According to recent estimates from the WHO, over 1 billion people live with some form of disability. And this number continues to increase year over year. Cities around the world are continuing to incorporate Wise Practices in the pursuit of women friendly cities. But urban design should also use a gendered intersectional lens, in order to build inclusive cities for all.
Abilities are extremely diverse and can vary greatly from person to person. While some health conditions associated with disability result in poor health and extensive healthcare needs, others do not (WHO). For instance, consider the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities—a human rights instrument. It has a wide definition of people with disabilities and aims to reaffirm that people of all abilities should have human rights and fundamental freedoms. However, despite these efforts, cities are still leaving people with disabilities out. Not only when it comes to infrastructure, but also with regards to economic opportunities, participation, and institutional representation.
Designing to Combat Systemic Barriers
Here at the Women Friendly Cities Challenge, we have often discussed how urban design has historically failed to consider women. In this same vein, urban design has also overlooked accessibility and inclusion for people of all abilities. Specifically, cities were designed by able-bodied men, for able-bodied men. Especially during a time when many regarded women primarily as caregivers. To combat this, WFCC uses an intersectional lens to help us view and address systemic barriers and global crises. It is a crucial starting point in all discussions and provides a lens from which to consider social justice. We can use a gendered-intersectional lens and disaggregated data in the development of all policies, programs, budgets, funding, governance, and staffing. This leads to a better reflection on the reality of our diverse communities and helps to address the roots of social injustice.
Building Inclusive Cities Through an Intersectional Lens
Intersectionality is a term coined by civil rights advocate and law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw. It is the view that a person’s oppressions can intersect “in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity”. Additionally, it acknowledges that cultural patterns of oppression are interrelated, bound together, and influenced by the intersectional systems of society.
Just as we must redesign cities with gender equity in mind, so too must we consider the viewpoints of diverse experiences within a city, and acknowledge everyone who has been made oppressed and put at the margins of our existing systems. Above all, designing cities using an intersectional lens will go a long way towards meeting the needs of all its inhabitants.
In this video from Cities To Be, Victor Pineda, an urbanist and innovation expert, discusses his work on a global campaign to make cities inclusive, accessible, and innovative. In order for a city to be smart, it must unlock potential and create economic opportunities for everyone.
According to Pineda, “a city is a system that perpetuates values in the built environment. Everything that comes out of a city is shaped by society’s beliefs—and in turn shapes the beliefs of society”. Therefore until we begin to consciously design cities that are inclusive for all, the world will continue to build and move forward with the same kind of exclusionary barriers that have always existed.
The UN SDG Goal 11 is to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable” by 2030. Inclusive cities are at the core of meeting this sustainable development goal and are crucial to ensure everyone lives in a city that is equitable, just, and meets their needs.
We would love to share more Diversity & Inclusion Wise Practices that showcase the efforts of cities around the world. Visit our library of Wise Practices or submit one today. The Women Friendly Cities Challenge appreciates and accepts submissions from all sectors—governments, civil society and grassroots organizations, the private sector, academia, and beyond.
Want to help promote equality in your city? Get Involved with WFCC, or Submit a Wise Practice.
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Thank you for this very thoughtful and informative piece of work illuminating the situation of women in cities.