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Gender responsive urban planning

Like so much else in our development and planning regime, gender responsiveness too may not be on the radar of an urban planner designing a new project or a parliamentarian seeking funds for the development programs of his constituency, not perhaps even for the female parliamentarians nominated on the women’s quota. This is the high time to raise awareness on the need of inclusive urban planning and equitable human settlements as public housing is one of the top priority agendas of the government. For the government scheme of public housing idle state land has been identified in several districts and planning might be under way for making these wilderness habitable (the writer is not sure if any planning has yet started as progress on development plans is always shrouded in so much mystery, that Right to Information Acts have to be introduced and invoked for public scrutiny, accountability and transparency). Though the Federal Housing Task Force, as announced in November 2018, had no woman member on it but it is hoped that in its brain storming sessions it would co-opt a gender specialist.
Affordable housing and access to shelter is a colossal problem in urban planning and the lack of public housing projects has left the people to the mercy of the market forces. This has led to making illegal housing another field for the mafias to make quick buck. Karachi and Islamabad are the glaring examples of the inaction and apathy of the state functionaries, either due to lethargy or absence of political will to address these issues. Adequate shelter is identified as not only just roof over one’s head but also as one providing adequate security and a minimum desirable level of civic facilities like water, sanitation, waste removal, lighting etc. All these attributes of an adequate shelter are the features which affect women more than men. There can be no home where its inhabitants are not safe, similarly absence of a decent facility of water, sanitation, waste removal means engagement of women and girls for these provision thus reducing time available to them for other productive activities including domestic chores. Collection of waste and its removal exposes women to health hazards also and inadequate lighting, among other things, becomes security hazard for women, elderly, and the children.
Lack of affordable housing has led to sprawling slums; illegal occupation of state land and over crowded housing units which perpetuate joint family system, where again the brunt of this social problem is borne by women.
Housing is just one area of urban planning but in view of government’s plans of public housing for the low income families, this area may serve as an example of either the lack of knowledge on the issue by the planners or willfully relegating gender mainstreaming to a very low priority. The United Nations Economic and Social Council requires all the entities within the UN to take gender perspective in all of the policies and programs (Conclusions 1997/2). Gender mainstreaming is defined as “Mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programs, in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programs in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.”
Gender mainstreaming is not an alternate to gender focused programs but requires that all the programs should be analyzed incisively to unveil and address hidden discriminations and to bring out the different needs of the two genders. Obstacles in the path of gender sensitive urban planning are not only cultural and institutional but also inadequate understanding of gender related requirements aggravates the problem.
For example, there would hardly be a gender activist vocalizing concerns over gender insensitive urban planning or an urban planner mindful of the gender aspect of his work. However, paying the credit where it’s due, Orangi Pilot Project, has been one such program which focuses on social aspects of urban planning and has engaged and trained social activists on these lines. We have often seen public primary schools for girls built away from the settlements and lacking in basic facilities of four walls and sanitation. The reason for schools in such inhospitable areas often comes to be explained as that it was a donation by a local land owner so he chose to donate the barren, uncultivated land which was away from the village since the land closer to it was obviously costlier. In an attempt to save the development budget for school buildings from lapsing, which is viewed as adverse performance of a public sector manager, planners both from public sector and political arena, overlook the safety and security of the school girls at such a desolate place. Therefore, urban planning with no or little gender consideration is not always due to lack of public funding but also due to lack of sensitivity on the subject.
For women in our country, it always is an intersection of vulnerabilities, as they have no access to the economic resources and cultural and social mores also militate against them so an affirmative action is required to make the public policies and programs gender sensitive. It may be mentioned that no priority for women or a different eligibility criterion has been announced yet in the government’s scheme for public housing, unlike the rural housing schemes of the past like Jinnah Abadi where there were quotas for priority groups including widows. It is hoped that government’s scheme of public housing would be made an inclusive one.
In order to raise awareness on the gender aspect of planning issues and gender mainstreaming, Local Government Departments, Physical Health and Urban Development Departments and above all the Planning and Development Departments in the provinces have a key role to play. As environmental impact assessments are made an integral part of any infrastructure project, gender impact assessment may also be made an in-built feature of urban planning. As the first step, women development departments shall compile a sex-disaggregated data of the projects approved for the next fiscal year and also of the projects completed in the year ending on 30th June this year as the new financial year has started and we may begin with a clear idea of what has been done so far and what needs to be done.



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