Make room for gender in Mumbai of the future

  • Smruti Koppikar
  • Updated: Apr 08, 2015 17:13 IST

The draft Development Plan 2014-34 (DP) has been slammed for its build-more Floor Space Index regime, reduction in open and green spaces, exclusion of heritage sites and structures and so on. It suffers from another major lacuna: the total absence of the gender perspective in planning for Mumbai of the future.

Gender is, indeed, the new conversation in these times. There is recognition, however slow and grudging, that gender must inform policy, planning, dialogues and allocations in society. But the bureaucrats and consultants who authored the DP saw no reason or value in including the gender perspective in the DP.

This is not about being politically correct. It is about acknowledging the axiom – women experience and access the city differently – recognised first in 1996 and now universally accepted in urban planning. That the BMC draws up a blueprint for the next 20 years without incorporating the gender perspective is a reminder that gender conversations – and complaints about the DP specifically – must get louder.

Gender mainstreaming in plans and projects is not only a well-accepted strategy to promote gender equality, but also a recommendation of the United Nations. In urban planning, gender mainstreaming means acknowledging the needs and aspirations of women and incorporating them into urban infrastructure so that cities respond equally to men and women. It helps to promote gender equality, it also helps build sustainable cities.

Urban development is not gender neutral. Physical and social infrastructures in a city have differing impacts on men and women. And they impact different classes of women in different ways too. Women comprise nearly half of Mumbai’s population -- 5.7 million of the city’s 12.4 million. A DP that deliberately does not include the gender perspective deserves to be dumped or substantially revised.

Women’s access to services, their safety and security are linked to urban design. The number and location of toilets in a slum, for example, have a direct relationship with women’s health and safety. These have not been even marked appropriately. Studies have shown that women use more public transport and more frequently, often making multiple trips a day, and walk more compared to men. To know this and not incorporate it into planning is senseless. Then, the design and placement of bus stops, planning approach roads to railway stations, evolving a luminosity index for different areas, all contribute to a climate of security or the lack of it for millions of women.

Community water supply services affect women given the amount of time they spend accessing water; reliable public schools and hospitals in a community mean more productive time for women who invariably become the primary care-givers for their families. Access to safe gardens and parks is a health issue. The DP does not include the gender view into social amenities at all. Worse, it dismisses the issue of affordable housing, the issue which negatively impacts the maximum number of poor women, puts them at physical and social risk, and diminishes quality of life. Relegating all these to Local Area Plans is not the way out.

Municipal commissioner Sitaram Kunte and the DP’s authors cannot claim ignorance of the gender perspective. The process of preparing the DP included several rounds of meetings with stakeholders. Women’s groups and gender activists had made comprehensive presentations on behalf of different sections of women. Given this, the DP is a mockery of their participation. Gender mainstreaming, as a concept, was mentioned in the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) projects too. Why the exclusion now?

When gender mainstreaming was introduced in Vienna, Austria, in the mid-90s, skeptics had asked if it was necessary, officials mocked if they “should paint the streets pink”. But the city’s re-design, education, healthcare and other benefits now bear testimony to it, reports say. There are several other examples. Surely, Mumbai can learn from these experiences.

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