Urban planners will have to imagine novel ways of ordering and expressing their spaces to eliminate the unequal power dynamics in urbanisation
Women, girls, and gender minorities make up half the urban population. Women experience and perceive the city differently than men. Despite this, less than 50 percent of the indicators available to monitor the Sustainable Development Goals take into account the gender perspective. Data gaps and a lack of comparable methodologies make it difficult to study qualitative metrics that play a role in decision-making. Without a meaningful effort to determine these metrics, gender-balanced planning approaches become problematic, calling for a relook at urban planning approaches to ensure the representation of women and minority gender voices and to amplify gender interests.
Less than 50 percent of the indicators available to monitor the Sustainable Development Goals take into account the gender perspective.
Multiple surveys have shown women feeling that cities are unsafe and perilous. Urban infrastructure disregards women’s needs rendering them invisible in the city, far from participating in shaping it for equal access. For instance, a 2021 study in Bengaluru revealed that 50 percent of women suffered from mental stress due to the lack of public toilets. Such statistics illustrate how uneven access to public amenities, gendered zoning, and poor lighting play a significant role in the detrimental participation of gender minorities. Administrative lethargy Laudable ideas must overcome administrative lethargy and labyrinthine bureaucracy to manifest beyond the planning stage, a particular problem in India. For instance, one is yet to see meaningful action on Mumbai’s Draft DP2034 on ‘Gender, Special Groups and Social Equity’ and the Gender Advisory Committee. These proposals aimed to achieve gender parity in the workforce, housing, transport, and education, and recommended measures for improving the healthcare for and the safety of women and marginalised genders. Likewise, the 2011 Draft Strategic Framework for Women’s Safety in Delhi has remained only on paper. This is a pattern that mars the urban planning process across the country.
Reserving whole compartments in trains, dedicated seating areas in buses, women-driven taxis, or women-only washrooms are not solutions but problems stemming from a patriarchal mindset.
Successful global models incorporating gender into their urban planning process offer valuable insights. Zurich, which topped the 2019 PICSA Index, has set up a separate Office for Gender Equality, which filters planning decisions through the gender lens and works towards making the city welcoming for all genders and making gender responsiveness vital to its urban function. The city provides safe meeting spaces for LGBTQ+ persons, such as the Regenbogenhaus (Rainbow House), to discuss topics and address concerns of lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and queer citizens in Zurich, but it also welcomes all to participate as part of its whole-of-society approach to urban planning. Vienna provides an important gender mainstreaming template for equal representation with more than 60 citywide initiatives and a Women’s Unit within the Directorate for Urban Planning. Regulations for ample street lighting, wide pavements for buggies, additional seating, mirrors for safety in shortcuts and alleyways, and gender-sensitive design of public parks to prevent anxiety-inducing spaces are central to making the environment safe and attractive for women and marginalised genders. Vienna’s Frauen-Werk-Stadt (Women-Work-City) promotes subsidised housing facilities designed for and by women. Some cities, such as Umeå in Sweden, further incorporate the needs of specific sub-groups. For instance, the Årstidernas park was designed with insights from teenage girls, whose needs are otherwise overlooked, to make them feel comfortable and safe. A few cities in India, too, are making efforts for gender-balanced planning. The Thiruvananthapuram municipality is developing multiple women-friendly areas in its cultural district in partnership with women citizens and planners. These would, among other things, include a 24/7 pink police, breastfeeding kiosks, She toilets, and She autos. Similarly, Hyderabad launched its first-ever theme park exclusively for women and children under the age of 10. A few cities have begun hosting annual gatherings for LGBTQ+ persons, with Delhi opening its first gay-only hotel. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi is also planning to build 500 toilets for the LGBTQ+ community.
Regulations for ample street lighting, wide pavements for buggies, additional seating, mirrors for safety in shortcuts and alleyways, and gender-sensitive design of public parks to prevent anxiety-inducing spaces are central to making the environment safe and attractive for women and marginalised genders.
However flawed or limited, these initiatives are laudable as they signify intent within a largely gender-deaf ecosystem and could serve as the springboard towards gender-sensitive and gender-balanced cities of the future.
Using a gender lens, planners should regularly encourage discussions for auditing and amending existing municipal laws.
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Anusha is Senior Fellow at ORF’s Centre for Economy and Growth. Her research interests span areas of Urban Transformation, Spaces and Habitats. Her work is centred ...Read More +