Reimagining Post COVID Cities: A Gendered Approach

Ashali Bhandari

Oct 12, 2021

Stacked Wooden Logs

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in new visions for post-COVID cities. These imaginaries have prioritized sustainable development and new ways of work. However, this discourse is devoid of ways to make cities better places to live for women.

Reimagining Post COVID Cities: A Gendered Approach

Transitions to a new normal because of COVID-19 have resulted in new visions for post-COVID cities. These imaginaries have prioritized sustainable development, new ways of work, and safe mobility systems. However, the discourse around these futures is largely devoid of ways to make cities better places to live for women.

Over the last year and a half, urban systems in Indian cities have been stretched to their limits: the national and subsequent local lockdowns have exposed structural inequities in housing, sanitation infrastructure, and livelihoods.

Earlier this year, the World Economic Forum (WEF) published their Global Gender Gap Report 2021 and India’s rank fell from 112 to 140 out of 156 countries. The report highlights that the COVID 19 pandemic is likely to exacerbate gender inequality, especially the economic gender gap. However, due to limitations in data availability, the information for India does not capture the full impact of the Pandemic in India. Therefore, it is possible that India’s performance on economic indicators may be worse than the report states. 

Cities, which are expected to provide 70% of new employment in the country, must be the vanguard of gender equity to ensure sustainable urban transitions. Given the uneven impact of the pandemic on women, it is more urgent than ever that urban decision-makers consider how women access the city to improve female participation in the workforce. Urban planning must address how women access not only livelihoods but also the multitude of services that enable them to fulfill their roles as caregivers. This requires a new framework with which urban systems cater to the needs of women employed in both formal and informal livelihoods through land use and transportation planning.

Key findings from the Global Gender Gap Report 2021

The Global Gender Gap Report benchmarks gender gaps in 156 countries based on four parameters: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.

  • One of the drivers of India’s lower rank this year is its poor performance in the parameter: economic participation and opportunity.

  • Female participation in the labour force fell from 24.8% in 2020 to 22.3% this year and India maintained low scores on indicators like the share of women in professional and technical roles (29.2%) and the share of women in senior and management roles (14.6%).

  • India is also one of the world’s poorest performers on wage equality as the report states that “women’s estimated earned income is only one-fifth of men’s”.

COVID-19 is likely to intensify these asymmetries as global trends indicate that women have experienced higher unemployment rates and laggard re-entry into the workforce since the start of the pandemic. Women have also been more likely than men to reduce paid working hours for caregiving responsibilities at home, especially for families with children.

Lessons for a Gender-Sensitive Recovery in Indian Cities:

Equitable post COVID futures for Indian cities cannot be reimagined without addressing the needs of low-income communities. In Indian cities, the informal sector provides the vast majority of employment, especially for women. Studies from cities like Ahmedabad, Delhi, and Tiruppur highlight how women who worked in the informal sector were unable to access their livelihoods during and after the 2020 lockdown during the first wave of the pandemic in India. Women from all cities concurred that poor transportation and mobility restrictions increased responsibilities at home and health concerns limited their ability to work. Many of these women have indicated that these barriers continue to impact their access to livelihoods even though lockdowns have ended.

Rethinking Equitable Urban Systems

How can urban planners rethink urban systems to cater to the needs of women? How can we design affordable and connected transportation networks that make it easier for women to access employment opportunities? How can we create affordable housing and do neighborhood-scale planning which explicitly makes it easier for women to fulfill their multiple roles?

The predominant discourse around COVID recovery in Indian and global cities pushes for sustainable development: building resilient infrastructure, devolving local governance, improving financial capacity, and transitioning to a green future. This alone is not sufficient: Indian cities must take an additional step to work towards a gender-equitable future, ensuring women’s equal participation in the workforce and guaranteeing women equal rights to the city.

This piece was originally published in the Futures Centre blog. 


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