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Addressing Gendered Insecurities In The Urban Global South

Researcher: Professor Linda Peake (York University), Principal Investigator

Other Team Members: Professor Martina Rieker (American University in Cairo), Ms Karen de Souza (Red Thread Women's Development Programme), Dr. Grace Ogunyankin, Professor Simi Afonja (Centre for Human Development), Professor Shilpa Phadke (Tata Institute of Social Sciences), Ms. Sameera Khan (Center for the Study of Social Difference), Ms. Shilpa Ranade (DCOOP Mumbai), Ms Xiaoyan Wu (Shanghai Arts Research Institute), Ms Luoyi (Sophia) Cai (CET Academic Program), Professor Lena Scheen (New York University, Shanghai), Ms Azam Khatam (York University), Professor Nazgol Bagheri (University of Texas, San Antonio)

In the current era of neo-liberal development, framed in the global south by unprecedented levels of movement into urban areas and the framing of development efforts by 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. Insecurities affect the ways in which people use and give meaning to urban space, resulting in restricted mobilities, the avoidance of certain areas and types of transportation and often leading to segregation of groups and influencing hierarchies of status and influence. Insecurity is defined here as having four dimensions: (i) Social insecurity: insecurity of one’s place in the nation according to racialised ethnic hierarchies and income insecurity. (ii) Economic insecurity: the condition of not having a stable income or other resources to support a standard of living now and in the foreseeable future. This includes the broader effect of a society's production levels and monetary support for non-working citizens. (iii) Physical insecurity: refers to condoned norms of (often unchallenged) practices of genderbased violence against women and girls (including sexual assault or harassment, domestic violence, threats of violence) that result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering and pose a threat to physical integrity ( (iv) Emotional insecurity: in the context of neoliberalism, anxiety is the dominant affective state and refers here primarily to a sense of vulnerability or instability, underlaid by a lack of hope (the WHO claims depression is now the top global cause of illness and disability for adolescents).

This project will establish an interdisciplinary research programme, situated at the intersections of urban, development, and feminist studies, aims to critically examine the aforementioned paradox via the nexus of gender, poverty and insecurity in the urban global south. Based on five case studies in the small sized city of Georgetown, Guyana, Tehran, Iran, the medium sized city of Ibadan, Nigeria, and the mega cities of Mumbai, India, and Shanghai, China, the programme has three empirical dimensions, namely: (i) An investigation of the impact of social, environmental and economic aspects of MDG policies on the lives of the majority of the urban population, namely the working poor, through a gendered lense, with a focus on women. This will involve analysis of various secondary data sources as well as interviews; (ii) An examination of the ways in which these women are taking action to reduce levels of economic, social, physical and emotional insecurity in the lives of those in their communities. This will potentially involve interviews and focus groups on development policy, insecurity and gender issues as well as mental mapping exercises; (iii) An exploration of concrete ways to mitigate insecurity and increase resilience of these communities. For example, with an emphasis on increasing access and inclusivity, the research will incorporate literacy efforts and will investigate the possibility of an e-learning aspect, which aims to open up a new space for grassroots women to participate in digital and democratic knowledge production. The objective here is to create a community of practice by promoting a process of social learning that occurs when people who have a common interest in an issue collaborate over an extended period of time to share ideas and find ways to address them. The efficacy of this process of building local institutional capacity can be evaluated by assessing the extent to which it has promoted behavioural change via enabling participants to exercise their citizenship rights and have a voice in decision-making and knowledge production. Through the development of a Transformative Knowledge Network, involving both researchers and practitioners across disciplines and fields of study, this study will highlight how the unprecedented rate and extent of urbanization in the global south is demanding solutions-oriented knowledge production that addresses the needs and opportunities for social transformation in terms of the sustainability and resilience of the daily lives of the working poor in the urban global south, and of the urgent need for practical engagements with feminist social justice work in the urban context.

*A Transformative Knowledge Network workshop was held at York University (Toronto, ON, Canada) on January 23-24, 2015, which brought together 25 researchers and graduate students.

ISSC Workshop Photo

This project is supported by seed grants from the ISSC under the Transformations to Sustainability Programme. The Programme is funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and serves as a contribution to Future Earth. Supplementary support for seed grants is provided by the Swedish Secretariat for Environmental Earth System Sciences (SSEESS), the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) UK through the Newton Fund and the National Research Foundation of South Africa.Issc_logo_PNG_web