In honour of International Women’s Day this week, I offer the following argument:
The global shift toward cities and more urban based economies has benefited women — and the status of women — in at least three ways.
First, urban women and girls typically need to spend fewer hours doing household chores, including ensuring basic survival, than their rural counterparts. For example, spending half a day hauling water, is not required — even in poorer cities or neighbourhoods where not all homes have running water, a pump is usually close to home. Doing laundry is another chore that urban women can leave to a machine (even if she cannot afford her own, the laundry mat makes this task much easier and faster).
Additionally, as I’ve previously argued apartment and condominium living close to one’s work also benefits women and families with dual careers, removing tasks like commuting from the suburbs. Higher density living also provides a wider audience of potential customers for often small scale female entrepreneurship. Whether making and selling choco-bananas from the house in Quito or teaching fitness classes.
Second, in part by reducing time spent on household chores, living in cities allow more girls and women to attend school (boys also benefit here too). Moreover, cities often offer a woman a wide range of choices to utilize her education from “traditional female paths” like nursing or teaching to the new common female occupations such as accounting.
Third, city life for families and women is removing the economic bias in favor of sons, which world wide may be responsible for many fewer women being born — what the Economist called the missing 100 million women in the world’s population today due to abortion and infantside of female offspring (or gendercide as they call it). Although the historical cultural bias remains in many countries, urban women have the opportunities to earn as good of a living as men. Urban jobs tend to not favor brute strength as some rural occupations. Moreover, land inheritances are less of an issue if one purchases food at the supermarket with money earned as a computer programmer, rather than needs to grow it for oneself. Give the world’s population a generation to adjust to urban living, and baby girls may achieve equal status with their brothers in many more cultures.
To be clear, I’m not arguing that cities are perfect or some sort of heaven for the world’s women. Violence and exploitation takes place in cities just as it does in rural areas (although one could argue that an urban oppressed women may have more resources and options to escape the abuse). My argument is that on balance, the growth of cities and of more urban based, knowledge and service economies has been a step forward for the status and well being of the planet’s female population.
Your thoughts? Are there other ways cities benefit women? Or feel free to argue these points.