Women have very limited access to public spaces. Their access is limited for the socio-cultural, religious, and political reasons manifested into the society, along with poor planning of urban spaces that have failed in providing a sense of security and neutrality in the environment.

According to urban planners Marta Fonseca Salinas and Sara Ortiz Escalante : “Neutral and universal planning does not exist.” (Sassen n.d.).

Urban spaces, when viewed from a gendered lens, suggest that these public spaces are shaped according to the patriarchal values that exist within societies. According to feminist’s perspective, these gendered spaces can be reformed and transformed by revaluating the spaces where equality between gender diversity is the first and fore more priority.

Women reclaiming the urban spaces - Sheet1
Why loiter_©feminism in India

Deconstructing the notion of space

The notion of space can be well understood in terms of Lefebvre, who established that space is the medium that interacts humans with the social, cultural, and architectural beliefs of a place. Public space has always been the source of contention, to claim the control and rights of its possession, what activities are acceptable and who has the greater right for occupation, or the decision-maker of these spaces (Lefebvre 1991). Evidently, in the case of Pakistani society, it has been observed that one gender of the community has a greater right to occupy the public space. To understand the relationship of women to the urban public sphere, we need to understand that women’s relation to the outside is beyond corporeal. They are kept deprived of the basic right to walk freely and possess public space, and are mostly limited to homes. The male/ dominated figures superimpose these critical limitations and religious constraints that are put into the society due to the extreme patriarchal groups and lack of sense of security.

According to the Unesco definition, a public space refers to “an area that is open to all people regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity”. While on the contrary, it has been observed that cities are designed to accommodate neutral users, generally men, thus making cities only accessible to a specific group of people and making it problematic for people deviating from the standards. Expressing the same sentiments, Beebeejaun stated that the spaces patterned according to the notion of perceived gender and ethnicity complicate how rights are mediated in conflict with other members of the society (Beebeejaun,2017). 

Women reclaiming the urban spaces - Sheet2
Inequalities in cities_©The swaddle

The feminist perspective indicates that in many cultures, the belief of associating women to a private space (home) is the key factor that has removed them from urban spaces, and their presence is indicated as an act of transgression. The gender and space project by Pukaar addressed issues about the state, market, norms, policies, and right-wing ideology concerning gendered spaces, including architectural planning for the cities making designers and planners more aware of the biases in the city structure (gender and space 2019). 

Women reclaiming the urban spaces - Sheet3
Girls at Dhabas_©thewrongalice

Based on similar research, Phadke et al. published his findings in the book titled “Why Loiter?” – According to him, the act of loitering on the street is a way to reclaim the city . The book establishes the lack of engagement of women with public space in the context of the Indian subcontinent; he suggested that the current urban landscape confine women to their homes in the cities that are designed for men. He suggested that the current cities have reinforced gender relations in a society where women are kept safe in private spaces and try to limit their right to space rather than making public spaces safe for them. The book deeply links the ties of how women have established private spaces even when they are in public and explains that access of women is not only limited to public spaces due to societal norms but also the unavailability of unbiased public areas, infrastructure, and city designs play a significant role that actively prevents the participation of women in shaping the future of the cities (Phadke 2011).

Neoliberalism – Rise in Aurat march

There have been waves for the liberation of women in Pakistan from the time it came into being till now. The first started in the colonial period since the nationalist struggle for the country and extended even after the partition. The second wave occurred during Zia’s Islamization which led to the formation of a women’s action forum. This era marked the increasing involvement of women in politics and raising awareness of women’s rights. The third wave occurred after 9/11, which attempts to advocate the rights of women through a nonliberal perspective.

Although the most recent feminist movement – Aurat March, created a moral panic in Pakistan. The movement rose a spark between all the groups in society. Although the march was seen as an insult to the religious and cultural value of the society, the feminist maintained their stance, exposing the inherited fragility of the patriarchal structure and raising awareness on the issue of increasing harassment in public places. Sexual violence due to unprotected and gendered neutral spaces. Division of labour and oppression on the invisible beings of the society. The movement was gaslighted by the growing intolerance that is operating in the society based on its outdated patriarchal values, that important issues such as women’s rights, “violence against women, sexual harassment, abuse, and access to public space voyeuristically” were irately shadowed by the slogans raised (Mujeeba, Aisha, and Malik 2021). 

Women reclaiming the urban spaces - Sheet4
1983, protesters on Mall Road, Lahore Pakistan_©Ruya Maps

The theme that revolved around the aurat march was to reclaim the public spaces. One of the organizers at the aurat march claimed that:

“Reclaiming our public spaces, since these public spaces are also our inherited right just as these are a right of men. We want to walk on our streets and roads, just as safe as men: without being stared upon, assessed, or cat-called. WE ARE NOT TO CLAIM BUT TO RECLAIM THESE SPACES, including the streets, roads, houses, workplaces, politics which are ours as an inherited right.” (Iqbal 2020).

Women reclaiming the urban spaces - Sheet5
Aurat March 2021 Isl ,Pakistan_©Niche lifestyle

Conclusion

The last decade has seen an increasing number of movements by and for women to confront the gendered city and at securing the right to safety in the urban spaces within the cities. Women make urban spaces inclusive through the development of a range of urban diagnostics and interventions. 

The recent feminist movement emphasizes gender-equitable and safe, resilient, and inclusive cities. This implies women can enjoy city life and urban surroundings to their fullest. In other words, women have as much of a right to the city as men.

References:

  1. Sassen, S. (n.d.). Harvard Design Magazine: Built Gendering. [online] www.harvarddesignmagazine.org. Available at: http://www.harvarddesignmagazine.org/issues/41/built-gendering.
  2. LEFEBVRE, H. (1991). The Production of Space. [online] Blackwell. Available at: https://monoskop.org/images/7/75/Lefebvre_Henri_The_Production_of_Space.pdf.
  3. Beebeejaun, Y. (2017). Gender, urban space, and the right to everyday life. Journal of Urban Affairs, [online] 39(3), pp.323–334. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/07352166.2016.1255526.
  4. gender and space (2019). GENDER AND SPACE PROJECT. [online] Pukar. Available at: https://pukar.org.in/portfolio/gender-and-space-project/ [Accessed 18 Jan. 2022].
  5. Phadke, S. (2011). Why Loiter? Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets.
  6. Mujeeba, S., Aisha, B., and Malik, A. (2021). Bringing the Focus Back: Aurat March and the Regeneration of Bringing the Focus Back: Aurat March and the Regeneration of Feminism in Pakistan Feminism in Pakistan. [online] Available at: https://vc.bridgew.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2641&context=jiws [Accessed 18 Jan. 2022].
  7. Iqbal, T. (2020). Aurat March: Religion and feminism in Pakistan.
Author

Romaisa Tahir ( a student of architecture at the Institute for arts and culture, from Pakistan) enjoys writing and expresses her concerns via poetry and narrative writing. She believes that the passion for writing and admiration for the art of building can be blended; allowing the silence of buildings to speak through words and add meaning to their existence.

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