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How urban planning can make Indian cities more inclusive for women

As we move into 2021, gender-sensitive infrastructure planning and inclusive design must be incorporated into policymaking.

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The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed several flaws in urban planning that left many vulnerable to its ill effects. The term urban planning here refers to a wide range of development measures such as designing inclusive infrastructure as well as collecting disaggregated data to provide necessary amenities, skills and employment opportunities.

As we move into 2021, gender-sensitive infrastructure planning, gender-based analysis of spaces and inclusive design must be incorporated into policymaking through systematic data generation and gender-responsive decision-making.

Boosting urban female labour force participation

Data shows that although overall COVID-19 cases are higher among men than women, the number of female healthcare workers affected is far greater. This is unsurprising, given that there are more women essential workers than men.

In India, most women partake in home-based work, are self-employed, or work in the informal sector; among women workers, informal workers account for 54.8 percent of the workforce. More informal work means being more susceptible to the impacts of COVID-19 and the rampant unemployment it has left in its wake.

The skewed employment figures reveal that urban bodies responsible for livelihood missions must prioritise gender-balanced skilling initiatives and job opportunities by creating a skill gap database through which growing sectors of employment can be tied with skilling courses, and beneficiaries of the courses can be specifically targeted to feed these sectors.

These initiatives must go hand in hand with infrastructure and public space design projects to boost female labour force participation. Studies show that women access public spaces more when they are in mixed-use areas and where commercial establishments are open at all times, thus ensuring activity and density throughout. When attempts are made to resolve the issue of providing adequate infrastructure for women in public spaces, discussions on having enough women to warrant such modifications arise.

Decision-makers must ensure that gender-sensitive planning of physical factors such as space and lighting, and social factors such as awareness and capacity building are mandatorily included for access to and eventual work in urban spaces. For instance, Mumbai’s civic body has reserved spaces in several wards to build multipurpose houses for working women in commercial areas and near educational institutions, which will include childcare facilities and entrepreneurial training centres. These centres are deliberately created in areas of high visibility, such as markets and railway stations. However, urban planning should broaden its scope by ensuring that more places are deemed safe so that women can access more spaces. These are progressive and required plans which, if executed in entirety, will be an important framework that can be duplicated.

Also read: Smart city technologies can tackle India’s urban explosion. But key questions must be asked

Urban management bodies must incorporate robust sex-disaggregated data

While gender-sensitive infrastructure and awareness building must be incorporated regardless of the number of women accessing such spaces, there must be a focused drive to collate sex-disaggregated data on the number of civic amenities available in different areas, as well as the effect of the pandemic on job losses and employment trends in urban areas for appropriate rehabilitation and resilience. This information will be crucial to deploy timely and essential services to the vulnerable, and to prepare for unemployment shocks by creating more formal workspaces. Instead of relying on 10-year census data, civic bodies can work with different departments to create real-time data to serve the citizens better.

Women in leadership

It is essential to have voices that represent the needs of different groups to ensure that decision-makers include gender-sensitive urban planning in their processes. Gender audits of all government bodies, including urban local bodies and civic establishments, must be done to guarantee representation. Gender-responsive decision-making processes can help ensure that civic amenities are distributed effectively to all vulnerable groups. Having balanced gender representation amongst heads of administrative bodies that oversee such ambitious plans as opposed to filling in lower positions in urban local bodies to fulfil an arbitrary quota is key.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 11 (sustainable cities and communities) states that cities should be made safe and sustainable by ensuring access to safe and affordable housing, investing in safe and accessible public transport, and improving urban planning and management in a participatory and inclusive manner.

To achieve this, city civic bodies, policy experts, urban planners and architects must map the city’s infrastructure through the gender lens — a city’s zoning, lighting, rental housing and the like must be made inclusive. This will require frequent discussions and meetings between several departments, from municipal corporations to housing, transport and skilling departments, to create cohesive plans. Gender-sensitive planning may not save cities from the onslaught of future crises but will help mitigate adverse and unequal impacts and build resilience for its vulnerable populations.

Aditi Ratho is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation (ORF)’s Mumbai centre. Views are personal.

This article was first published by the ORF.

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  1. The debate of a gender sensitive place is not new. Scholars have argued and many architects have designed structures augmenting gender sensitivity. The approach of this article claims the same and no doubt, has highlighted on some very specific aspects nicely.
    However, I would like to comment on a fact that has been making me think for a very long time. No offence to anyone but I have always felt that securing a place for women in particular marks them as more vulnerable and this is not the kind of equality we aim to achieve some day.

  2. Community Participation in planning process doesn’t exist in india. We need to deliberately provide opportunities for local public (educate them if necessary about their rights and responsibilities) to participating in this decision making process as it is going to affect them. Only when they accept the changes to their communities, any decision can be successful. Moreover, they become tools for corrupt as there would be no transparency. Urban planning is not just about land use and transportation/environment planning it also, if not primarily, about the process (how any decisions are made that are going to affect the community). Before telling what planners do, they must be given right environment and protection to enforce this process. Also educate the public about their citizenship rights and responsibilities. Include Citizenship roles and responsibilities in schools. Otherwise, every thing will remain in shelves and peoples lives will never improve. Planners also take active role in educating public and politicians.

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