Building Feminist Urban Futures

Looking back on our most recent webinar

To celebrate International Women’s Day, IHS hosted a webinar on "Feminist Urban Futures", where feminist urban scholars and practitioners shared their gender-transformative interventions into urban spaces and communities. Browse through the main points of the speakers below!

Sara Escalante

Sara Ortiz Escalante

on integrating an intersectional feminist perspective through community participation

Sara Ortiz Escalante is an urban planner focusing on integrating feminist perspectives into urban planning, mobility, and architecture. She is a founding member of Col·lectiu Punt, a Barcelona-based feminist cooperative that integrates feminist and ecofeminist perspectives, emphasizing community participation and solidarity economics. 

Committed to giving voice to a historically silenced 51% of the population, the cooperative Sara co-founded integrates an intersectional and ecofeminist perspective in projects through community participation.

"We cannot talk about sustainability and climate emergency without drawing attention to what ecofeminism has brought to the picture, and particularly to all the things that we have learned from indigenous women and indigenous feminism." 

In their 500+ projects in over 100 cities worldwide, they strive to make an impact by focusing on a few main objectives that aim to change priorities in the urban planning process:

  • Placing people’s everyday life and care at the centre of urban decisions
  • Making women’s safety and autonomy a priority: creating spaces and cities that are safe for all and free of gender violence, guaranteeing women’s right to the city. 
  • Striving for women’s active participation: valuing the daily life experiences of women & making their knowledge and expertise visible.

Community participation is essential in ensuring that proposed plans and interventions respond to the needs of the inhabitants. To support other professionals in this direction, the collective has also developed a toolkit of feminist participatory methods.

Vanessa Peter

Vanessa Peter

on enabling women leaders in vulnerable communities

Vanessa Peter focuses on gender-oriented initiatives in Tamil Nadu's development sector. She actively influences policy as a civil society member in state-level committees, ensuring accountability and gender inclusion in urban development programmes. She is also a founder of the Information and Resource Centre for Deprived Urban Communities (IRCDUC), which aims to bridge the gap between marginalized communities and policymakers.

"Cities can be inclusive and gender-responsive only when the policies and programmes for urban development are evolved through participatory planning processes with enhanced participation of women and gender-diverse groups, especially from vulnerable sections. The lack of consultative and participatory processes results in diluting the gender-oriented approach in cities."

IRCDUC is a community-centered information hub designed to empower deprived urban communities in Chennai, South India, which are often excluded from institutional stakeholders' planning and budget allocations. Its main activities are identifying and capacitating women leaders, disseminating relevant information faster and in the vernacular language, collaborating with multiple stakeholders to ease the struggles of community leaders, launching campaigns, and producing evidence-based research, people’s audits, and citizen reports.

Tens of thousands of families that have been forcefully evicted and relocated to resettlement sites face big problems like the loss of income and livelihoods and lack of access to basic amenities due to the distance from the previous place of habitation. Women in low-income areas, informal settlements, resettlement sites, and homeless situations are most vulnerable.

The resource centre addresses the need for more women in representative bodies in resettlement sites by identifying and capacitating women to become community leaders. As representatives, they can better connect with government officials and political leaders, which leads to more opportunities for participation. IRCDUC also facilitates women-led processes, thus bringing important concerns to the policymakers' table through community-led research. Safety audits are such an example. Through women-led mapping of safe and unsafe spaces in the community, women were able to share which spaces were unsafe. Following this audit, the government made changes in dangerous areas by adding more streetlights and police booths.

Ewelina Jaskulska

Ewelina Jaskulska

on shaping urban spaces through women's emotions

Ewelina is an accomplished architect and researcher. She is the co-founder of the Architektoniczki Foundation, the first feminist cooperative of architects and urban planners in Poland. Ewelina is involved in feminist research initiatives to reshape urban spaces. Her works are showcased globally, and she's a sought-after speaker on spatial design and cultural dynamics.

The foundation works mainly with WLINTA on issues like domestic mobility and everyday urbanism, the city of care, spaces for girls, mobility, and women, etc. The researchers gather data through exploratory and sensibilization walks, workshops, lectures, and observations, as well as participatory diagnosis and intervention in recreation spaces based on a process of reflection and collective learning.

Their research tries to answer one key question: "How would cities change if the recognition of emotions was given the same level of importance as technical rules?" 

By referencing the time-spatial sequence by Kazimierz Wejchert as a methodology, they took urban walks and adapted Wejchert's curve of impressions to a curve of emotions. Instead of documenting the traditional aspects featured in this methodology - urban form, architecture, greenery, and perspective views, they adapted it to document security, inclusion, aesthetics, and comfort of use. Ewelina believes that evaluating urban spaces extends beyond the urban form, and traditional rating systems cannot encompass the complexity of women’s experience. For example, the safety aspect - which was not part of the original methodology, was consistently ranked lowest during the walks she organised with women. 

"If city design influences our emotions, should our emotions not influence the design of cities?"

This essential question guides the team's next steps, which include designing an app for research spaces. The team aims to create and map cities according to the four dimensions of its methodology: safety, inclusion, comfort of use, and aesthetics.


The IHS Gender Team

on working with women to bring feminist change on the ground

Bahar Sakizlioglu speaks on behalf of the IHS gender team, detailing the feminist interventions IHS makes in education, capacity building, and research, working with urban professionals and scholars.

One project Maartje van Eerd works on addresses the digital inclusion of women in Chennai resettlement sites, aiming to economically empower resettled women. Carolina Lunetta is involved in an action research project focusing on the process by which Brazilian women leaders and activists in social housing movements occupy and transform vacant buildings into residential spaces. She uses participatory feminist methodology to map the empowerment trajectories of these women while they claim their right to participate in the housing production in Sao Paulo. As for Bahar, her research is engaged in feminist methodology, and it incorporates a feminist social reproduction lens to understand and contest the production of gender inequalities and dispossessions during processes of gentrification and displacement in neighborhoods.

Photo of Dr. Pamela Duran Diaz

In the "Landlabs Cuetzalan" project, Pamela Duran Diaz works directly with indigenous women in Cuetzalan, Mexico. The land labs use participatory gender transformative approaches to develop biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation strategies while recording traditional indigenous knowledge. 

At IHS, gender is integrated into the curriculum in multiple ways, among which is an elective course on "Gender in Urban Theory, Practice, and Research," where participants learn why gender matters for urban development and how to make gender-sensitive plans and policies. Through tailor-made trainings, participants can also learn how to integrate gender in urban planning, climate change, housing, and other related fields. The team designs and conducts these trainings with participatory feminist tools in mind, such as storytelling as a co-creation tool for urban planning.

When it comes to research, the team embraces feminist participatory action research, not only to contest mainstream exploitative research but also to foster urban change while co-producing knowledge with urban communities, scholars, and policymakers. 

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