In the past two decades, urbanization and urban growth have accelerated in developing countries. Rapid urban migration results in a change in demography and the population mix. The demands of the changing demographics have presented new challenges to policy-makers. In many parts of the world, including South-East Asia, higher demand for work conventionally performed by women has fueled large scale migration of women into urban regions. However, policy-makers have paid attention to only the physical and spatial aspects of urban development.
Governments have ignored issues of gender and caste and the discrimination that arises from the same at the local, state and national levels. Men and women face problems arising out of urbanization like poverty, housing, and unfair employment in different ways. ‘Gender-blind’ approaches usually harm women more—because they have been historically oriented towards catering to the priorities of men due to the society being inherently patriarchal. There is a need for urban planners in developing countries like India to shift away from the gender-blind approach to policy-making that they implicitly follow.
Providing housing for a rapidly growing population has been one of the primary problems faced by policy-makers. Not only are low-cost housing programs inconsiderate of the needs and priorities of women in terms of the infrastructure and safety but the exclusion of female-led households through eligibility criteria, methods of beneficiary recruitment, cost recovery mechanisms are also common.
Studies in developing countries, including India, have conclusively proven that female-headed households were concentrated in the poorest and potentially most vulnerable housing conditions. Female-led households are also comparatively more susceptible to violent crimes and theft. There is a need for governments to prioritize female-led households whilst providing subsidized housing actively.
The demand for labour has fueled the migration of women. However, this demand exists mainly in the informal sector. Despite the presence of labour protection laws in most countries, the informal sector operates beyond state restrictions and regulations. Workers are forced to work for long hours in inhumane conditions at a meagre wage. Added domestic responsibilities, the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace and unhygienic working conditions are some of the specific problems that women face in the workplace. Stricter enforcement of labour laws and workplace regulations, sensitivity training for employers and the introduction of all-female workplaces are required to make work environments and workplaces more conducive and accommodating to the needs of women.
Beyond housing and employment, public transport, healthcare and poverty alleviation are other areas of focus in the context of growing urbanization where there is an urgent need for a gendered orientation to policy-making.