Introduction: towards a nexus linking gender, assets, and transformational pathways to just cities
The twenty-first century is undoubtedly an urban age. However, despite increasing recognition of the critical relationship between Global South cities and their countries’ economic and social development, and a proliferation of international programmes to support their greater ‘sustainability’ and ‘resilience’, important gaps remain in understanding the complexities of current urbanisation processes. One limitation relates to gender; while the gendered nature of urban poverty has been widely debated, both theoretically and empirically,1 the gendered nature of urban asset ownership, and the accumulation of asset portfolios, has received far less attention (Moser 2008; 2009). This book seeks to rectify this neglect, and in so doing to explore the contribution that a focus on the gendered nature of asset accumulation brings to the goal of achieving just, more equitable cities. From an asset perspective the relationship between gender and just cities has two sides, or faces. On the one hand are gender-related constraints to achieving just cities, through persistent gender-based inequalities, disparities, and exclusions in access to financial, physical, productive, human and social capital. Affecting these are structural ‘driving forces’ such as economic globalisation, demographic transition, and associated urban spatial agglomeration, as well as political change, climate change and disasters, and violence and insecurity. Related intermediary factors, or barriers, include cultural norms affecting gendered divisions of labour and female mobility, which have implications not only for earnings but also for rights to participate in urban public life. On the other hand, through their agency in the choice of solutions and interventions to accumulate or to adapt assets, women seek to empower themselves, with impacts both on poverty reduction and on increased equality. Accumulated assets may not only empower women, but also may successfully challenge power relations in a transformative manner, thereby contributing to just, and more inclusive, cities. The framework of gendered asset pathways to empowerment and transformation, elaborated and illustrated diagrammatically later, in Figure 1.1, informs this introduction as well as guiding all the subsequent chapters in this book. By way of introducing the framework, this chapter starts with a brief summary of the context, which defines the book’s relevance, before introducing three background issues that comprise conceptual debates as well as operational concerns.