I am Gautam Bhan. I teach at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements in Bangalore and I’m talking to you today about one of the central questions in thinking about any imagination of sustainable or inclusive development which is putting at the centre the question of social inequality articulated through Gender. When we first think about what Gender is, one of the things to think about is that we must move beyond our intuitive understanding of Gender that is the identity of an individual, one is a man or a woman, transgender, gender non-binary, queer, the multiplicity of ways we identify our gender identities. We are never just men, women or transgender, we are always – also possessors of identities like religion, like caste, like nationality, we also have interests, we have tastes, we have personalities. So gender is one of a set of intersectional identities that makes us who we are, but yet on a social scale it is very much something that structures every part of our life and that’s the understanding we take of gender into this session – not something that we possess only as an individual psychic identity, though gender is also that, but one that we read as a systemic set of social relations, a social structure.
So given this – How do we think about Gender in the city? In one way, you find Gender everywhere in the city, it shapes your life in the city, it shapes your sense of self, it shapes your belonging, it shapes your mobility, shapes where you go, it shapes what you are able to do, where you are able to work, what kind of relationships and social networks you are able to form. So one can read Gender in the city in multiple scales: we can read it spatially, which is something that is very specific to asking the Gender question in the city, we can read it economically, culturally, politically, ecologically. In some ways we will do all of these at once because these sectors just like the city are wickedly entangled into each other.
What we think of and call starting with gendered perspective therefore, is not about simply disaggregating data by sex, it is not as feminists told us right from the 60s about counting women or counting men, it is about understanding how the conditions we live in are co-produced through norms that are based on assumptions about gendered behaviour, gendered values, gendered characteristics, everything from ability to capability to futures. So in this lecture, we’ll take on an impossible task, to try and capture insights into one of these various ways in which Gender is shaping the city. Of the hundreds we could take, we’ll take 5.
We will think about transport, we’ll think about Work, we’ll think about Political Representation, we’ll think about Gender & Sanitation and Gender and the question of Public safety and Violence.
So let us think of our first urban sector, let us think of Employment and Poverty. What does it mean to ask questions from and Poverty? Two kinds of things become very apparent. In this section, we’ll focus on taking an example of one kind of gender relationship which is looking at the category of women. If we think about women, employment and poverty, what do we know from cities? That the very information and data we collect in thinking about women’s employment has Gendered assumptions about what work is, Gendered assumptions about waged work in the public as the only form of work. Now the minute we take away this assumption, the notion of employment opens up. We also get a very useful concept that feminist economists have given us which is of Time Poverty, the idea of the ability to have time for multiple human development ends for self-improvement, for rest, for leisure, for capacity, for child-rearing, for pleasure that women have a deficit of even though they are formally and technically considered not to be working.
But even if for a minute we accept that definition of employment, we accept employment mean waged work done in the public in an enterprise of some kind, Gender distinctions then take a different kind of form. They take the form of unequal inclusion, of inequalities not just differences but inequalities, UN Women tells us that 50% of working women who are 15 years and above are compared to 75% of men in the same age category who participate in the labour force. We also know that not only are there more men that are able to work, the kind of work the women who do work do is significantly different, it is more vulnerable, it is usually without benefits, with poor occupational health.
Organisations like Women in Informal Employment Gathering And Organising (WIEGO), a global collective and federation of informal sector workers remind us consistently that informal employment which is the dominant mode of urban employment in much of the world is also dominantly a woman’s mode of employment. In almost every region in the world, more women tend to work in more precarious employment. What we already know colloquially is that when they do equivalent work they also earn significantly less than men.
The wage gap varies in region but again taking a UN Women statistic, it is on an average globally at about 24% which means that men earn 24 more cents to every dollar than women. The scale of these absences are telling us that Gender inequality in work and employment not only create disadvantages for certain sets of people, in this case women, but prevent overall balance and equitable growth. And you look at both the size of the pie, to use that example, not increasing and the way the pie is cut, not changing. At the lower end of the spectrum is that even with these additional responsibilities for work and doing work for more diminishing returns, women are still overwhelmingly responsible for the management of the household, therefore, the ultimate conclusion of this Gender inequity is that women are overwhelmingly represented in the world’s poor. By some statistics up to 70% of the world’s poor are women.
So when we think about a Gendered perspective in employment and work, we see both the case of biases of omission, of structural inequalities and of deep prevailing vulnerability that will require not just reform but deep structural change in both our responses to the problem, and the way we diagnose what’s happening as we begin.
