throughout the world. In addressing the issue of relevance, we can look briefly at the reasons behind the forming of A+W•NZ, and how the many barriers that may still be in place are typically invisible to so many of the majority of the architectural community.
Architecture+Women•NZ was casually set up in March 2011, and formally became an Incorporated Society in January 2012 after a whirlwind momentum of support and interest. We have caught the global wave of awareness in social equity, which obviously extends well beyond gender into all sorts of areas such as class, culture, sexual orientation, religion and others. A+W•NZ are interested in supporting diversity in all areas, and are building on the positively powerful base of gender. We acknowledge the hard work of many throughout the past century who have meant that this platform is as strong as it is.
The core aims behind A+W•NZ are to enable visibility and access for all those trained in architecture. This means enabling those typically less-visible to have access to, and become part of, an inclusive architectural culture of practice.
To assist visibility, connections to the community can be strengthened, and to build an inclusive community, often-invisible barriers must be reduced. In writing the criteria for membership to A+W•NZ, these core aims shaped the three requirements for becoming a member of this free, voluntary and self-joining online society. All three requirements are connected to the organisation’s name itself: Architecture / Women / New Zealand.
‘Architecture Women NZ Inc is a not-for-profit organisation made up of voluntary members who meet the following criteria;
- They have trained to the equivalent of a Bachelor Degree in architecture, spatial design, or similar.
- They identify as female.
- They have either trained in New Zealand or reside in New Zealand.’
(from Architecture Women New Zealand Incorporated Society Rules: http://www.architecturewomen.org.nz/about)
A+W•NZ will always be free to join, it is open to those in practice or not, and its events are for the entire architecture community (yes, men are always welcome). One often-unacknowledged barrier exists within the issue of gender itself, which the A+W•NZ criteria addresses through identity, rather than biological classification. In 2014, we received an email querying whether A+W•NZ would include trans-gender architects in our collective. The answer is clearly yes, as ‘exclusion’ in the architectural community is the very aspect to address and overcome, and it contradicts one of our core values.
I am writing to ask some questions that may not be a pertinent now but may be so in the future and are of particular significance in popular culture at the moment.
Would a Trans* woman be welcome in the 'Women in Architecture' cohort? That is someone who may not have been born in a woman’s body biologically?
I see that in the 'Rules 2.0' that to meet membership criteria 'They identify as female' which maybe implies a wider acceptance of identity, but I wondered if A+W.NZ could comment more specifically on this?
Women in Architecture has been doing a wonderful job and in the future hopefully will be recognized as a catalyst for other diverse identities to enter what has been a field with a majority representation of Caucasian heterosexual cis-gendered males.
Would it be possible for A+W.NZ to clarify this through its public media platforms? Although such a statement may mean nothing to many people, I am sure that there are people out there who would appreciate some foreshadowing of how more diverse identities could emerge as a larger force in New Zealand Architecture.
Thank you for reading.
In response to this letter, A+W•NZ are more than happy to take a public position on this issue of transgender identity. Membership is open to all who meet the three criteria of the Rules, and trans*women are included in criteria no.2. We use this opportunity to clarify our position, as requested, through our public media platforms.
It is hoped that discussions around gender, workplace culture and policy can have a wider effect on the 'visibility' of many other diverse groups, including class, culture, religion and gender politics. We feel honoured that the intention of A+W•NZ to benefit the entire architectural community is recognised by the writer, and when we receive emails that both challenge and support us such as this one, our continued relevance is confirmed.
We are also reminded of how far there is to go for so many people in our architectural communities. It is true that ‘such a statement may mean nothing to many people’, because those in a position of advantage do not see the barriers which are in place to some others.
A+W•NZ intend to keep looking.