Women & cities; better the balance, better the world

Balance for Better is one campaign theme for this year’s International Women’s Day. March 8th is celebrated each year as International Women’s Day though the campaigns are designed to evoke awareness and action all year long. The event has been observed for over a hundred long years, which helps to draw attention to the long standing nature of the issue of gender equality and the fact that much still remains to be done. It is a call to accelerate action on gender parity. For us it is relevant to look at women and cities.
For too long, discussion on the issue has been limited to concerns for women’s safety in our cities. The issue has to go beyond such basic concerns and address issues which enable women to participate fully and realize their full potential educationally, professionally and socially. There has been significant effort since several years to up the role of women in local governance. While the constitutional amendments at the national level mandate one-third reservation, several states have increased it to 50 percent in Panchayati Raj institutions and even urban local bodies.
We believe that having more women elected members in our urban local bodies will definitely address many issues of our cities more effectively. Take for example, water supply. It is the lady in the house, whether a working professional or housewife who understands this issue best. The timing, the quality, ways to calibrate supplies during shortages, are all nuances of water supply that have a big impact on how families manage their day-to-day activities and thus the active participation of women will ensure that ULB responses are in line with user needs. Or take the operation of public health centres. Location of the centres, access, timings, staffing are all important in order to deliver effective services to citizens. The services are most likely availed by women members of a family for their children and elders. Therefore understanding their needs better will surely help. So also matters relating to public mobility, sanitation and waste management. These will get addressed in a more logical and efficient way with a greater role for women.
Cities must make efforts to involve more women, including from among citizens in order to design, deliver and improve upon citizen services.
The involvement of women in is also known to eliminate inefficiency, sub-optimal choices and therefore corruption in public life. Studies suggest that this relationship is prominent where women are in policy-making roles. Decision making in such cases could happen more on merits, i.e., the actual need of the situation rather than other considerations. This by itself is likely to enable transparency in the decision-making process which in turns promotes accountability and inclusivity.
The Government has in the recent past unleashed several measures to scale up women’s participation in various facets of our economy. Women entrepreneurs’ role has been highlighted noting the impressive share of women in MUDRA loans at
73 per cent and reserving some amount of government purchases from women-owned MSMEs. Employment opportunities have been improved with more recruitment in the armed forces and in the mining sectors, for example. Expectant mothers are especially being taken care of by increased maternity benefits, immunization, and cash incentives.
This issue of Urban Update carries several viewpoints on the subject of women’s role in cities. We welcome further thoughts, opinions and feedback from our family
of readers.

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