This year’s Commonwealth International Women’s Day event held at Marlborough Wouse in London was led by the first woman Commonwealth Secretary General, Baroness Scotland. I was honoured to be invited to attend as the representative of the Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP) and I could not think of a better way to celebrate International Women’s Day.
CAP is an important international planning organisation of which RTPI and thereby all our members are members. Gender and planning has been an established area of interest for CAP, RTPI and the Commonwealth Secretariat and resulted in a Commonwealth Secretariat discussion paper. Gender in planning and urban design is as relevant now as it ever was. The RTPI has recently set up a web section on gender and planning as a resource for members.
Yesterday, Baroness Scotland focused on the issue of domestic violence under the theme “Peace in the home”. Domestic violence was a key issue for the Commonwealth among number of priorities under the banner of a “Peace Building Commonwealth”. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by violence. The estimated costs of domestic violence globally is 2% of global GDP. Baroness Scotland said that women’s rights are essential to development – so the relevance for Planners and Planning is clear. Domestic violence is not just “a die-hard evil “, it’s bad economics and bad for development.
We heard later form Leila Asrari of Plan International (an NGO that campaigns for equal rights and opportunities for girls), that a staggering £12-28 trillion dollars could be added to the global economy if women played their full economic part. This will be difficult to achieve until some of the associated issues are addressed. I could not note down fast enough the sobering statistics shared by speakers, but a few included:
- 375 million girls alive today will marry before they are 18;
- Half of the women killed last year worldwide were killed by their partner or a family member;
- Suicide is the most common cause of teenage girl deaths globally;
- When we look at women in work, three quarters of women’s work in emerging nations was said to be 'informal' and the gender pay gap is clear -women’s wages are on average 24% lower.
Dr Vanessa Iwowo, an expert in leadership development in Africa based at Birkbeck University of London, talked about the need for the right culture at work as well as domestically and she saw how one could support or undermine the other to create an inclusive culture as key.
Baroness Berridge, a conservative peer from the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians group, raised the importance of female political representation and participation to both promoting greater social and economic equality. In the last twenty years the number of women parliamentarians across the Commonwealth has doubled but still only reached 20%. The top seven Commonwealth countries for female representation are all in Africa (so much for being the mother of parliaments when we only have 30% in Westminster compared to 64% in Rwanda). She stressed the research demonstrating both the legislative affect and also to the language change as key to implementing Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 (more women in Parliament) and changing the debate from women’s issues to that of gender equality.
The issue of the significance of political violence towards women in engaging in the political process, both physical and virtual, has to be acknowledged. An issue raw in Westminster following the loss of Jo Cox MP. She was also passionate about the need to engage faith-based groups, not just NGOs in these issues. Planning is an inherently political process and so this matters to Planners.
Whilst domestic violence in the home is not an overtly planning issue, planners are of course tasked with delivering development for homes and communities. The discussions yesterday only renewed the sense of importance in creating safe and inclusive planning and the benefits both social and economic of engaging women fully. They underlined why the New Urban Agenda and the SDGs have gender issues at the heart of them.
The New Urban Agenda sets out the challenge to us all to end poverty and hunger, and “create safe, inclusive, accessible, green and quality public spaces friendly for families to enhance and foster social cohesion, inclusion and peaceful pluralistic societies, where the needs of all inhabitants are met, recognising the specific needs of those in vulnerable situations, achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in order to fully harness their vital contribution to sustainable development; improve human health and well-being; foster resilience; and protect the environment”; and to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal rights in all fields and in leadership at all levels of decision-making; by ensuring decent work and equal pay for equal work, or work of equal value, for all women; and by preventing and eliminating all forms of discrimination, violence and harassment against women and girls in private and public spaces”.
Surely, by creating places and communities that are safe, inclusive, accessible and family friendly, and ensuring that homes are built to a high standard, with access to jobs, recreation, education, health care, transport, community centres and green space, we as planners are giving women (and men) the best chance to live free from domestic violence? At least part of the stress or conditions that lead to domestic violence in the home must be environmental as well as social.
International agreements over the last year have served to underline the importance of the gender issue in planning and in the creation of cities and other settlements. The New Urban Agenda agreed by all Heads of Government at Habitat III, Quito in October 2016 calls for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls and also recognises that ‘by readdressing the way cities and human settlements are planned, designed, financed, developed, governed and managed, the New Urban Agenda will help to end poverty and hunger in all its forms and dimensions; reduce inequalities; promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth”.
This builds on the new Sustainable Development Goals Agreed by United Nations in 2015, adopted at Habitat III in 2016. Whilst all the All SDGs are relevant, particularly the cities goal SDG 11, those specifically identified for women are SDG5 – Gender Equality and SDG 10 – Reduced Inequalities. The Marlborough house event made frequent reference to these. I noted in my blog written at Quito how prevalent the issue of gender and women’s safety was at Quito.
CAP Members at the CAP Biennial in Fiji in 2016, committed to help ensure implementation through The Fiji Declaration, which calls on all Commonwealth Governments at all levels to implement the New Urban Agenda and take the a number of actions including to “Engage and empower communities to contribute to plan-making and involve people in all age groups including the young and elderly, women, indigenous peoples, the poor, minority communities and the disabled.”
At the RTPI we are passionate about inclusivity and equality – values which run through everything we do at the Institute. We aim to encourage all employees to reach their full potential and are proud to have female role models in senior positions - our Executive Team is 75% female and our Heads of Service team is 50% female. The gender balance of our membership is improving every year and entrants to the profession are currently roughly equal male female. Our Awards criteria, including for our International Award have at their centre equality, inclusivity and community engagement.
It is heartening to see how planners around the world are including women in their community engagement strategies – realising of course that women are vital to making communities work, socially and economically. We have a long way to go of course, but planners must step up to support development to allow for the best chance for homes, places and politics to be violence free.