Women need to be better placed to reap benefits of urbanisation

Urbanisation is bringing numerous benefits to women that include improved legal protection, better access to justice, and a narrowing gender gap in schools and universities. Still, women are not able to get equitable opportunities at workplaces. Countries all over are trying to bridge the gender gap in all aspects of life but the situation on the ground is changing at a snail’s pace

It is undeniable that urban women have significantly better access to employment opportunities than rural women. The reason is: social and cultural norms change at a fast pace in urban environment. But the question remains: are these changes fast enough to bring men and women on the same platform at workplaces and in society? When women migrate from villages to cities, they get freedom of movement, escape from restrictive gender roles and heightened risks of violence. This is evident that gender violence and restrictive cultural and social norms still define rural women’s lives.

Cities and women
Urban life also promises to offer better opportunities for paid work, improved access to civic services, health, and education. Despite all these advantages, women are still not well positioned to reap the benefits of urbanisation. The scope of unequal opportunities for women are many and their reasons are varied.
According to Women in Workforce Study by Her Story, women in India account for just 25 per cent of the workforce. This, despite the female population accounting for half of India’s total population. The survey also questions, “While there have been many conversations around diversity and inclusion, few have centred on what exactly this means for women in the workforce.” For the study, a survey was also conducted among a sample group of 120 working women from across the country. Some of the questions asked to respondents included: What do women in the workforce want in corporate policies aimed at promoting diversity and inclusion?; how do they want these policies implemented? And more importantly, shouldn’t this be a sustained and continuous effort? The survey throws up the three key outcomes. First, Indian women still struggle to have their voices heard, in large corporates and new startups alike, Second, unconscious biases against or traditional mindsets about women still exist, making it difficult for them to define/ redefine their roles. And, third, women are still significantly underrepresented in C-suite or top leadership roles. These are the challenges which we need to address to ensure women are empowered in a true sense instead of just doing lip service.
The statement from Annette Dixon, World Bank South Asia Vice President, in a recent conference in Mumbai highlights the situation on the ground. She says, “India’s rapid urbanisation has not yet encouraged more women to join the labour force. Rural jobs have been decreasing and not enough rural women have been able to make the transition to working in urban areas. This makes the need for greater public safety and safe transport more significant. By any measure, the gap is particularly large and has been widening. India ranks 120 among 131 countries in female labour force participation rates, and rates of gender-based violence remain unacceptably high. It’s hard to develop in an inclusive and sustainable way when half of the population is not fully participating in the economy.”

Women’s empowerment has become priorities for sustainable development that lifts up the well-being of all. The role of local bodies has also become quite crucial in addressing these issues. The first and foremost issue that can be addressed by local governments is equitable delivery of civic services because the poor women get deprived of better economic opportunities when they have to spend more time in arranging for potable water for household works or go long distances for toilets. Even, there are hardly a few cities where crèche services are available

Unequal prospects
A majority of women in developing countries, especially poor women, work in the informal sector. According to a report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research commissioned by the National Democratic Institute, 83 per cent of employed women in South Asia work in the informal economy, as do 74 per cent of women in sub-Sahara Africa, and 54 per cent in Latin American and Caribbean. Informal employment for women includes street vending, waste picking, and work in small-scale businesses.
Women in small-scale industries are generally poorly paid and have no social security. In waste picking, women collect, sort, recycle and sell valuable materials. They often work in terrible and dangerous conditions. They are subject to street harassment, receive little to no support from authorities, and are subject to arbitrary pricing by middlemen. Even in the informal sector, women are struggling for equal pay. Women have been historically marginalised but this is quite ironical that women continue to face inequality in cities because many of them moved to cities for equitable opportunities.
These details suggest that women whether belonging to the poor strata or the high-income class face difficulties in their workplaces. These are true for both types of cities-big and small. The issues of women may be different in London, Mumbai and Latur but women everywhere are still struggling to get equal opportunities. In some cities, the issue of safety is an issue of concern and in others, they are facing discriminatory treatment at workplaces.
Women’s empowerment has become a priority for sustainable development that lifts up the well-being of all. The role of local bodies has also become quite crucial in addressing these issues. The first and foremost issue that can be addressed by local governments is equitable delivery of civic services because the poor women get deprived of better economic opportunities when they have to spend more time in arranging for potable water for household works or go long distances for toilets. Further, there are hardly a few cities where crèche services are available. The unavailability of these services also deprive them of equal opportunities and affect their economic prosperity.
Local governments should also engage women in citizen consultation and this will help in recognising the women’s and girls’ needs as distinct from those of men. Gender-sensitive urban planning & design can more effectively accommodate their requirements and domestic responsibilities, enabling them to support their families through paid employment and relieving substantial demands on their time and well being.

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