Budgeting Space For Women In India’s ‘Sustainable Cities Of Tomorrow'
As the budget lays the blueprint for Amrit Kaal, it is critical to ensure that urban spaces are inclusive and gender-responsive.
India—powered by the ‘sustainable cities of tomorrow’—is a clarion call raised by the finance minister and the prime minister, repeatedly in their budget and post-budget speeches for two consecutive years. Undoubtedly, robust urban planning to strengthen the growth engines of India is the need of the hour, but it needs to go in tandem with gender equity. After all, at a sex ratio of 1,020:1,000, women surpassed men for the first time in India, warranting urgent attention to achieving gender equity in all spheres, especially by creating inclusive urban spaces.
Inclusive urban spaces and mobility empower women to access socio-economic opportunities and live life to the fullest. Without mobility that is safe, accessible, reliable and affordable, women’s economic participation is severely constrained. Evidence abounds on girls and women foregoing educational or work opportunities on account of long, unsafe, expensive or unreliable commutes, or ill-lit, ill-equipped (lack of toilets or street furniture), and deserted public spaces.
Non-disabled male gaze, central to urban planning to date, has created a strict division between residential and work areas, rendering cities less than ideal for women. Only by addressing these fundamental issues of urban planning can India catalyse women-led development, and become a $10 trillion economic powerhouse to be reckoned with.
A country as populous, vast and heterogeneous as ours necessitates an investment of large-scale, concerted and sustained resources to make urban spaces gender inclusive. Rightly so, the budgets of key ministries stand out for their gendered priorities.
While such interventions focusing on the safety and security of women are needed, they are insufficient to transform cities into inclusive spaces. Therefore, gendered safety initiatives must be suitably (re-)designed and scaled to complement and supplement the efforts of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.
MoHUA is responsible for building smart cities, augmenting mass rapid transit systems such as the metro rail, creating dense and reliable networks of safe and accessible public toilets, and making cities walkable, cyclable and livable, etc. In other words, MoHUA—with its thrust on urban planning and inclusive development—can make cities inclusive. However, an analysis of the total and gender budgets of MoHUA is revealing.
The lack of a gendered focus on MoHUA’s urban development schemes, especially urban planning, is a missed opportunity for the nation. One cannot sufficiently underscore the need to scale gender budgeting of all the aforementioned ministries, and particularly MoHUA, to mainstream women’s priorities in urban planning and set a global example of women-led development.
India has one of the world's lowest labour force participation rates of women at 22.8%, with an urban WLFPR of 18.5%, as per 2019-20 statistics. According to Census (2011), women make up only 22% of all people travelling for work in cities, but 84% of their trips are taken by the public, intermediate public (such as taxis and auto-rickshaws), and non-motorised transportation modes.
Despite the fact that women make up a sizable user group, there are few disaggregated analyses of mobility patterns at the city level in India. A lack of gender-disaggregated data perpetuates the invisibility of women commuters. Even when such data is available, it is rarely used to design tailored urban mobility solutions that address the differences in needs between men and women.
While the budgets have been limited, the government(s) are taking steps at various levels to make mobility systems more gender-responsive, albeit limited to women's safety in public transportation. Since 2018-19, states and union territories have operationalised Vehicle Location Tracking and panic buttons in all public transportation vehicles. In 2016, Maharashtra introduced the Tejaswini buses, which were women buses that ran during peak hours and had female drivers and conductors. The Delhi government has deployed 13,000 women marshals who have been trained to prevent violence against women on Delhi Transport Corp. buses. To make public transport affordable for women, several states like Delhi, Tamil Nadu, and Punjab provide free travel in state-owned transport corporation buses on all days and at all times.
Furthermore, there have been several initiatives to make intermediate public transport safer for women, such as ‘pink autos’ driven by women and for women, She Cabs taxi service, etc. Additionally, it is important to highlight that more women in public spaces are needed, not only as commuters but also as service providers. Certain states like Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, etc., have invested in providing equal opportunities to women and men for the roles of conductors and drivers in public and intermediate public transport alike.
Indeed, there is momentum at different levels of government, but implementation lags and is not comprehensive.
To make an effective on-ground change and make mobility systems safe, accessible, reliable, and affordable for women, two essential ingredients are required. A simple-but-necessary first step is to collect and analyse user data on a regular basis for women, men, and non-binary genders in order to understand and incorporate their various mobility needs and patterns in city mobility plans.
For example, women’s travel patterns will reflect shorter but more frequent trips, work trips that are recurrently combined with errands, travel with dependents, safety and affordability concerns when using public transportation, and so on. As a result of this gender-disaggregated data, transportation planners would be obligated to address specific needs through effective route planning, providing adequate services during peak and off-peak periods, ensuring affordability and reliability, and establishing safe transportation systems with an adequate level of service.
Second, building the capacity of city officials is critical for promoting gender-sensitive urban development because they shape policies, programmes, and services. Multi-year plans that include annual training and continuous capacity-building on gender analysis, gender-sensitive planning and budgeting, and engaging with women's groups and organisations are recommended for better results.
As the budget lays the blueprint for Amrit Kaal, it is critical to ensure that urban spaces, especially urban mobility systems are inclusive and gender-responsive. This will allow women, girls, and gender minorities of all ages and abilities to aspire to become equal beneficiaries of and contributors to the rapid economic growth of India. Indeed, a comprehensive gender budget on urban spaces and mobility will enable India to achieve its mission of Sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas, sabka prayas (Together, for everyone's growth, with everyone's trust, and everyone’s efforts).
Aishwarya Agarwal is an urban designer and research lead at the Centre for Inclusive Mobility at OMI Foundation. Aishwarya Raman is a sociologist and the Executive Director of OMI Foundation.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BQ Prime or its editorial team.