Missing in Delhi Master Plan 2041: Gender inclusivity
Cities are dynamic and ever-changing spaces. The Master Plan of Delhi-2041 — a planning document that seeks to ensure the sustainable growth and development of land for the next two decades — has stirred up a debate among resident groups and civil society. While accommodating the current needs and aspirations of the people of Delhi, it also seeks to provide a roadmap for Delhi’s overall growth.
Planning ahead for the next 20 years is not easy, considering the fast-paced, ever-evolving world we live in today. From climate disasters that change our ways of living to global pandemics that impact our mobility, the only constant is change itself. Then there are other factors such as the growth of technology, migration, conflict and so on, that have a bearing on our lives. In this context, a plan such as this must have direction, and be adaptable to change.
So, who is a city planned for? Historically, cities were planned to cater to able-bodied, male, heterosexuals who worked outside their homes and had someone (read: women) to look after the care work of the household (such as cooking, cleaning, looking after children, and elder-care among others). This has changed. In today’s age, modern cities cater to a range of people with different aspirations. Keeping this in mind, cities must consider the needs of the diverse demographics that inhabit them. If they fail to do so, they risk the chance of excluding the realities of many — including women, children, the elderly, the disabled, the transgender community among others.
Not a city for women
In Delhi, the sex ratio (868 women per 1,000 men) is below the national average of 940 women per 1,000 men, as per Census 2011. Women’s labour force participation is a mere 14%, five times lower than the male workforce. Much like everywhere else, women also carry the burden of unpaid care work. Data from the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 2018 states that, in India, women in urban areas spent 312 minutes on household care work a day, while men only spent 29 minutes. Further, crimes against women in Delhi are among the highest in metropolitan cities across the country.
Gender is one axis that must be brought from the periphery to the centre of planning, for a city to be truly inclusive. A gender-friendly city is one where women, girls and others on the gender spectrum can not just live full and safe lives, but also thrive. This requires equitable access to services such as housing, education, justice, medical treatment and so on.
Few and far between
The two guiding principles of a gender-friendly city are: Recognising unpaid care work, and acknowledging that violence and fear are key elements in women’s experiences of a city. This makes it imperative to encourage the participation of women in decision-making and leadership to guarantee their safety in all spaces.
However, in the vision document, there are only a few mentions of gender in its approach to building safe streets and public spaces, including the need for workplaces with childcare facilities to get more women to join the workforce. The vision mentions a sustainable, liveable and vibrant Delhi that focuses on environmental sustainability, vibrant economic and cultural development and safe mobility, with only one sentence recognising diversity and inclusion.
The Plan, however, does have interesting elements that can facilitate greater women participation, but only if it is done methodically. But there is little in later chapters that go into any detail about concrete plans to ensure this.
For example, the idea of initiating a night-time economy is innovative, since extending the use of cities at night for commerce has been successful in many cities globally. The reality in Delhi is that it is unsafe for half of its people. Unless there are concrete steps to address gender-based violence and crime, the night-time economy will not be sustainable.
Providing safe transport and well-lit streets, as well as measures to include women in this economy as workers, is vital.
Gender-inclusive planning must address accessibility, mobility, safety and freedom from violence, health, shelter and housing, childcare along with enhancing their economic opportunities. Over the past few years, Delhi has made several interventions to address women’s needs in terms of infrastructure, transport as well as services. We cannot afford to have a business-as-usual approach and miss the opportunity for Delhi to establish leadership in planning a gender-friendly city that is truly inclusive. Women must be able to exercise their right to the city.
Kalpana Viswanath is co-founder and CEO, Safetipin, a social organisation that works towards making spaces safer and more inclusive for women and chair of Jagori women’s resource centre.
The views expressed are personal