Urbanization, gender and the global south: a transformative knowledge network

Situated within the dynamic early 21st century context of urbanization, this partnership conducts research and engages in public education and policy enrichment in eight strategically chosen cities in lower middle-income countries to advance understanding of how the relationship between poverty and inequality is being transformed, focusing in particular on how this is reconstituting gender relations and women’s right to the city. The partnership is timely given that it was only very recently that the majority of the world’s population began living in urban centres, with urbanization fueled by rapid urban population growth in the urban global south (through natural increase and migration) and largely unrestrained capital mobility and accumulation. The partnership also coincides with the launch in 2015/16 of new global urban development platforms: UN-Habitat’s ‘New Urban Agenda’, which will lay the groundwork for new sustainability and urbanization policies and practices, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which will address women’s needs through SDG 5 (‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’), and first ever global urban goal, SDG 11 (‘Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’), which will focus on ameliorating the negative consequences of rapid urbanization. This huge global urban transformation is now characterized by an increase in social, economic and environmental inequalities and, in particular, in the last decade by the feminization of urban poverty, meaning women represent a disproportionate percentage of the urban poor, with the brunt of housing and employment insecurity, poor transportation infrastructures, violence, and environmental disasters in urban settings felt most deeply by poor working women. At the same time, urbanization presents unprecedented opportunities for women. The large-scale, rapid pace and relative newness of these urban transformations, however, means little is known about how they are affecting the lives of poor women, how they are reconfiguring inequalities between women and men, and the impact they are having upon women’s right to the city, yet these are issues vital for equity, belonging, and justice and for democratic and sustainable urban development.

These research and policy intervention challenges are tackled by Urbanization, Gender, and the Global South: A Transformative Knowledge Network (GenUrb), which comprises a global group of 35 feminist urban scholars and activists from 10 countries, with 13 partners that encompass 6 universities, 3 women’s organizations, 2 civil society groups, a Canadian-based policy organization and the multilateral UN-Habitat Gender Hub. The specific objectives of the partnership include conducting and disseminating research over a six-year period that will engage with urban policymakers and the application of SDG 5 and 11; and the everyday lives of grassroots urban women to explore how gendered inequality is experienced through the economic, social and environmental dimensions of insecurity via the practices the latter are employing to work towards equality and inclusion in their urban worlds, including their engagement in urban place-making. The research takes place within and across eight cities–Cairo, Cochabamba, Delhi, Georgetown (Guyana), Ibadan, Mumbai, Ramallah, and Shanghai–chosen for their differing regional locations, sizes and experiences of urbanization and migration. Each City Research Team also has the objective of engaging in public education initiatives to promote active citizenship and build local institutional capacity and further enable dissemination of findings, thereby strengthening the institutional ability to advance policy and practices that reduce insecurities.

The partnership will produce new knowledge about sustainable and democratic urban change that addresses the needs of poor women, develop innovative public education initiatives that inform public debate, aim to influence local, national and global levels of gender-aware urban policy development and train a global network of researchers.