Civic engagement in urban governance requires new forms of urban partnerships between users, designers and decision-makers. To achieve these, it is important to foster horizontal linkages between different organisations and actors involved in human settlements development: politicians, activists, advocacy groups, self-help organisations, professionals, employers, users and beneficiaries. It is also necessary to maintain vertical linkages between the various levels of political power – local, regional, national and federal – and ensure that the interests of both women and men are represented at each stage.
Linkages and partnerships do not necessarily imply gender harmony and lack of conflict as different interest-based groups will defend their interests both within and between organisations. But it does imply keeping the channels of communication open and an inclusive rather than exclusive approach to urban partnerships. Partnerships should ideally be built on shared interests, reciprocal support and mutual benefit, with each partner contributing according to their respective resources, strengths and areas of expertise.
Reciprocity is built on valuing and legitimising the specific resources of the partners, whether these are material resources, managerial coordination, local information, professional expertise, entrepreneurship or the enthusiasm and energy of residents. Clearly there is a need to recognise the interests, contributions and reciprocal potential of women as well as men. An increasingly common approach to democratising and fostering the concept and process of gender-sensitive partnership, is to consider women as equal stakeholders, with specific interests and needs.
While this can be useful, a potential danger is to characterise women en masse as a single group of stakeholders. In reality, they constitute as diverse a group as men involved in urban partnerships. There are both women and men among different participant or partner groups. Women are as likely as men to have opposing as well as complementary interests and concerns. Thus if women are singled out as one, singular group, specific gender issues get ignored.
Furthermore, the stakeholder approach might identify actors, but does not necessarily address the processes and practices by which partnerships are established. Urban partnerships are potentially the vehicle through which bottom-up efforts can intersect or dovetail with top-down approaches. It is vital not only that women participate, but that the partnership process recognises specific concerns of women who have to balance multiple responsibilities that are not always compatible with existing procedures and who are therefore less able to participate with equal experience and skill in male-dominated forums.
Gender-sensitive urban partnerships must recognise the different approaches that women and men often adopt in organisation, negotiation and planning as a result of their socialisation and experience of public life. In addition to having specific interests and concerns, women have particular approaches towards managing their environments. One example is that women tend to establish informal neighbourhood networks through their daily living patterns.
This is not because women have some “natural” or intrinsic affinity with the local environment but because they confront their neighbourhoods on a daily basis in the course of the activities they undertake within the existing gender division of labour. These networks can be utilised most effectively towards improved urban planning and decision-making processes. Source: The Norwegian Ministry of Environment, “A Women’s Perspective in Public Planning, Municipal Planning on Women’s Terms”, March, 1990.
All too frequently women are included in urban partnerships only at the implementation stage and remain excluded from the formulation, design and resource allocation stages of programmes and projects. New forms of partnership, therefore, need to adopt an enabling approach. This should foster (on the part of all parties involved) a commitment to developing inter-organisational relationships conducive to genuine participatory processes that include both women and men, and at all stages.
Moreover, it is also acknowledged that genuine participation by diverse groups means “reconceptualising the meaning of “successful” organisations and defining new contractual procedures” (OECD 1995). Strong linkages are needed between grassroots organisations, urban professionals and their organisations and the decision-makers responsible for policy. The more women are involved in all these arenas, the easier it will be to keep local activism robust and to make strong and empowering links. Case study 6: Grassroots Women Reclaiming and Rebuilding Community: Neighbourhood Women’s Renaissance Neighbourhood Women’s Renaissance (NWR) is a three building, thirty-three unit apartment complex which opened in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on the former Greenpoint Hospital site in 1993. A local group of grassroots women from this multi-ethnic low income community, working in a coalition of neighbourhood organisations, led a ten-year campaign to re-develop this site for an innovative community plan to adapt the former hospital to a multi-complex low income housing site which included a nursing home and community medical clinic.
Twelve years later, forty-five units of affordable housing have been built, the majority owned by Neighbourhood Women’s Renaissance Limited Partnership (a subsidiary of Neighbourhood Women of Williamsburg, Greenpoint), the only grassroots women’s organisation in the city of New York which owns and operates affordable housing.
A mixed victory, the housing currently coexists alongside a city-run 400 bed homeless men’s shelter on the same complex. Regrettably, most of the innovative women-centered design concepts NRW sought to implement to demonstrate what poor women need to succeed in work and family, were forcibly dropped by funding agencies who were incapable of planning housing with women at the forefront.
The case is an example of the support structures and barriers grassroots women encounter when they initiate a pro-active, comprehensive community development plan to expand local community control over land re-use and abandoned city buildings, and to ensure that women are empowered to own, design and control significant housing resources which reflect the needs of women and their families. As such it provides insights for planners and urban policy-makers on the participatory planning, design and financing mechanisms that are needed for low income women to serve as empowered community re-developers.
