Rising concerns about the gaps in planning consideration for women and girls in cities gave rise to A Woman’s World event series. The series brought together practitioners and stakeholders in a series of discussions and workshops to answer questions, tackle issues and open up the dialogue for gendered responses in programming and planning solutions
A closer look at the city of Lagos today will reveal a glaring disparity in the use of city space between genders. Whether it is the poorly lit roads and bus stops that make the city typically more unsafe for women and girls at night than they are for men, public transportation systems that are less than conducive for the average woman’s complex daily commute, or land-use zoning policies that may force women to reject employment opportunities outside of their areas of residence, all too often, the needs of women seem to be alienated in the design of urban spaces.
Taking gender issues into consideration in city planning is crucial to success in strengthening the economy as well as achieving equality of access for all members of the society. Research has shown that women view and use the city differently from men. With a more nuanced use of public space, varying travel patterns, and different needs for mobility within the city, the realities of women’s day-to-day lives have major implications for the planning field. As such, women’s issues deserve attention within mainstream planning practice, especially as they make up a significant part of Nigeria’s population, and are key contributors, and enablers of the activities and mechanisms that drive wealth creation.
However, planning policy tends to largely ignore the particular needs of women, rarely making allowance for these needs in city planning and development processes. As more women are redefining their role in society and taking up employment and previously man-dominated assignments, city planning has to be adjusted and reviewed to meet these needs.
As part of a new line-up of activities under the Open City Lagos project, Heinrich Boll Foundation and Nsibidi Institute put together A Woman’s World, an event series that explores issues of equity, access, and opportunity at the intersection of gender and urbanisation. Bringing together diverse experiences from local and international scholars, industry and creative professionals, policy makers, gender specialists, and students, the event series provided a platform to investigate solutions to some of the issues faced by women and girls in present day urban practice. The workshop engaged participants in exploring urban experiences through a gendered lens, providing mapping tools and brainstorming around strategies to create safer spaces for women and girls within the city, create economic empowerment especially for the female component of the informal sector, as well as highlight issues surrounding mobility and transport.
International frameworks are already in place for gendered interventions, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the African Agenda 2063, both showing a clear commitment to the promotion of women and girls. These goals, however, need to be translated into tangible changes in our urban environment especially in cities like Lagos. Policies are great, but they are ineffective without realistic and domesticated implementation strategies. More importantly, the process of policy-making and implementation must be inclusive and participatory for it to be effective, taking into consideration the specific needs of women and prevailing cultures in the various communities, rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach.
City planning must accommodate the differences in society by offering gendered responses in programming and planning solutions. It must recognise the compound roles women generally play. On a typical day, a woman may need to engage multiple stops within the city; dropping the children off at school and picking them up, taking an ageing parent to the doctor, shopping at the market, and so on. This will differ greatly from a man’s straightforward trip to and from his place of work. A gendered response in urban policy will take into consideration the woman’s nuanced use of transportation within the city by providing more bus stops or planning land-use zoning in such a way that these multiple activities can happen within a shorter mile radius.
Around the world, urbanisation and city development have been a predominantly male platform. Not only were the cities built by men, it was done with little or no consideration for how women would use and interact with spaces. The situation is hardly any different in Nigeria. In light of current discourse surrounding equitable gender practices, women are now being afforded opportunities in various sectors, even though the process has been a slow one. While women presence in governance and policy-making activities has grown steadily over the years, there is still room for more women to be given opportunities to occupy key leadership roles in various sectors, including education, policy, and design practice.
There is also the need to have more feminine presence in activities that transform public perceptions and developmental process. This is an issue Bilikis Adebiyi-Abiola, Co-founder of Wecyclers – a recycling company in Lagos, is tackling head on. Speaking at A Woman’s World, she spoke about some of the motivations that birthed her company and the economic value it provides for its employees, a majority of whom are women. Taking the conversation further, Toun Okewale Sonaiye, CEO WFM 91.7, a radio station that caters to women and families, emphasised the important role women play in the society and the necessity of the platform the radio station provides which enables the discussion of peculiar and pertinent issues that may otherwise be neglected.
Without a doubt, gender-sensitive urban planning will be a deciding factor in the attainment of sustainable urban development, as a people-centred development must include a discussion on gender. The issues surrounding gender and urbanisation must be nudged into the forefront of public consciousness and conversation, else we will continue to have a divided city; one in which one group flourishes, while the other lives in fear.