Cities need to prioritize gender sensitive planning, policies

Cities around the world are making their ecosystems gender sensitive and encouraging more women to participate in the social-political sphere. Cities in the many developing countries have taken admirable initiatives to bring women at the forefront through promoting their role in urban planning, local leadership, decision making and city management. Safety is not the only issue for women in cities as there are numerous issues women face in a city while going to work, schools or running errands

Many European, American and Canadian cities such as Geneva, Vienna, Berlin, Madrid, Ottawa and New York have taken lead in implementing gender-sensitive projects and programs. In the last couple of years, for example, the City of Geneva has made gender equality a political priority. According to a report by the New Cities Organisation, one of the objectives is to fight gender stereotypes and the reproduction of inequalities. Every year, the City develops initiatives to engage citizens, for example, the Geneva Equality Week with the aim of taking an original look at a theme by examining it from a gender perspective and equality between women and men. An awareness campaign “equality, the city shows its will” is presented every year around June 14, an important date for equality between women and men in Switzerland. In terms of services and facilities provided to women, the city has improved its infrastructure and services. The number of spaces available in nurseries in Geneva has indeed more than doubled. According to official data, the city currently meets 82 per cent of parents’ nursery requests, and the City’s ambition is to meet 95 per cent of these requests by 2020. Moreover, nurseries have become places of enlightenment, education, prevention and social cohesion. They have a crucial role to play in the fight against gender stereotypes.
Indian cities those are evolving as corporate hubs can think in that direction. Why cannot Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai and other big cities develop such facilities? This is evident that such facilities would improve the participation of women in the workforce. Even the baby care station or feeding rooms are available only at airports as if it is the requirement of only those are flying from one city to another. Why aren’t such facilities available at other public places?
City planners and managers need to take in to account the needs of women while planning a public place or any facility for citizens. Women face major difficulties in poorly managed sidewalks and pathways when using strollers. Women and men use the city’s infrastructure, mass transit and public places differently. Though, the rationale is not to stereotype gender roles by referring women take care of children but in reality, a majority of them do so. Public transit systems, public places and the built environment in a city must be planned to provide better accessibility, convenience, safety to women and girls.

Public transport, public places & the city environment must be planned to provide better accessibility, convenience, and safety to women and girls

The inequality among men and women still exist in multiple forms. A survey ‘Mapping the Sexism of City Streets Name’ conducted by Aruna Shankarnarayanan and his team at Mapbox in seven major metropolia of the world (London, Paris, New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, San Francisco, and Chennai) reveals that only 27.5 per cent of the streets were named after women. This is evident that the ratio will go down further if the survey is conducted in Tier-I and II cities. However, the trend is changing and some leading feminism groups advocated for renaming of streets after the name of celebrated female personalities. There are many cities in Australia and Netherlands which have gone ahead and started using female crossing signs. All are aware that naming public places, streets using ‘female’ signs only will not help the cause of gender equality in cities but it will definitely highlight the role of women in the development phase of a city or a public place.

Roadmap to achieve gender equality

The United Nations came up with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 for the betterment of humanity. Out of the 17, the SDG 5 talks about achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls. The 2030 Agenda for sustainable development and its 17 SDGs adopted by world leaders embody a roadmap for progress that is sustainable and leaves no one behind. To achieve this SDG we need to rethink about our cities and villages to make them gender sensitive and to build an inclusive community across the globe that offers equal opportunities to all its citizens.

Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals says ‘achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’. Gender equality is a right. There is a growing consensus that most of the challenges of our times like economic crises, health care, climate change, violence against women and escalating conflicts can be addressed by fulfilling this right or at least gives it the best chance of doing so.
UN Woman says ‘Women are not only more affected by these problems, but also possess ideas and leadership to solve them. Gender discrimination still holding too many women back, holds our world back too. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by world leaders in 2015, embody a roadmap for progress that is sustainable and leaves no one behind’.
It is imperative that women and girls are provided with equal access to education and decent work, health care and an equal representation in political and economic decision-making processes. SDG5 also says that the new legal frameworks regarding ‘female equality in the workplace and the eradication of harmful practices targeted at women is crucial to ending the gender-based discrimination prevalent in many countries around the world.’ But a crucial question remains that is of the safety of women in an urban environment. How important is that. Ambassador of Finland to India Nina Vaskunlahti says ‘its a very important point, a space in a city should be safe for women, in a way, I think it is about a question of appreciation, one appreciates for sexes, be it a girl, be it a boy. In a similar way, it is the same possibility and same access. So it is a sort of to create lights, to create trust, to create gates that are open, to create wide spaces that sort of gives you physical safety and it is sort of important. But physical safety is one thing but even more important it is to appreciate gender equality’.

