Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Grounds for Future Gendered Urban Agendas: Policy Patterns and Practice Implications

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Grounds for Future Gendered Urban Agendas: Policy Patterns and Practice Implications

Article excerpt

Introduction: bringing gender into urban policy and practice

This paper takes the international debates in the UN-Habitat and the European Union (EU) about a New Urban Agenda as its motivational starting point to explore possible grounds for advancing a gendered urban agenda. These grounds are presented as a response to the contradictory tendency in the way policy making and theory have coped with the gender issue. Indeed, the way in which gender has been used in policy making and urban planning in the past shows a longstanding lack of coherence when shifting from theory to practice (Walby, 2005; Poggio, 2006; Jarvis et al., 2009; Parker, 2012; Cohen and Reynolds, 2014).

For instance, several questions that are not coherently aligned in explicitly making the gender issue a key subject of a contemporary urban agenda are addressed. The first is theory, which is generous about highlighting the potentiality of gender as an urban issue, as will be shown below. The second is international policy making, with reference to EU and UN documents guiding the development of a new urban agenda. The third is practice, where some new experiments will be reviewed. These questions are addressed in turn.

The theory on 'gender' over the last few decades has flourished among geographers, urban planners, sociologists, anthropologists and advocates of social justice and equity (Bridge, 2005; Butler, 1993; Duden, 1994; Golderger et al., 1996; Nussbaum, 2000; Jarvis et al., 2009). Gender has served as a normative goal in city planning, as well as a powerful theoretical factor in urban research (Moser, 1993; Fincher and Jacobs, 1998; Fenster, 2004; Fainstein and Servon, 2005). On the other hand, policy making has proved largely unsuccessful in embedding the gender issue as a constitutive ingredient in actual practice (Greed, 2013). In support of this argument, this paper recalls the controversial debate on the implementation of the 'gender mainstreaming strategy' policy into practice (Sánchez De Madariaga and Roberts, 2013; Moser and Moser, 2005; Moser, 2014). Gender mainstreaming has been addressed through international manifestos, events and legal documents (such as the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999 and the Women's World Conferences in Nairobi and Peking in 1985 and 1994). This strategy has even consolidated the nominal use of the word 'gender', which nonetheless has lost some of its constitutive meaning over time.

The EU reports and the European Commission's recent communications (with particular reference to the EU New Urban Agenda), as well as other international documents discussed herein, share the same unsuccessful result in the transfer of policy to application. Rather, these documents serve to cut gender out of the mainstream discourse on the new urban agenda.

Innovative gendered practices are changing our life environment in ways that are not often intercepted by the official policies related to urban questions (Parker, 2012; Wekerle, 2004). By reviewing a selection of official international policy documents, this paper will bring attention to the fact that there is not enough transfer of innovation from practice to policy. To foreshadow the conclusions of this paper, the evidence suggests that to adopt a successful policy, policy making needs to reconnect the official institutions more closely with gendered practices on the ground, so as to avoid rhetorical drifts and a (merely) nominal use of the word gender. This would serve to reconstruct a successful chain between official policy documents and lower levels of government and planning (i.e. regional, provincial, municipal, local).

To realign theory with practice, by means of policy making, the paper hence suggests reconceptualising gender as a nominal versus constitutive essence. Namely, to conceptualise gender not so much in the official policy and documents, but rather in practice. This is suggested because the official documents are often rhetorical and ineffective, as shown in the gender mainstreaming literature review. …

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