Equitable access to infrastructure and inclusivity in spatial design are the hallmarks of developed nations as they aim to tackle the alienation of an entire gender from the urban sphere. Certain base principles of universal access, pedestrianised roads, and accessible public transport are vital for a functional city. However, they are imperative for the full participation of women in their city as global studies have repeatedly shown that they are, on average, 21% more likely than men to use public transport to travel to work. However, harassment during the commute or while waiting at bus stops in poorly lit areas without police or public surveillance is accepted as the norm.
There is a direct link between depleted infrastructure and gender, especially in the light of the Housing Crisis where Katchi Abadi’s (Informal housing) become ‘Spatial poverty traps’ that hinder the empowerment of women. The social and spatial marginalization of women, along with a lag in service provisions aggravates the violence low-income women face. They are also more likely to experience extreme poverty due to inadequate jobs, shelter, and WASH provision. In terms of urban centers, we see physical violence intersect with issues of mobility, services, and economic opportunities.
Female visibility in public spaces is subject to the spatial design of the said place, ranging from how it allows for natural surveillance and avoids blind spots to the general quality of greenness, ramps, and varied seating. Multiple activities and arrangements allow the whole spectrum of gender to navigate their space and lead to greater perceptions of safety and inclusion. Architecture and gender are interlinked; just like systems of capitalism and patriarchy shape the layout of cities, they also impact the design of individual buildings.
There have been several disruptions to these system; in the case of Grameen Bank Housing, the unique eligibility criteria for its applicants implicitly favor women through housing loans for single women, women-headed households, or couples. A married male cannot apply for these loans without including his wife. Another prerequisite is that the couple must have a joint title to the land. As a result, many men transfer at least half their land to their wives. Recipients have to adhere to a specific prototype house design and invest sweat equity in constructing their own homes. An informal agreement between loan recipients ensures that the men in the housing project would pitch in to help single women and women-headed households with their housing construction.
The Jagonari Women’s centre was designed in 1982 by an all-women architectural firm called ‘Matrix’ for Bangladeshi Refugee women. The centre provided a variety of programs ranging from offender programs to integrated work living setup: a double height crèche at the heart of the centre allowed working mothers to oversee their children. The façade found a creative solution against racism-fueled vandalism by placing ornate jalis over windows; all of these solutions were due to the cooperative approach towards client consultation.
The Orangi Pilot Project though not overt in its claim of tackling issues of inequality, the link between depleted infrastructure and gender was instantaneous. Whenever whole communities are mobilised through participatory planning and execution, women are always at the forefront as champions of equity. Its low-cost initiative to set up community trunk infrastructure for sewerage, technical training resource centre, and Thallas (Building material manufacturing yards) aims to tackle the core issue of poverty that create spatial poverty traps for women.
Empowering Women’s centre in Rwanda trains residents from subsistence to large-scale farming. Demonstration, technical training, and the incorporation of low-tech sustainable solutions like composting and rainwater collection all integrate with the brick architectural language of the centre’s unique rounded living spaces. The V-shaped roof allows for the trough to collect rainwater that can then be utilised by the women in their farming practices.
SOS Children’s village in Djibouti is also a fascinating design that aims to imitate the scale of a livable neighbourhood through narrow shaded roads, squares, and plenty of open spaces. The play between public and private spaces calls for their amalgamation in the various courtyards, balconies, verandas, and porches that allow women to maintain a line of sight on the playing children
This public and private arrangement is also observed in the historical walled or core cities of Pakistan, particularly in Lahore. The intimate scale of the galis (passageways) and the small open porches allow for a dialogue. However, the public space has become increasingly dominated by male presence, so the front of the house is assigned for male entertainment. Women reside in the zinaan khana (female quarters) in the back and have the courtyard for the communal practice of cutting and peeling vegetables for food. An exciting development is the rooftop design with low parapets and a barsati (seating space). Often women climb onto each other’s rooftops or speak to one another through the brick-perforated walls.
The intricate relation between gender and space has been observed over centuries, from the layout of old Victorian homes to Ottoman harems. Later, when cities grew, and the public participation of women in the workforce grew more pronounced, so made the impact of gender on space. Ultimately what can be regarded as gender-inclusive architecture often fulfills the base needs of safety, efficiency, and diversity in programs.
ArchDaily. (2020). SOS Children’s Village In Djibouti / Urko Sanchez Architects. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/773319/sos-childrens-village-in-djibouti-urko-sanchez-architects.
Rafi, H. (2015). Orangi Pilot Project team relocate amid growing threats. [online] DAWN.COM. Available at: https://www.dawn.com/news/1185391 [Accessed 4 Dec. 2022].
MatrixOpen. (n.d.). WiAB. [online] Available at: http://www.matrixfeministarchitecturearchive.co.uk/wiab/ [Accessed 4 Dec. 2022].
The Express Tribune. (2022). Women’s harassment in public transport continues unabated. [online] Available at: https://tribune.com.pk/story/2387900/womens-harassment-in-public-transport-continues-unabated [Accessed 4 Dec. 2022].
the.akdn. (n.d.). Grameen Bank Housing Programme – AKDN. [online] Available at: https://the.akdn/en/how-we-work/our-agencies/aga-khan-trust-culture/akaa/grameen-bank-housing-programme [Accessed 4 Dec. 2022].