A Gender-Responsive Urban Environment Can Address Inequality and Foster Equitable Economic Growth
By providing public goods and services, city governments can be agents for gender-based change and promote equitable economic growth.
[19 October 2017] -- While urbanisation and cities are increasingly regarded as drivers of sustainable development, stark inequality and gendered inequity in access to basic services threaten to offset this so-called “urban advantage.”
Better access to quality public goods and services can change the way cities and regions grow, foster productivity of both formal and informal businesses, and improve residents’ well-being by increasing opportunities.
Without more equitable, gender-responsive, delivery of basic goods and services, however, cities are unlikely to support the inclusion, empowerment and productivity of women, men, girls, and boys – or foster equitable economic growth.
For example, cities are sites of a range of intersectional injustices, such as those in informal settlements and in the workplaces of informal workers. Both are extremely vulnerable, and gender, age, sexuality, as well as other factors exacerbate this vulnerability.
Informal settlements produce “new kinds of urban spaces marked by destitution and insecurity on a vast scale.” People living in informal spaces experience greater levels of income poverty and absent (or deficient) urban services and infrastructure that prevent them from accessing the opportunities provided by urbanization.
Informal sector workers also experience inequality and injustices. For a new urban resident, the informal sector is often the only entry-point into the job market. Informal workers lack welfare benefits and protection from gender-sensitive legislation. They are also often unable to seek the support of institutions in asserting claims, rights and justice.
Example: Gender-sensitive transport
Adequate provision of public transport, for instance, can improve access to jobs, contribute to diversifying economic activities, reduce transportation costs, and positively impact the urban form. Several cities have introduced gender-sensitive transport interventions, such as women-only buses or train carriages in Mexico City, Cairo, Lahore, Jakarta, New Delhi and Rio de Janiero.
In addition to women-only buses, the Viajemos Seguras programme in Mexico City includes separate subway cars for women during peak hours, and specialized information centres to facilitate women’s reporting of sexual violence on public transport. These women-only initiatives aim to address practical gender needs that are often not met. However, addressing strategic gender needs also requires challenging the power relations and structures that sustain the status quo.
Starting a debate on gender-responsive public goods and services
By recognizing the way gender shapes realities in cities, gender-responsive services can address practical and strategic gender needs to empower people and transform societies. The Cities Alliance Joint Work Programme (JWP) on Equitable Economic Growth set out to start a debate on how local authorities can provide gender-responsive public goods and basic services.
The result is the discussion paper Gender Responsive Access to Public Services: Pathways to Equitable Economic Growth in Cities. Its main findings will be presented at the 4th World Forum on Local Economic Development that will take place 17 to 20 October 2017 in Praia, Cape Verde.
The paper examines how local interventions to support gender-responsive delivery of key public services can contribute to the economic empowerment and social inclusion groups and individuals who are often marginalized and vulnerable. It suggests a framework for assessing the gender responsiveness of public services in cities. It also identifies various enabling factors that are essential to establishing these public services, including gender analysis, political leadership, and the existence of broad-based local coalitions and partnerships.
Projects highlighted in Gender Responsive Access to Public Services: Pathways to Equitable Economic Growth in Cities
How to create a gender-responsive urban environment
For cities to contribute to gender equality and, in turn, equitable economic growth, they need to create a gender responsive urban environment that can make differences in the lives and livelihoods of all people living in cities. This can include the following:
- Ensuring gender responsiveness in the provision of both public and private essential services. This is suggested through different pathways that can start from addressing practical needs to targeting unequal power relations and structures.
- Rethinking the layout of cities to reduce time burden and multiply the opportunities for the full realization of women’s and girls’ human rights and fundamental freedoms.
- Promoting accountability to achieve gender equality, including national and local governments and all other stakeholders in society.
Through the provision of public goods and services, city governments can be agents for gender-based change. Investing in public goods and services – and setting up platforms for engagement with organizations of the urban poor and vulnerable around issues, such as housing and work – can go a long way towards addressing inequities and promoting equitable economic growth.
Realizing equitable economic growth in cities requires creating just and equitable cities that consider the needs and interests of women and girls, men and boys from all backgrounds in the design, delivery and monitoring of services. Improved access to public goods and services benefits the poor and vulnerable and strengthens the fundamental prerequisites for growth and productivity, enabling cities to benefit from economies of agglomeration and scale.
The main challenges are often establishing strategic and transformative paths in local and national government discourses, policies, and actions. The paper closes with recommendations to national and local governments, community organizations and the private sector on how to create pathways to equitable economic growth in cities.
For local authorities, strengthening the capacity of city-level policy makers and practitioners to enhance the capacity to design, plan and execute gender-responsive action plans, budgets and strategies are perceived as some of crucial transformative actions that can be taken. Participatory approaches that include grassroots organizations, academia and the private sector in urban planning are also key to this process.
Building linkages to the private sector to support employment of marginalised and discriminated groups as well as empowering the informal sector to actively seek recognition of its needs by local authorities also compose the range of strategies that may be pursued to empower women.
About Cities Alliance joint Work Programme for Equitable Economic Growth
The Joint Work Programme for Equitable Economic Growth works globally and locally to produce knowledge, facilitate policy dialogues, and support city-level diagnostics and policy recommendations. The goal is to foster growth trajectories increasingly characterised by equity, inclusion and environmental sustainability. It does so by focusing specifically on supporting equitable access to public goods and services by all citizens and formal and informal businesses.
The JWP is chaired by the UK Department for International Development (DFID). For any further information, please contact Rene Hohmann (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Fredrik Bruhn (email@example.com). Laura Lima (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Gender Specialist at Cities Alliance and task manager of the Gender Joint Work Programme.
The Cities Alliance Joint Work Programme on Equitable Economic Growth set out to start a debate on how local authorities can provide gender-responsive public goods and basic services.