Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Gender Perspective on Urban Development and Planning

The Indian constitution guarantees equal rights to women. In addition, India is a signatory to the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) thus underlining its commitment to the elimination of Discrimination against women. But it cannot be denied that gender inequality exists and in varying forms. In the urban space, women constitute a diverse group but with specific gender interests which are because of some common sets of roles and responsibilities. Cities in general have more number of women headed households, single women living by themselves, working women with travel needs, etc. In addition, urban life poses greater risks with regard to safety and security of women. According to a women’s safety audit study undertaken by UNHABITAT in 2007, feelings of insecurity and fear of crime and violence are highest in large cities.  The report says that though urban design and planning do not generate violence but they do create and environment that offers greater or lesser opportunities for violence. Thus, by virtue of bad design, isolation, inadequate and poor maintenance, women can be at more risk and insecure in public spaces. Thus any kind of urban development planning must address the needs of these diverse groups. In addition, the empowerment of women is imperative in addressing issues like poverty.

It is assumed that urban development is gender neutral and provides equal access to men and women. Infrastructure planning in India has been the forte of men. Women are generally under represented in the fields of governance and planning process. One of the main reasons is the absence of active involvement of women in the political sphere and local governments. Even this can be traced to the lack of freedom of women to move about safely and without violence (Bealle, 1996). Thus women have little say in the distribution of city resources and to make them work to their advantage. The various services and infrastructure projects that seem to respond to varied requirements for men and women have different impacts on them. For example roads that are designed without taking in to account the safety needs of women (without streetlights) increases crime against women and are not ‘gender neutral’. It is important to provide gender specific interventions which are implemented and monitored in order to benefit women. For example, if public transport is designed with a view to addressing the special requirements of women, then access points and schedules will ensure that women utilize the service well. Unequal access to education, health care, housing, etc. not only serves to dis-empower women and weaken their voices in planning, but it also impacts urban growth. (Khosla,2009).

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