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Is India ready to be led by women planners, especially in decision making positions?

By Mansee Bal Bhargava* 

Women comprising half the planet are indeed crucial for development and growth of the society. In India, the part of women in every aspect is well intended from worshiping them as creators and problem solvers and including them as policy makers to making safer cities for them and now even assigning them wage as homemakers.
However, acknowledging the participation of women in various aspects is poorly implemented and is a subject of query and concern. With the sex ratio of women seeing marginal rise from 898 in 1947 to 910 in 2020, there is certainly a phenomenal rise in the women employment; however, a high difference of employment rate still exists between women as compared to men at +52%, making India a home to maximum number of educated unemployed women in the world besides in many occupations there is discrepancy in the remunerations and perks.
In addition, for any woman to rise to a position requires to prove more than men for the same position and are vulnerable to more risks to losing occupations both due to personal-professional reasons. Going deeper into it, one finds patriarchy and choices available to women as key reasons besides the ability of women to challenge the existing mould of operations aka the mediocrity.

Representation in planning

With history of planning scholarships as old as the Independence of India, women have come a long way in their part and participation in practice, education and research. The Institute of Town Planners, India, established in 1951, is the nodal association of planners in the country. According to the ITPI, more than 6,530 qualified planners from India and abroad are registered as Associate/ Fellow members of the Institute. I will presume that the actual number of planning professionals in the country may be double/triple of this number.
According to the ITPI, the country needs many more planners than those coming out of the Planning Schools in order to match its development requirements. One good thing is that today there is near equal intake of women and men in the Planning Schools. In addition, with stress on employment in the planning schools, planners including women find positions in the development sector pretty fast.
However, there are queries and concerns pertaining to women planners in the leadership aka decision making positions in practice, education, or research as that rate is bleak. Taking the example of ITPI Council Members itself will not be wrong here, as it is deprived of Women Council at the national level, even if the positions are presumably honorary. The Institute extends its professional activities in various parts of the country through 24 Regional Chapters and 5 Centres where I presume there are more women representatives.
Source: http://www.itpi.org.in/pages/council
ITPI website page on Council
Since the Institute is committed to promote planned, economic, scientific and artistic development of towns, cities and rural areas, in addition to encouraging town planning profession and advancing town & country planning education and research. It is crucial that women are part of the important decision makings at the national as well as regional-local levels especially when the graduating planners’ headcount is gender balanced. The Institute has to not only include the gender discourse in the objectives and lead by example in the council to showcase gender inclusivity in planning decisions and in city developments.
After the new council was formed, some of us wrote to the Institute for considering women council members and we are awaiting a response. Meanwhile, the latest ITPI newsletter of April-June 2021 did commemorate International Women’s Day-2021 with a good 20 pages coverage of opinions from acclaimed women planners like, IP Parate, N Usha, Nivedita Pande, Pratibha Bhadane, Ravuri Jyothi Vidyullatha, Swati Meshram, Usha Prasad Mahavir, Alka Bharat, Anjana Vyas, Bhavna Shrivastava, Kiran Sandhu, Meenakshi Dhote, Neelima Risbud, Rashmi Ashtt, Sanjukkta Bhaduri, Sarika Bahadure, Sheuli Mitra, and Vinita Yadav.
It is just a trivial observation that the special issue on women may have gone a step further to have photos of women planners’ activities in the front and the rear page of the newsletter which may have drawn more attention of the readers and have left more impact. Nevertheless, the special edition is worth having for reference for future gender discussions.
All the contributors (women planners) of the edition have univocally expressed the need for more gender sensitivity in planning profession & practice in order to that being reflected in the development and growth of the society. So, kudos to all of them! I am sure ITPI’s Professional Standing Committee (PSC) and the Educational Standing Committee (ESC) has taken note of that.

