WomensMarch2017-Howie Chen

The lasting legacy of patriarchy has it that the study of gender inequality is essentially a story of female discrimination. All you have to do is look at the headlines these days to confirm the insidiousness and pervasiveness of male power and privilege across all aspects of life, from sexual harassment in (and out of) the workplace to the ways in which cities are built.

The latter was the focus of our first-time workshop last week on Gender and Development led by faculty member Apen Ruiz, an anthropologist and professor of gender studies. Although the impact of gender inequality in urban (and rural) environments has been subject to research for some years now, the declining state of women’s equality makes it an exceptionally important challenge as a prerequisite for sustainable urban development.

Eunice is the Co-Founder of Kasarani Academy in Naivasha

Photo © Frederic Courbet

Here are 5 reasons why adopting a gender perspective matters in (urban) development:

  1. It offers important insights on development and globalization issues as well as on the dynamics of gender inequality. At the start of the course, Apen recommended readings of Chandra Mohanty, Lilia Abu-Lughod, Joan Scott and Chimananda Ngozi Adiche as starting points for a discussion on the challenges and possibilities that feminism offers to confront gender inequalities in a global context.
  2. Social structures and institutions have gendered dimensions that influence the processes and impacts of development projects. Because everything from households and communities to governments and economic systems are inherently gendered, development should be conceived as a discourse and set of policies through which to analyze not only the unequal impacts of development on men and women, but also how existing gender relations within development institutions and NGOs can affect their impact.
  3. Gender shapes our built environment. Both gender and space are socially constructed. As such, the production of space is a reflection of social norms and gender relations. Understanding that women and men have different needs and uses for public structures and systems can lead to policies that make public space and transportation systems safer for women in cities and reduce rates of violence and disease through adequate sanitation access in informal settlements.
  4. It measures the real impact of gender-based violence. The impact of conflicts and disasters is often measured by casualties, but the consequences for women and girls may not be immediately visible. Violence against women is not only present during armed conflict; it is also manifested through involuntary relocation, forced labor, torture, executions, forced deportation, and state policies denying or limiting public representation, health care, education and employment. Rape and other forms of sexual torture are consistently used as strategies of war in order to shame and demoralize individuals.
  5. It is essential to assessing the diverse needs of refugees. Refugees are often unrecognized as multidimensional human beings whose experience, like any other, is intersected by race, age, gender, sexuality, class and religion. A gender-sensitive analysis of a refugee camp, for example, should acknowledge the complexity of these intersections and understand it as a gendered space that determines how food is distributed, who holds positions of power and decision-making, and who has access to schooling, health and space.


From the archive of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown

During the workshop, students also learned how to assess urban scenarios from a gender perspective by using methodological tools such as the Urban Diagnosis from a Gender Perpective (DUG) developed by Collectiu Punt 6, or the Gender Safety Audits developed by Jagori in India.

“These tools not only allow us to study the gendered nature of space, but also to understand women as users of cities that despite having been traditionally marginalized from the production of knowledge, become ‘experts’ of their own environment, able intervene to plan more just and livable cities,” says Apen.

In their exploration of gender and conflict, Apen asked students not to simply focus on women, but to explore how aspects such as masculinity, femininity, and hyper-masculinity mediate international relations and global politics. As an exercise, students were asked to reframe an existing project or propose a new one from a gender perspective. One group provided an analysis of the Reef Development project in South Central Los Angeles to show that despite the project’s stated concern for social equity, gender was entirely missing. Another group used the model of Mahila Milan to propose interventions in the area of unequal access to sanitation in Senegal; another decided to rethink the project of Porto Maravilha in Rio de Janeiro; and another analyzed the marginalization of women in Bourj Hammound, Lebanon. The last group assessed our own university campus from a gender perspective, taking into consideration not only the building itself but its location in the neighborhood and the city.

As Apen, who also considers herself a feminist activist, points out, “Gender should not be seen as a new ‘chapter’ of development—in the context of inequality, poverty, disasters, refugee crises or urban upgrading processes—but rather as a transversal aspect of all of them.”

Top photo © Howie Chen via Think Urban

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