Gender equality does not mean that women and men will become the same, but that the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men will not depend on whether they are born male or female.


By Lea Spörcke, Carlo Schmid Intern at Cities Alliance.


[8 March 2016] -- Gender inequality has many dimensions in the city. Safety is one of the first that comes to mind; the danger of gender-based violence is very real in many cities, as dimly lit streets, lonely transport stations, desolate areas and crowded transport make sexual harassment and violence against women very likely.

Women also earn lower wages than men, since they typically only have access to low-paying export industries and the informal sector. They tend to face greater burdens due to lack of services, such as having to walk further for potable water or faced with pit latrines that are not suitable for women who are menstruating or pregnant.

Women are also much less likely to be represented in government, meaning that they have little influence over policy and development planning decision making.

These gender inequalities are often the result of assumptions about the proper behaviour and capabilities to the sexes that determine what is expected, allowed and valued in women and men. They are also the result of national policies and development activities that are gender-blind and do not take gender implications into account.

By instituting policies and practices that promote gender equality, cities can improve the quality of life for their female residents and garner significant development benefits. Here are the top five of those benefits:

  --  Increased economic growth. By offering men and women equal access to education, childcare facilities, safe transport, markets, and employment, cities gain a larger workforce with increased purchasing power.

  --  Gender inequality is costly. According to a 2015 report by the NGO ActionAid, economic inequality for women costs an estimated $9 trillion per year in the developing world. The ActionAid report also notes that women comprise 60 per cent of the world’s working poor, and that only about half of them participate in the labour force.

  --  Spending decisions benefit the whole household. When women have decision-making power over the household budget or access to their own financial resources, findings have shown that they make decisions that benefit the entire household over time, such as sending their children to school or starting small businesses. This approach leads to more resilient and sustainable economic decisions within the household, and is the logic behind by many microcredit initiatives, such as the Grameen Bank, to give microcredits to women.

  --  More inclusive and efficient city decision making. Gender equality in local, regional and national decision making improves the ability of women to influence the policies and politics. They can voice their needs which otherwise might not be heard. Including women in the decision-making process leads to better informed decisions on how to design services and use resources more efficiently.

  --  Increased support for communities. Equal representation where both men and women feel that their needs are represented can also lead to increased support for communities. For example, when it comes to access to resources, women tend to explicitly regard the needs of children, which helps the city address their needs as well. From an economic perspective, excluding women is a waste of knowledge, time and capacity – all valuable resources for a community. By maximising the potential of both men and women, a community can maximise its overall competitiveness. 


Kuralay Aitzhanova, Dispatcher Manager at the Energy Transmission Control Center of KEGOK. Kazakhstan (Photo: Shynar Jetpissova / World Bank)  


The Danger of Gender-Blind Policies and Activities

Some policies and practices do not openly discriminate against women, but nonetheless have a hidden impact related to gender. This is primarily due to the gender roles attached to men and women that determine their responsibilities – women as caregivers in the household and community, men as breadwinners and political decision makers.

Many national policies and development activities are gender-blind and do not take gender implications into account. These policies and projects are typically ineffective, exclusionary and likely to fail completely.

For example, a community or city decides to improve transport by establishing a bus system that links neighbourhoods to economic centres. This allows men to commute much faster between home and work. On the surface, it seems like a successful project.

However, women use city transport differently than men. With their role as caregivers, they need better connections to from home to the market or water standpipe. By only linking to the economic centres, the new bus system benefits male residents while women still face lengthy, expensive and often dangerous routes as they go about their daily business. A more efficient, productive approach would have taken women’s transport needs into consideration when developing the bus routes.

As shown in this example, policies, customs and practices covertly discriminate against women throughout the world, so that they have fewer opportunities, capabilities and rights. Economic discrimination manifested in less access to work and lower wages for women leads to a loss in purchasing power and persisting poverty.

Disregarding women’s needs in basic services such as electricity in the household, water provision and sanitation in cities leads to an extreme time burden in terms of water collection, severe health problems through indoor pollution by firewood stoves and diseases breed in untreated water.

An overall low status of women, as well as the dependence on the husband due to unequal property rights and access to finance, causes all kinds of psychological, physical and sexual violence against women.    

Gender equality does not mean that women and men will become the same, but that the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men will not depend on whether they are born male or female.



About the Author 

Lea Spörcke is the Carlo-Schmid Intern at Cities Alliance Secretariat in Brussels. She is supporting the design and implementation of selected activities under the Gender Equality Joint Work Programme.

Lea holds a Master’s degree in International Relations from Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

She has practical experience in international development at GIZ India, where she undertook research on gender and renewable energy, as well as the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Hungary and the German Permanent Mission to the UN.

She is member of the Resolution 1325 Team focusing on women, peace and security within the POLIS 180 Think Tank in Berlin.

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