Right to the City – A Gender Perspective

Asha, a girl from small town in India, is excited about her moving into the city to pursue her higher education. It is like her “great city dream” has come true. Sitting on the window seat, she realises a city is simply is not an urban landscape to her. It is a stimulus which rushes her adrenaline; it fills her with a sense of freedom and capability. The idea of living in the city brings to her the encouragement and enthusiasm which was denied to her, back in her hometown.

Unfortunately, unlike her name, RB Bhagwat of International Institute of Population Sciences, Mumbai, sees no hope for Asha in Indian cities. He says – “In large cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, and Delhi, existing social relations and hierarchies based on religion, caste and gender come into conflict with the novel social forces generated by new cities and urbanization. However, instead of being eroded by urbanization, historical identities either remain intact or morph into new forms of inequity and discrimination”.

In other words, Indian cities have not come up with tenets of freedom and gender sensitivity; it is rather made of patriarchy metamorphosed into concrete structures which are designed on the basis of bigoted information in a gender discriminative way.

In this piece of writing, we shall try to understand the significant issues surfacing when the rights to access urban amenities are not gendered. Lack of gender-sensitive urban infrastructure is one of the major concerns which denies a woman and transgender its fundamental right to the city.

The conspicuous nonavailability of clean and gender suitable public toilets in Indian cities is an indicative example. Lack of proper toilets makes a large part of the urban community to hold their urge and to reduce their water intake. This issue is particularly aggravated for women daily wagers and domestic workers. It not only affects their productivity but, also exposes them to various health complications.

Urban mobility is another concept which has high stakes in the realisation of the right to the city. It influences individual’s ability to gain knowledge and skill. Access to economic and social opportunities is also a function of urban mobility.

Safe and affordable transportation facility is a generic factor which determines mobility in urban areas. However, security, as a concern, has increasingly become a gender-skewed subject. Violence, since ages, has been used as a tool to keep women “Pardanashin” in rural areas.  But, unfortunately, urban areas beneath the glittering veneer of skyscrapers are no different. Nirbhaya rape incident is the most infamous blot on Indian urban governance structure.

Such incidences deter women from coming out in public as an active agent. They ultimately remain handicapped and disempowered in the name of security.This does not only take a toll on the community rather the whole society bears a huge opportunity cost both in social and economic terms.

Unfortunately, urban planners are still sleeping over the fact that without the constructive participation of women, the sobriquet “city as growth engines” cannot be actualized.

One-third representation of women in urban local bodies does help; however, the outcomes progressively elude expectations. The vested self-interest of women representatives makes them give in to the forces of established patriarchy in the system.

How to make urban landscape physically and functionally more gender inclusive?

The answer my friend is, indeed, blowing in the wind A true gender inclusive city cannot be imagined without diverse gender participation in urban governance at every level of -planning, designing and execution.

As far as the security of women and transgender in the cities is concerned, the solution lies in numbers. By simply increasing the number of women in public spaces will alleviate security challenges. A road in the night, with equal women footfall if not more than men’s, will automatically be secure. Thus we need more women dwellers, women police, women drivers, women night restauranteurs out in the city.

In conclusion, we can evoke the idea of Shakespeare that “a city is nothing, but people.” Thus, to be progressive, prosperous and sustainable, the city necessarily needs to be inclusive. Its structures and functions should reflect the values of equality, freedom and over to all, it should be a human city.

*The article was originally published in the first edition (May 2018) of With The Coffee (Click here to download your free copy of the magazine)

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