So if we step away now from questions of employment to another key urban sector that of Sanitation, we again form our exercise of looking at the sector now with Gendered perspective. If we think of sanitation as the safe and adequate management and disposal of human waste, the questions of the sector are never just technical. Sanitation is one of the sectors where social norms, understanding of proper behaviour, shame, privacy, honour body, cleanliness, hygiene, deeply culturally-constituted phenomenon and ideas really shape our practices and our sanitation practice for ourselves, our households and our communities. Much of these norms are very particularly gendered. When we think of the way in which Gender impacts Sanitation, we think about several set of connected factors: first, particularly in urban areas, women require different modes of access to sanitation, there are questions of design, there are questions of privacy between the community toilet and the public toilet or open defecation in the field, many of these are determined equally by questions of safety, the possibility of mobility just as much as they’re determined by notions of shame and honour, of sanitation and waste as activities and thoughts that must be hidden particularly because and particularly by women.
When we think about urban areas, the density of habitations often makes these conditions much more acute than they are in rural areas. They vary by region, they vary by place but only places that have explicitly addressed the Gendered nature of these behavioural attributions, countries like Bangladesh that have been incredibly successful in reducing open defecation by frontings making sense of the gendered idea of proper and improper sanitation not just thinking about science or hygiene but thinking very much about questions of propriety.
When we then think of sanitation systems for the individual and the household we also must think of them institutionally. The immediate example comes about thinking about girls’ education and sanitation in schools. When we think about girls’ education and sanitation, one of the key things that comes to us is that one of the factors that explains the dropout rate of adolescent girls in middle school is inadequate sanitation provisions in the schools themselves. When we think about the importance than of the interconnections between sanitation, education and human development, some of the ways in which asking a gendered question why sanitation is inadequate become more and more important. From the private to the institutional, we also can think about the question of sanitation not just as an individual or household question but very much also the question of thinking about sanitation in the public space, for example, if you are a woman in any city in the world who had to commute, travel, be in the city, go to work, perform care, perform functions, your ability to be in the public, to feel safe in the public, to hold on to dignity in the public is deeply determined by access to public toilets that are functional, that are safe, that are well maintained and that are located next to your own transit patterns. When we think about the inadequacy of sanitation in the public, our questions of unemployment come back to us reminding us again that one of the reasons behind women’s absence in the labour force is also their inability for mobility, to have sanitation connect and protect them during their presence in public space and their mobility to work that is necessary to construct conditions of dignified employment.
When we think of work that is predominantly done in the public, informal sector workers, street vendors, sex workers, every one of these categories of employment demand long-term public presence not in office, not in condition this sanitation arrangements are secure but is fundamentally one of the ways in which what we described earlier as vulnerable employment is constituted.
Transport is very similar to sanitation in this sense, a sector in which not only our, is a very composition of the sector differentiated by Gender, but the experience of mobility has very significant in particular Gender characteristics. Take it directly from the UN-Habitat Global Report on humans settlements that says and I quote “Women’s travel patterns are different from men’s and these differences are characterised by deep and persistent inequalities. Within any given urban setting, women have inferior access to both private and public means of transport while at the same time assuming a higher share of that households travel burden and making more trips associated with reproductive and caretaking responsibilities.”
Now this statement has layers of meaning for us in thinking about transport from a Gendered perspective, both that there is a difference in responsibility, a difference in behaviour and a difference in character.
What can these differences look like? For example, if women make multiple shorter length trips through different modes or what transportation planners called ‘trip chaining’ not only did we spend more time, I think back again to the question of Time Poverty but also more money on multiple short modal trips. This is largely because the transportation system is not geared towards this type of mobility, it is geared towards a commuter mobility that assumes a certain kind of spatial employment relation to go from home to work, twice a day in public, distinct from the private, something that on gendered examination spatially cannot hold. But you also think about very separate question that we’ll come back to later again, when we speak of public spaces which is that the experience of transport itself, the experience like the experience of the public is a persistent locus on fear on violence and harassment. Debates on how to make public transport more safe for women even, and especially safe not just for women in fact but safe for anyone who is seen as non-normative in their gendered performance particularly Transgender people is a pivotal question, from reserving gender only, women-specific, cars and public transport as temporary solutions. The larger questions of how social inequalities and prejudice shape the mobility experience on the basis of Gender remains with us.
One way to think about this, is to see that when Transport for London, one of the world’s largest public transport systems came out with guidelines for what they call the ‘Gender Equality Scheme’, they didn’t just mention accessibility or integration of services or design, not just safety and security but also information, affordability and critically the representation of women in transportation-related employment. Women in the design spaces of public authorities where decisions on transportations were made. And when Transport for London speaks of the question of the representation of women in decision-making structures on transportation, they remind us of a very important point which is to say that one cannot begin asking the question of Gender only after the plan has been made, after the design has been finalised, the question of making a Gender perspective central means that the not only are the concerns that Gender represents fronts and centre on the table, but that the decision-making processes by which we govern, manage and live in urban areas are then represented by individuals who have the authority to act on this information to make decisions that then create a next generation of cities that do not repeat and inherit the similar biases or omissions or silences on Gender.