Beyond engagement and employment

The mere employment of women isn’t enough should we aspire for smart-sustainable-resilient society. The Covid first and second surge made us realise the challenges of planning and management decisions; and if that is collated with the gender aspect, it is no exaggeration to mention about the missing women leaderships.
Similarly, the planning and designing smart-sustainable-resilient societies miss the discussions on health and wellbeing, which are pretty much ascertained domains of women leaderships around the world and which hopefully the country learned in this hour of distress.
I’ll go a step further saying that women planners are yet to explore bureaucratic positions, political leaderships and top positions in the organisations like Niti Ayog, NIUA and the giant planning firms like Matt Macdonald, Tata Consultancy Services TCS, Jones Lang LaSalle JLL, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Knight Frank LLP, CRISIL, etc.

My experience

From the time of my post-graduation (in Urban Design) over two decades ago, I’m convinced that planning is a crucial field for the development and growth of the country. However, the planning educations vouch for employment more than enlightenment drifted my early career expectations from the urban & regional planning research and consultancy services towards the scholarships that will allow exploration of ecology and empathy.
Later, my scholarships in Land Economics (with major in Planning, Growth and Regeneration) and in Public Administration (with major in Political Science) expanded my practice, education & research to the various aspects of water, wellbeing, and women transcending the disciplinary boundaries. Planning is already multi-trans-disciplinary in education and research however what concerns me is it still needs that rigor to be more gender inclusive not only in positions but also in decisions that are made for cities and citizens.
For example, transports, public spaces, safety, etc. are still deeply challenged with gender inclusivity. For example, the smart city concept can be contested as a masculine economic approach of development that is short of the grains of sensibility and sensitivity towards all genders, all creatures and ecology at large.
I could never take a mainstream employment in the development sector, for reasons not different than that of the patriarchy reflected through the leaderships in practice, education and research. No exaggeration, but not many men lead would appreciate thinking and questioning women in our society. Learning faster and choosing to challenge the business as usual in the development sector, my career (rather conscience) arrived an approach to complement the existing development goal gaps in the planning practice, education & research.
As an independent thinker, there is a constant search for meaningful engagement pertaining to planning for water, wellbeing, and women besides finding ways to connect the science and the society. It is also heartening to find that there are several women planners who have deviated to more sensible and sensitive activities that are allied services towards more sustainable society than a smart one.
With over two decades of involvement in the planning and development sector, I believe that the planning pedagogy needs to nurture thinkers who can challenge the business as usual in the development sector. For example, extensive practice, education and research on inclusiveness of water, wellbeing, and women matters in the urban/rural development needs to be coined with sanity to stop continuing the vanity approach.
This is possible when there is ample women representation in the decision-making process that too in the leading positions. Well, women who have reached the top are expected to change the rules of the game and the development narratives towards health and happiness. However, that change is slow as the number of women acquiring those positions are few and then some also turn hostile to masculinity because of the tremendous efforts made to reach the top positions.
Mansee Bal Bhargava
Having stayed out of the mainstream employment, it is na├»ve to list the dos and don’ts. But in short, if Mother Earth-India is to improve from the state of distress in all the social-ecological aspects and to move towards a more sustainable society in true sense, women must choose to challenge the linear, masculine, and conventional approach to development.
Here is where the planning pedagogy requires rethinking and repackaging the profession also for men in the business besides the women towards more critical and creative thinking. I’d wish to write on men in planning too as there requires accommodation for true representation of not only gender but the real needs of the society. To question and move beyond the development narrative is must now before it is too late to heal the society from its deep social-ecological wounds.
---
*Entrepreneur, researcher, educator, speaker; water enthusiast, governance scholar, keen political observer. Website: www.mansee.in

Comments

Unknown said…
It's true, design and planning fields women are good in them.
It's actually, implementation of the project and well sustained over a length of time.
It's this task, that is most important and needed to be sustained..
.. w wshs ..
bernard kohn said…
an excellent article...
the sensitivity to "people" (.not that men or some men also share this concern,) are a
critcal imput that women play..
especially in the
design of public places, (or as Aldo van Eyck said "make places and not spaces",)
can best be achieved with a woman and man team..!!!..
thru discussion, the two together interacting with potential users....
such a team awakens more response than either a woman or a man alone..

bernard kohn

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