Source: Sandra Schilen, “Case Study: Grassroots Women Reclaiming and Rebuilding Community: Neighbourhood Women’s Renaissance”, paper presented at the ACCEDE High Level Conference on Women in the City, Paris, 4-6, October, 1994. Planning with a Gender Perspective Women experience and use the urban environment in different ways from men and thus have different priorities in terms of services and infrastructure. Despite this, women’s interests and needs as users of cities rarely feature in urban policy or investments.
This is hardly surprising when women are largely excluded from urban planning decision-making processes. There is a strong argument, therefore, for policy-makers and planners, whether women or men, to be gender aware so that women are consulted and encouraged to participate in the planning process. In the following and final sections, examples of gendered needs in selected urban sectors will be outlined. The Transport Priorities of Women and Men Women and men have distinct transport requirements.
Yet transport planning often disregards women’s priorities because of a focus on mobility rather than accessibility and a preoccupation with the formal sector worker’s journey and itinerary. Women’s travel needs frequently require transport outside of peak hours and to alternative destinations from those of men. And yet cost cutting inevitably involves a reduction in off-peak services, a consequence of the economy evaluation made by planners using conventional cost/benefit measures which ignore the value of the trips women make in their reproductive role (Levy 1991).
It should be noted here that it is not only the priorities of women that are overlooked by conventional transport planning, but also those of men outside of centrally located, formal sector employment. As mothers and carers, women have to escort others. For example, women are most likely to be the ones looking after young children, elderly or sick relatives, and visiting schools and clinics. It is women who assume most domestic and community management responsibilities and women are prevalent in the informal economy. Women engaged in informal sector activities are often burdened with heavy loads.
Moreover, working women usually combine paid work with their domestic responsibilities. Women depend more than men on public transport and walking than on private cars or other vehicles. Yet conditions of travel on public transport are often abysmal. Affordable transport systems circumvent critical destinations, they are overcrowded and sometimes dangerous and are often unreliable and irregular. This hinders women in their domestic and caring responsibilities, impedes their productivity and even threatens their safety.
The Gender Dimensions of Housing and Basic Urban Services The urban poor are generally denied access to secure land tenure and housing, and to basic infrastructure and services. For political, legal or economic reasons they are often confined to sites that are unsuited to human settlement, such as hill-sides, garbage dumps, swamps and near sources of pollution. Insecurity of tenure discourages the poor from investing in public space; yet there is ample evidence of women organising themselves to improve their surroundings and their security.
Moser (1993) cites examples of a range of low-income urban women’s organisational activities around health issues, child care, water, waste recycling, self-help housing and transportation, indicating a commitment to urban life unmatched by official support or encouragement. When housing programmes, upgrading schemes or infrastructure developments present opportunities for the improvement of human settlements, women are often excluded by conventional eligibility criteria; their incomes are too low, or they do not have the time and skills to engage in self-help schemes.
For women who are included, either on their own account or within the context of households, they are rarely consulted. Their needs are often ignored in the design of human settlements, the location of housing, and the provision of urban services. A common assumption, for example, is that all productive work takes place outside the home and is undertaken by men. This is certainly not the case in many countries where female-headed households constitute a large and growing proportion of urban dwellers. They frequently have to combine domestic and productive activities, both in terms of utilisation of time and space.
The different roles of men and women within the gender division of labour have implications for house design, site layout, zoning and regulatory frameworks more generally (the links between gender and shelter are analysed in depth in Chant 1996). Case study 7: Considering Women in the Quintas de San Jorge Housing Project, Cordoba, Argentina Cordoba is the second largest city in Argentina. The local government, elected in 1983 and reelected in 1987, undertook a range of social policies including the construction of dwellings and site and service schemes for the residents of squatter settlements.
The Quintas de San Jorge housing project aimed at resettling 365 families from two settlements over a two and a half year period. Different phases of the project saw different types of housing constructed. They are distinguished on the basis of the number of rooms, the functions they were designed for, the lay-out, and the potential for expansion. Dwellings were either finished houses built by private contractors, or self-help construction programmes carried out by mutual aid groups and then assigned to different group members.
An attempt was made to assess the number of women-headed households and to ensure their access. However, women-headed households were generally assigned the worst sites or dwelling types emerging out of the self-build component of the programme. They were often assigned core houses designed for extension. Although 50 per cent of the core houses had been expanded in the three years following the project, only a few women headed households were able to undertake building improvements.
Modifications were confined to fences to delimit their plots and increase their security, rather than to increase their living space. Overcrowding therefore remained a problem. Overcrowding was also compounded by the fact that the data collected for the project did not reveal the complex variety of kinship and other relationships within households. In particular it disguised the prevalence of women-maintained families living within broader households, multiple generations living under one roof, children from former unions and resident relatives and friends.
Another key design problem which particularly affected women’s daily lives was the kitchen being incorporated into the living area, or being too small for the old-fashioned and large furniture and equipment owned by these households. The design also ignored the range of activities that had to take place with the use of either fuel or water. The result was that kitchens became sculleries, and cooking activities continued to take place in open spaces at the back of the dwelling. This was reinforced by the high cost of gas and kerosene, leading women to opt for firewood or charcoal as cooking fuel.