Understanding Geographies of Gendered Insecurities in Georgetown, Guyana

Researcher: Professor Linda Peake

A significant part of humanity is now in cities. Indeed, in the twenty-first “century of the city” more people now live in urban than in rural areas. The current scale and rate of urban growth and of urbanisation are unprecedented with the majority of the world’s population now living and working in urban areas. This is a trend moreover that is only expected to intensify with 60 percent of the world’s population expected to be living in cities by 2030, resulting in a current movement of one million people a week into urban areas (UN – HABITAT 2008). And with approximately one billion people now living in sub-standard accommodation (UNFPA 2010), the first decade of this century has also seen the urbanisation of poverty and increasing levels of insecurity and social and economic polarisation within cities. Rapid rates of urbanization moreover are a phenomenon of the global south and yet there is little academic knowledge about what is happening in small cities in the global south or to women who live in them. Yet it is women who are at the forefront of dealing with issues of insecurities in the lives of their communitites.
In the current era of neoliberal development, framed in the global south by the policy of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), there is a paradoxical occurrence of, on the one hand, increased efforts to lift people out of poverty and on the other increasing levels of insecurity in everyday lives. This interdisciplinary four-year research program, situated at the intersections of urban, development, feminist and Caribbean Studies, aims to critically examine this paradox via the nexus of gender, poverty and insecurity in a small city in the Anglo-Caribbean. The program has three empirical dimensions, namely:
(i) an investigation of the impact of national and international social and economic policies on the lives of low-income (grassroots) women in the capital city of Georgetown, Guyana
(ii) an examination, via the study of three neighbourhoods, of the ways in which these women are taking action to reduce levels of economic, social, physical and emotional insecurity in their own lives and the lives of those in their communities; and
(iii) an exploration of ways to mitigate insecurity and increase resilience of these communities via a series of capacity-building workshops and the development of an interactive website that will aim to create an electronic collective commons. In doing so this study will highlight not only how the rate and extent of urbanisation is demanding new critical knowledge production about daily lives in urban areas, but also how urban growth in conjunction with neo-liberalism has raised issues around the making of social contracts between urban residents, cities and states, and of the urgent need for practically engaging with feminist social justice work in the urban context.

Drawing upon a feminist and participatory methodology, the primary research focus will be on the in-depth interviews and focus groups to be held with women in three low-income neighbourhoods of Georgetown that will place grassroots women’s knowledge and experience at the centre of the research program. A series of workshops with these women that link specifically to the interactive website will propel the research into intervention strategies to address the gendered challenges of urban security. Semi-structured interviews will also be held with individuals with expertise in aspects of development policy and the MDGs and secondary data on all four aspects of urban insecurities will be collected and analysed. Researchers will be drawn from Red Thread, a women’s organization that I have been conducting research with for over twenty years, and in the spirit of feminist praxis the larger research team will include postgraduate students from York University, allowing the research program to comprise a transnational team.

This project has been made possible through a financial contribution from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The views expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the Government of Canada.