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Women most disadvantaged in urbanisation – Research

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Although urbanisation in itself is not bad, as it refers to larger populations migrating to urban areas in nations across the world, new findings show that women are the most disadvantaged as society grapples with inadequate services as a result of disproportional growth.

According to a new research published by the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED) with support from the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) March 8, 2012 to mark International Women’s Day, residents of low-income and informal urban settlements suffer hugely from inadequate living conditions and limited access to services, which puts a disproportionate burden on women’s unpaid time and results in far-reaching consequences for their well-being.

The study shows that although urbanisation presents women with more job opportunities, greater independence and fewer economic and cultural constraints, it does not always result in a fairer distribution of wealth and other advantages, including rights, political representation and their ability to secure assets.

Responding to the findings, IIED’s Director, Dr. Camilla Toulmin, said “Urban growth is inevitable but urban poverty is not. Policymakers should look beyond income and material wealth in their planning so they can tackle all forms of gender inequality and seize the potential of urbanisation to improve people’s lives.”

UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, for his part, said the research synthesises a new and emerging area of work that is of critical importance to reduce poverty and promote gender equality.

“Responding effectively to rapid urbanisation – which is occurring in many countries – requires empowering women and young people and improving their access to education, health and employment,” he said, adding, “Addressing the issues of changing family relationships and sharing of domestic work are closely linked to promoting gender equality and ending violence against women. These efforts are indispensable for making progress towards sustainable development.”

To IIED researcher Dr. Cecilia Tacoli however, “When people talk of poverty they focus on income, but poverty has other aspects that affect men and women, old and young people in different ways.” She believes gender inequalities in free time, working and living conditions, as well as exposure to violence, are some of the hidden aspects of poverty that affect women more disproportionately and require the utmost attention of policymakers.

The research points out that overall, urbanisation leads to lower fertility rates, and that women living in poor areas may have as many children as rural women because their access to reproductive health services can be just as bad, if not worse.

In addition, it stated that among the urban poor, women often have the lowest-paid, least-secure jobs, while men retain much of the decision making power within households and take on only a small share of domestic tasks, which leaves women both cash and time-poor, and means that their workload – both paid and unpaid – is generally much heavier than men’s.

The research conversely notes the potential for urbanisation to deliver sustainable development and better quality of life for all individuals, highlighting that society as a whole should recognise the important role of unpaid female care work in ensuring that children, older people and those who are sick or disabled are looked after, especially where communities lack adequate services and infrastructure.

By Edmund Smith-Asante/ghanabusinessnews.com

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