When we then think about this as the idea of Gender and Political Participation, we don’t just then speak of formal elected representation even though that is a critical part of looking at governance structures that make decisions that shape our everyday lives in cities, representation of women or of transgender candidates in local government, in regional governments, in city government has around the world had profound impacts, not just because women make better decisions for women or transgender candidates make better decisions for transgender candidates but because the presence of a more Gender- diverse representation changes precisely the norms, behaviours and cultural assumptions about leadership and concerns, questions, omissions of data, the sidelining or evasion, or even the absence of thinking about Gender concerns becomes much more difficult when decision-making structures are much more diverse on Gender. When we then think a little bit about the way these norms can change thinking about Gender not just as a data category or a variable, but very much as part of the structure of governance moves us forward across sectors and gives us a better and more nuanced understanding of taking Gender essentially and starting and thinking about politics and not just about government.
So let’s come to the most apparent and direct question of Gender in the city, which is literally thinking about Gender in our public spaces, in our cities is the one we encounter and experience every day. When we do this, one of the assumptions that even we have been making throughout this lecture actually becomes untenable, which is that the Gender can be reduced to isolated autonomous identity categories: Men, Women, Trans gender, Gender Non-binary. In actuality because Gender is also a set of norms, the ways in which different people are present in public space and the experience they have in public space is shaped by multiple notions held socially, held diffusely about propriety, about honour, about shame, about inclusion, about equal citizenship. So the fault lines that can make someone an ‘other’, that can create environments of discrimination or prejudice or on the converse can equally create environments of diversity, multiculturalism actually cut across all of these identities, across religion, across caste, across gender, across age, across nationality.
You can tell this by doing a quick example yourself; whenever we think of trying to denigrate another person in the midst of an argument or a fight, we call them a word that’s unsavoury, our choice of metaphor very often invokes a gendered or sexual behaviour. We do this because one way in which devaluing and marginalising another person is done is to invoke a gendered or sexual norm, now what these norms are, changes with time, with place. Every part of the world has a different set of norms, what is out and shape our presence in public spaces, who should be there when, with what reading, in what clothes, at what time of day or what time of night.
Each one of us with our multiple identities, not just women not just transgender people, even though they disproportionately bear the burden of this public violence in most of the world, we are constantly read and surveilled and police and disciplined in these public spaces. In cities that are inclusive and sustainable, we are welcomed, protected, celebrated where we can seek pleasure and belonging. In cities that are not, that begin to close, public spaces become hostile. In this case each of the sectors that we have thought of so far, work, employment, sanitation, mobility, every one of them is undone if we cannot see ourselves belonging and passing through public spaces. Cities are a particular kind of challenge for this presence, they heighten the interactions of a public, they bring together multiple communities, sometimes strangers, sometimes fellow-citizens but the twin dangers: of pleasure and danger, of freedom and vulnerability come together in the urban, heightened, maybe their degree deepened and therefore the question of safety and public space is particularly an urban question and in dynamically changing mega-cities, this question becomes wicked and complex.
Take a city that I know very well, take the city of New Delhi- in a spectacular case of horrific violence against a young girl in 2012, one case of a gangrape on a girl in a bus late at night brings together so many of our concerns about safety, mobility, aspiration, employment. What happened to that girl has also to be read against what happened immediately after. How did we speak about her presence in the city?
How did we speak about violence? How we respond to violence is just as important as what violence does to us. Violence comes in cycles, it disrupts meaning but also creates new ones. In Delhi, like the picture of the girl seeing on your screen a different moment emerged, in that moment, young women now in the public, striking for a different Gendered environment refused to make a trade-off, they refused to be told that they would be safe, if they behave a certain way if they restricted themselves that the public was not for them. The risk of violence, was a greater threat than the risk of closure, of a forced immobility. These young women remind us what it means to think about Gender in the context of inclusive development, that Gender must begin not as a data variable, as something that is added and stirred at the end, an afterthought.
It must be a normative centre to our imaginations of sustainability and development, it must be a part of our decision-making and our politics, our regimes of government, it must be priorities and places where we begin asking questions of exclusion, it must be on our research agendas, it must be shared as a goal that impacts all of us regardless of our Gender entity so that we can move towards cities, where how we are born and who we think we are does not shape the kind of lives that we are able to lead.