• Ketaki Singh

Women and Infrastructure

The idea that men and women experience cities differently is not one that was very familiar to me, surprisingly so considering the transparent clarity with which we see the existence of disparity in other aspects of our lives. The emphasis on spaces being planned in a way that responds to women as much as it does to men is fairly recent, as historically, men were the driving force behind planned development.

Planning infrastructure in India has primarily been done by men for men, finding source in the deeply rooted patriarchal economy. But, the idea that women do, in fact, ‘experience cities differently’ (Beall, 1996), gave rise to urban development being gender based. Responding and catering to women’s needs is now of primary importance, moving toward sustainable urban development. Taking a very simple example, women’s access to toilet facilities is considerably inadequate. As young children are generally accompanied by their mothers, women’s toilet facilities are under supplied, in spite of the ratio being 1 seat for 20, versus 1 urinal for 40 in the case of men.

But why is inclusive planning even necessary? Development and sustainability of society are deeply impacted by the way a space is planned and organized, in more ways than we think of. For instance, the very apparent lack of safety women encounter when using public transportation leads to them using it lesser, thus making it difficult for them to commute. Whilst managing multiple roles and responsibilities as well as having limited access to transportation, they are confined to their domestic space, thus reinforcing gender roles even more so (Matrix, 1984). Without ensuring inclusion in city planning, resulting in unequal access to education, housing, etc., a multifold of aspects are influenced, truncating development of generations to come.

Women in rural areas experience inequality differently, with gender disparities making the effect of poverty worse. The 1995 HDR noted that ‘poverty has a woman’s face’, with 70% of 1.3 billion people in poverty being women, thus carrying the weight of poverty.

Greater effects of inadequate services are seen in low income areas, with very integral areas of daily life and necessities compromised. For instance, women are mostly responsible for collecting water on a daily basis, with time spent on the same increasing when there is lesser access to a certain number of required taps. Increasing time spent on this, thus, reduces time that can be used for education or income-earning work, pushing them deeper into poverty. The fact that reducing poverty and disparity again goes back to access to health, education and financial services reiterates the importance that should be given to city design and effective planning; making accessibility simpler and easier.

On a seemingly unrelated note, while perusing factors in society that may contribute to crime, I was astounded to learn that the possibility of crime greatly increases in geographical spaces and locations that are poorly planned. Proposed by architect Oscar Newman, the Defensible space theory rests on the premise that poor design and planning compromises safety, with an intruder finding ways to commit crime. Conversely, when an intruder senses an organized, watchful space and community, he may feel less confident and secure committing his crime. Well-lit roads, distinct residential and commercial areas and evenly laid out pavements have far greater implications for women’s safety than we may realize.

-Written by: Ketaki Singh


Maringanti, A. (2012). Urban Renewal, Fiscal Deficit and the Politics of Decentralisation: The Case of the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission in India. Space And Polity, 16(1), 93-109. doi: 10.1080/13562576.2012.698136

Madigan, R. (1986). MAKING SPACE: Women and the Man Made Environment by Matrix Pluto Press, 1984 UTOPIA ON TRIAL. Vision and Reality in Planned Housing Alice Coleman Shipman, 1985. Critical Social Policy, 6(16), 145-148. doi: 10.1177/026101838600601618