Reimagining our cities
It is in the above context that our cities need to be reimagined; a city which is women-friendly, in which they can contribute socially and economically both. That is a pre-requisite for success of any country not just India. Our cities have become most unsafe places for women these days and almost everyone has a horrendous experience to share. Most women feel unsafe and insecure as we engage with our public spaces and the built environment of our cities. This sense of anxiety is not unfounded. India’s National Crime Bureau data highlight that four women are raped every hour. Therefore, design of safe urban environments can play a crucial role in addressing such heinous crimes and making our society better. Kavita Krishnan, leading women rights activist says “city planners should involve women in planning for the entire city they shouldn’t be just involved in women’s safety plans. Women should be involved and women should be factored in while making cities’ plans as a whole or in changing cities’ plans as a whole. For instance, every aspect of the city should be envisaged with women in it 24×7. We need to imagine cities with women in them 24×7 night and day. So, what does that envisage? What would you have in place so that women actually access the city at
all times?’
Crime against women is a growing concern. Not just in the national capital Delhi, but in city after city, the story is the same. If we take the case of Maximum City Mumbai the latest data and their analysis from 2013-14 to 2017-18 showed that the number of crimes like rape has increased by 83 per cent. Cases of reported molestation have gone up by 95 per cent and cases of rioting have gone up by 36 per cent. Undoubtedly, we need to make our cities more inclusive not only from the safety perspective but also social equality and economic future.
Today, approximately 18 per cent women make up the urban workforce and this number has been on the decline over the last decade. Prathima Manohar, columnist says “we need to improve female participation in our workforce to be an economic success. According to a study by McKinsey Global Institute, the world can add $28 trillion or 26 per cent of GDP by 2025 if women participate in the economy like men do today. The way a city is designed affects women’s freedom and access. It can deter or empower women from going to school to being an entrepreneur. Therefore, India has to build the ultimate women-friendly cities if the ‘India’ story has to
shine on.”

Rising inequality
The inequality between men and women in India is stark. Just take the example of streets of Indian cities. Undeniably it is a male domain. According to World Bank data, just twenty seven percent of Indian women participate in the work force, compared with seventy nine percent of men. This trend is most visible in urban areas. Although women in India mostly walk, cycle or use public transport to go to work, they are still much less visible in public spaces than men, because many do not have jobs to travel to at all. Access to good transport itself is crucial to a just and economically productive city. Ultimately, transportation enables women to participate in the society and workforce. Public transport is indeed a key factor in making a city accessible to women. Kavita Krishnan says “public transport in major policy decisions must be a priority which women’s movement is demanding for a long time so that women are really able to access the cities at all times.
There has to be a solid network of public transport. Bombay, for instance, is a good example of that. The fact that Bombay had till quite recently and even now continues to have an excellent public transport of trains and buses running leading into the night means that women tend to access the city a lot more when there are more women out in public places more and more women out on the street.”
The book ‘Why Loiter’, a book dedicated to public spaces specially women’s access to public spaces in India says very clearly about the instance of a young woman who does not want to be seen with a male friend in her own locality and so even though the stretch between the bus stop and home may be unsafe, she will walk that distance alone because she does not want her male friend to accompany her to that point. So, this shows that their fear of patriarchal gaze sometimes outweighs the fear of other dangers.
In fact it puts women in greater danger. So, what can public policy makers do to change the ways in which the city looks at women? While doing all this, the policy makers also have to keep in mind the most vulnerable section among working women that is migrants who do odd jobs. There must be a law in place to stop any kind of discrimination and abuse they face on daily basis. Ultimately, we need to rethink our cities to make them gender sensitive, which is by extension an inclusive city that offers equal opportunities to all its citizens. A city that is good for children, the elderly and women is a great city for all.

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