Why Sustainable Cities Work Better For Women

The cities of tomorrow will look very different to the concrete jungles of yesteryear. As planners and decision-makers wrestle with how urban living will look in the future, there are many factors they will have to consider.

One issue is whether cities should be designed around cars, while another is how to make them more inclusive, safer and healthier for the people who live there.

A recent study by Arup, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the University of Liverpool warned of the gender bias that is built into many cities around the world.

According to the report, this bias takes many forms, including access to sanitation facilities and poorly-designed public transport systems. It also argues that it impacts our ability to tackle climate change, with woman facing disproportionate exposure to climate hazards, particularly in urban areas.

This is due to several factors of which the principal one is that women are more likely than men to live in extreme poverty, and therefore will be less able to withstand or recover from climate change-related events.

Such events can affect women in different disproportionate ways. Floods can damage health facilities, while heatwaves expose women to greater risks of heat stress.

One of the report’s co-authors and Arup’s inclusive and resilient cities lead, Dr Sara Candiracci, said there is also growing evidence showing that women make up the majority of climate-related deaths. She added 80% of people who are displaced by climate change events are women, as well.

In addition, Dr Candiracci said women are also more likely to live in poor-quality housing and not own their own home, which also affects their ability to deal with heatwaves and other climate change effects.

They are also more likely than men to be carers, either looking after children or older relatives, so access to green spaces is often vital.

“It’s very important to have a holistic approach and understand the different needs and challenges that women face and how climate change is impacting their living conditions and other aspects of their lives,” she said.

“At the same time, we need to be very pragmatic in our approach because climate change is happening now. We need to be proactive and find practical ways to address the factors that directly contribute to women’s capacity to climate events.”

The report argues that barriers to women entering city planning, construction and other leadership positions urgently need to be removed in order to tackle the in-built gender bias.

It also notes that women’s representation in climate governance is low, and a study in 2020 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found just 15% of environmental sector ministries were led by women.

Dr Candiracci added many decisions that also have an impact on women are taken by men, who “in many cases don’t fully understand the needs of women” and the type of contribution that they can bring to the society.

UNDP administrator Achim Steiner said achieving gender equity is integral to each of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

“When cities are largely designed without considering the diverse needs and insights of woman of all ages and identities, this can have an adverse impact not only on their lives, but on their families,” said Steiner.

“Gender-equal cities can generate enormous economic, environmental, political and social benefits.”

Original Article Jamie Hailstone Forbes

Equitable Access to Urban Services