The Right to the City from a Gender Perspective
Shelley BUCKINGHAM, 2009
Human rights are derived from human needs, for example, to food, water, and shelter and also maintain notions of equality based upon different identities including gender, race, religion, etc. Defining a particular human need to live an adequate standard of living must include consideration of intersecting identities in order to be able to articulate a human right to guarantee that need. The right to the city is a collective right for all people who live in, access, and use the city and it entails not only the right to use what already exists in urban spaces, but also to define and create what should exist in order to meet the human needs to live a decent life in urban environments (Harvey, 2003). In short, it includes the right to use the city and to participate in its creation or re-creation. However through understanding how human needs and conceptions of equality are expressed in different identities, it becomes essential to elaborate debates surrounding the right to the city through the plurality of identities living in a particular urban environment. Different groups of people have different needs and uses of the environments they inhabit and may all contribute to a comprehensive understanding and practice of the right to the city. A gender perspective is absolutely essential in the debate towards the right to the city, considering the different needs and uses for spaces which relate directly to a gender identity. A few sound documents have been produced to inform the right to the city debate from a gender perspective, however a comprehensive conceptual framework on the matter has yet to be developed.
Opportunities for World Urban Forum V
The fifth World Urban Forum (WUF V) will be held in Rio de Janeiro in March 2010 and presents an important opportunity for this framework to be developed, especially considering that the theme of WUF V is “The right to the city – bridging the urban divide”. Some useful documents which have been produced on the inclusion of a gender perspective in the right to the city discourse can contribute to the debates at WUF V. Numerous issues, concerns and needs have been raised by a variety of sources from different regions. Noting these trends, it is extremely important that these forces come together to articulate a common strategy to include a gender dimension in the right to the city debate.
Creating a Common Agenda for the Right to the City from a Gender Perspective
The articulation of a gender perspective in the right to the city debate has been made by local, national, regional and international bodies. Although the particular contexts and environments under examination have varied, some overarching criteria have been identified by all of these different bodies. They may be separated into two factions, similar to the two central aspects held within the right to the city; the right to use and the right to participate.
The overarching criteria towards the realization of women’s equal use of the city includes: their safety in urban environments; public infrastructure and transportation; security of tenure; access to employment; access to community facilities and services; and ensuring a connection to reproductive responsibilities. In order to guarantee that any and all of these criteria are met, it is absolutely vital that women are involved in urban planning, local governance and decision-making processes related to their urban environments.
In addition to the equal use and participation in the city, the separation between public and private spheres must be examined in order to fully understand women’s particular needs in fulfilling their right to the city. This public/private divide may be better understood as domains where productive/reproductive work is realized, respectively. While productive work, including income-producing activities, is still regarded as primarily men’s work in many societies around the world, reproductive work, caring for families and the home, is considered to be traditionally women’s work. This is not to say that women do not partake in productive work or vice versa for men. However, understanding this sexual division of labour presents another blockade in the equal access to the city when the city is currently designed in favour of economic productive work, and can be very unfriendly to reproductive work activities, usually undertaken by women. In this sense, women have different uses and needs from the city, and these roles and divisions of labour should be taken into consideration by urban planners.
It is absolutely essential to understand that there exists no one identity in any given society and as such, difference must be included in the development of the right to the city so as to avoid the same hegemonic power dynamics which have contributed to the massive inequalities that exist in contemporary cities. Women must be included in the participatory planning processes which shape debates around the right to the city, as they represent an overarching group of intersecting identities which experience the city in different ways. Although there are differences in the particularities of different groups of women’s needs and uses for the city, commonalities have been identified and need to be incorporated into global debates surrounding the right to the city.
Eurocultures, FOPA Dortmund, et. al. “European Charter for Women in the City: Moving towards a Gender-Conscious City”. 1994.
Fenster, Tovi. “The Right to the Gendered City: Different Formations of Belonging in Everyday Life” in Journal of Gender Studies, vol. 14, no. 3, pp. 217-231. 3 November 2005.
Ferreira, Regina Fátima C.F. “Plataforma Feminista da Reforma Urbana: do que estamos falando?”, FASE – Solidariedade e Educação.
Harvey, David. “Debates and Developments: The Right to the City” in International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 939-941. December 2003.
Habitat International Coalition. “Proposal for a Charter on Women’s Right to the City”. 2005. www.hic-gs.org/articles.php?pid=1685
Muxi Martinez, Zaida. “Space is not neutral: Some reflections on habitation and the city from a gender standpoint” in Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, Bulletin on Housing Rights and the Right to the City in Latin America, vol. 1, no. 5, pp. 3-4. December 2008-January 2009.