Examining the Intersections Between Gender, Urbanization, and Democratic Governance

By Haley Nolan and Lindsey Reichlin

With two-thirds of the world’s population predicted to live in urban areas by the year 2050, the global landscape is changing rapidly. Reviewing existing literature and data across a range of fields, authors Lindsey Reichlin, IWPR Research Associate and Program Manager, and Elyse Shaw, IWPR Research Associate, examined the experiences of women in urban settings in Gender, Urbanization, and Democratic Governance, a white paper commissioned by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and released in June 2015. The paper, which incorporates feedback from an expert roundtable of former policymakers, development practitioners, academics, and researchers, explores the gendered experiences of city inhabitants and discusses how increasing women’s voice and agency in urban governance, policymaking, and planning can help distribute the benefits of urban living more equitably.

IWPR’s research found that urbanization, while associated with increased access to social, economic, and political opportunities, is also characterized by persistent gender norms and lacking social infrastructure to support women’s needs. Urban women face distinct challenges from those faced by their male counterparts, including unequal access to education, vulnerability to gender-based violence, deficient labor and legal protections, constrained urban mobility, and a division of labor which holds women responsible for the majority of unpaid domestic work and family care. These challenges contribute to the persistent exclusion of women from urban decision-making processes and political inner circles.

The white paper emphasizes the importance of increasing women’s representation in urban decision making, highlighting the utility of mechanisms such as labor unions,
grassroots women’s movements, digital technologies and social media, voter engagement, and gender quotas for bringing women’s issues and women’s voices into the spotlight. The paper also highlights the need for improved and expanded sex-disaggregated data that can better inform city development.

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