It’s A Man’s World – Global Cities Are Failing Women

With the UN warning urban environments are built with male bias, what does future city life look like for women?

By Hannah Connolly

24 January 2023

n 15 November, 2022, in the Philippine capital city of Manila a baby girl named Vinice Mabansag was born, symbolically, she represents the eighth billion inhabitant of the world.

Referred to by the UN as The Day of Eight Billion, in many ways, the landmark calls for a celebration of the vast medical and health advancements achieved by the international community over the past centuries which has seen life expectancies grow across the world.

Of the now eight billion global citizens, according to the UN-Habitat agency, 56 per cent currently live in city spaces, a figure set to rise to 68 per cent by 2050, raising the question, what is life like for the girls of today and the women of the future?

The pull of city life remains much the same as it always has, opportunities, education and resources being the main calls of a metropolis. Yet, our cities also represent concentrated examples of some of the world’s greatest issues; mass energy consumption and waste production, crime, inequality and poverty.

In response to the population landmark the UN Habitat agency released the Envisaging the Future of Cities Report, which builds upon the New Urban Agenda established by the UN arm in 2016.

“The New Urban Agenda provides a holistic framework for urban development that encourages the integration of all facets of sustainable development to promote equality, welfare and shared prosperity” says Maimunah Mohd Sharif, the under-secretary general and executive director of United Nations Human Settlements Programme.

The report highlights that urban poverty and inequality remain one of the most critical challenges the international community faces, explaining that the driving forces of inequity are intertwined with socio economic challenges that manifest beyond simply having lower comparative incomes.

Also outlining that the pandemic served to reveal and amplify weakness in the social fabric of cities and in the way that they are built, adding that the future hinges on the embodiment of human rights, equity and compassion being implemented into the construction of our urban spaces.

‘97 per cent of women aged 18-24 in the UK have experienced harassment in public’

António Guterres, the secretary-general of the UN outlined: “The success of cities, towns and urban areas will largely depend on policies that sustain and protect all, leaving no one behind. We need green incitement for sustainable patterns of consumption and production; responsive and inclusive urban planning; the prioritisation of public health; and innovation and technology for all.”

Last October another landmark report was released by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in collaboration with engineering and design firm Arup and the University of Liverpool, the Designing Cities That Work For Women report calls for a “radical rethink” of the way cities are designed.

Revealing that city development is a key factor in compounding gender inequity. Identifying a range of barriers and vulnerabilities that women experience due to urban design.

Aiming to address “the billions of women who are underserved by the urban environments they live and work in”, one report case study revealed that 97 per cent of surveyed 18-24 women in the UK had experienced harassment in public, while in Ireland over half of the participants said they felt unsafe traveling on public transport after dark.

According to the study — which brings together the voices and experiences of women across the world as well as data analysis and research — one-third of women globally say they do not have access to adequate toilets in public spaces.

The report also outlines the four main areas in need of urgent reconsideration: safety and security, justice and equality, health and wellbeing and enrichment and fulfillment.

A broad range of city design aspects were covered from street lighting to public statues, where it was discovered that around just three per cent of monuments globally celebrating figures of the past and present, depict women.

The overarching finding was that women are not represented in key decision making bodies, in fact, women make up around one in seven environment ministers and face barriers in key areas to improvement such as city planning, construction and leadership positions.

The administrator of the UNDP, which operates on the ground in 170 countries and territories working towards eradicating poverty, said: “Achieving gender equity is integral to each of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

Adding “When cities are largely designed without considering the diverse needs and insights of women of all ages and identities, this can have an adverse impact not only on their lives, but the lives of their families.”

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as Global Goals, were adopted by the UN in 2015 and act as an international call to action to end poverty and protect the planet with the intention of ensuring that by 2030 all people “enjoy peace and prosperity”.

In Africa the study revealed women own approximately one per cent of their own land, a figure sometimes disputed, and in India only 20 per cent of women are employed, with the study endeavoring to highlight how urban planning, ownership and city accessibility are key steps in the commitment to equality.

Urban planning and its biases are further compounded by an “amplified and rapid pace of global urbanisation and the growing need for reconstruction due to conflicts and climate change”. Meaning more so than ever before women are moving and then living and working in urban spaces alongside their families.

The report lays out a series of practical steps required to improve the gender inequity of cities and cites improvements such as gender responsive planning task forces and key ways to measure suc- cesses of implemented improvements.

The Short Stack

With the UN warning urban environments are built with male bias, what does future city life look like for women? This article is from the second edition of the Stack World Newspaper.

By Hannah Connolly

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