This week, Lab Co-Director went to Cairo this week to speak at the “Gender Equity of Cities in the MENA Region” seminar series hosted by Cairo University and the Urban Studies Foundation. Ellie’s keynote explored the role of infrastructure and engineering design in practically delivering a “Feminist Right to the City” and how the technocratic framing of urban development undermines possibilities for this. By drawing on examples from her work with the C40 Cities Women4Climate programme, the Greater London Authority’s partnership with UN Women and her work on a gender lens on engineering practice, she presented the key challenges for the sector in taking action in this area, as well as examples of global best practice.
Urban theorists and activists have long embraced ‘the right to the city,’ a concept introduced by French philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre in 1968, defined as ‘[t]he freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves’ (Harvey, 2008: 23), academic discourses of ‘the right to the city’ have been increasingly entering into urban policy. The New Urban Agenda, adopted at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in October 2017, invokes ‘the right to the city’ to proclaim a vision of:
“...cities for all, referring to the equal use and enjoyment of cities and human settlements, seeking to promote inclusivity and ensure that all inhabitants, of present and future generations, without discrimination of any kind, are able to inhabit and produce just, safe, healthy, accessible, affordable, resilient and sustainable cities and human settlements to foster prosperity and quality of life for all.” (United Nations, 2017)
It is a milestone that urban policymakers are thinking about what ‘the right to the city’ means and how that translates in practice. However, given that most of our cities and urban infrastructure are designed by men, how can we ensure that women’s experiences and needs enter into design and planning processes? If half the population are excluded from design and planning processes, how can we ensure that cities truly are inclusive and sustainable for all?
Increasing gender parity design and planning is necessary but not sufficient to achieve gender inclusive urban development. Gender expertise- that is, a knowledge about the ways in which design and investment decisions contribute to gender inequality- is necessary as well. The underrepresentation of women is compounded by a lack of gender expertise: not only do women not have a seat at the table, but also their lives and experiences don’t enter into design and decision-making processes.
Harvey, D. (2008) The right to the city. New Left Review, 53, p. 23 – 40.
United Nations. (2017) The New Urban Agenda. United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development.