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Unleashing The “Gender Inclusivity” Effect
Feature Interview With Feminist Urbanist Nourhan Bassam
Nourhan Bassam, who I met on LinkedIn, is on a bold quest to bring a feminist flair to cities. As an urban enthusiast and civic activist, she spends her days advocating for gender inclusivity and sustainability within communities through the use of place making and playmaking ideas.
Bassam is heavily involved in thought-leadership around sustainable communities, resilient cities, and social inclusivity. This includes exploring local attitudes towards public participation through interviews and conversations.
She is the founder of "GamingX" a think tank that enables urbanists and placemakers to develop and create play spaces and active urban places focusing on underrepresented kids and girls. Bassam is also the forthcoming author of “The Gendered City,” a book where she shares her vision for gender-inclusive and equitable cities, free from the restrictions and barriers that women face.
Please share a little about what sparked your decision to start a movement around “Gendered Cities.”
As a woman of color, I have faced numerous barriers and oppressive experiences throughout my time living in various contexts. The intersectionality of my identities as a feminist, Arab, and woman of color has exposed me to multiple forms of discrimination and marginalization on a daily basis. I have witnessed firsthand the impact of gender-based discrimination, and racism, which have limited my access to resources, opportunities, and power. So the movement I am fueling is driven by a deep sense of personal determination and a commitment to challenging the status quo.
So what were your initial steps in pursuing this quest?
I started adopting a feminist narrative by asking the question “How and why do cities keep failing women.” This led me to write my upcoming book “The Gendered City” along with launching genderedcity.org as a platform for amplifying women's voices through discussions around feminist cities, sports, economies, social engagement, and arts and culture.
How did your early formative years inform the values and perspectives that you now espouse?
Since a young age, I have called myself a feminist, informed by the book “Second Sex” by Simone de Beauvoir, "Feminism Is for Everybody" by Bell Hooks, "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood, “Sister Outsider” By Audre Lorde, and many other great feminist literature greats who helped inform who I am today. I also thank my late father, for he is the most feminist man I have ever met.
How did all of this impact the direction you took in life?
Owning my privilege of having a highly intellectual family really changed my perspective in life and helped me form an anti-patriarchal personality. I found that I loved merging my passion and identity in feminism with my profession as an Architect and Urban designer.
So what ultimately motivated you to start a movement around “Gendered Cities”?
It all started with a desire to dismantle gender cities one city at a time. I aim to create awareness and challenge the social, cultural, and physical structures that perpetuate gender inequality and exclusion in public spaces. This involves challenging the stereotypes and gender roles that are the main reason behind our inequality in the first place. Ultimately, the book is my writing of passion, one which reflects my thoughts as a feminist wandering through gendered cities.
So what in your view makes you the ideal person to write a book on this theme?
Throughout my life, I have had the privilege of residing in more than five cities, and as a woman of color, these experiences have exposed me to a wide array of encounters that I personally identify as "gendered cities." Within these urban environments, I have navigated a diverse range of challenges, including concerns related to safety and security, housing disparities, and limited opportunities. These experiences have significantly contributed to my understanding of the intricate dynamics at play within urban spaces and have fueled my determination to address gender inequality within these contexts.
And are there other elements that are a part of a broader context for your book?
Beyond these personal experiences, I have a genuine passion for promoting gender equality in urban spaces and the built environment. This ultimately serves as the driving force behind my work. In fact, I have taken the initiative to establish a platform aimed at amplifying the voices of women, one where I have posed thought-provoking questions such as "How do cities continue to fail women?" This approach has allowed me to gather firsthand accounts and engage in meaningful conversations with women, both face-to-face and online, to capture their stories within various urban contexts.
What are you learning from these discussions?
By actively seeking out these narratives and perspectives, I have gained valuable insights that contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the complex issues surrounding gender inequality in cities. These insights, combined with my passion for advocacy and my desire to effect change, empower me to offer a distinct and comprehensive perspective within the pages of this book. Through sharing these stories, analyzing the underlying factors, and proposing potential solutions, my aim is to shed light on the pervasive challenges faced by women in urban spaces and inspire meaningful progress toward greater gender equality.
So who is your book’s intended audience?
The intended audience for the “Gendered Cities” book I’m writing would likely consist of various stakeholders concerned with urban development, gender equality, and social justice. This could include urban planners, architects, policymakers, researchers, activists, students, and anyone interested in understanding and addressing the ways in which cities can perpetuate or challenge gender inequalities.
So the aim of my writing is to raise awareness, provide critical analysis, offer practical recommendations, and inspire action towards creating more inclusive and equitable urban environments for all genders.
How do you believe your Ph.D. work in sustainable communities will inform your “Gendered Cities narrative?
Sustainable communities focus on creating environmentally, socially, and economically resilient urban environments. Within this field, there is a recognition of the importance of inclusive and equitable development, as well as the need to address social disparities.
My research in equity, brought me to read some very important books that analyzed the intersections between gender inequality and urban sustainability. These included “On Intersectionality: Essential Writings” by Kimberlé Crenshaw who coined the term; (Le Droit à la Ville) known as “The Right to the City” by Henri Lefebvre; “Women, Race and Class” by Angela Davis, and many more great books that shaped me now.
Furthermore, my Ph.D. work provided a theoretical foundation for understanding the underlying systemic factors that contribute to gender inequality in urban spaces. I could explore concepts such as power structures, social norms, and policy frameworks that perpetuate gender disparities and hinder the creation of inclusive cities.
This understanding enabled me to offer a more comprehensive analysis and propose strategies for promoting gender equality and social sustainability within urban environments.
What sort of emerging trends relating to creative placemaking and citizen participation do you believe we’ll see in the next 12-18 months?
The direction of creative placemaking is shifting towards a more strategic approach, moving beyond pop-up initiatives towards long-term implementation that require the involvement of municipalities and decision-makers.
Creative placemaking, which integrates arts and cultural elements into urban spaces, is gaining momentum as it recognizes the transformative power of artistic expression in fostering social connections and creating a sense of place. There are also a growing number of initiatives that integrate public art, performances, and cultural events into the urban landscape to enhance community engagement and vibrancy.
Additionally, there is a growing recognition of the importance of involving local communities in the decision-making processes that shape their neighborhoods. This trend may lead to more collaborative efforts between urban planners, designers, and citizens, resulting in the co-creation of public spaces that truly reflect the needs and aspirations of the community.
Advancements in technology, specifically the integration of technology for participatory urban design such as virtual reality, augmented reality, and online platforms, are making it easier for citizens to engage in urban design processes., These tools can facilitate virtual participatory workshops, interactive mapping, and online feedback mechanisms, allowing a broader range of people to contribute their ideas and opinions to the design and development of public spaces.
Moreover, sustainable and nature-oriented design approaches are being adopted. This trend may involve incorporating green infrastructure, such as urban gardens, green roofs, and pocket parks, to enhance the quality of life, promote biodiversity, and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Finally, my main aspect is equity considering the diverse needs and experiences of different groups, including people with disabilities, the elderly, and marginalized communities. The emerging trend is to prioritize accessibility, equity, and social inclusivity in the design of public spaces, ensuring they are welcoming and usable for everyone.
Any closing thoughts with respect to the book and the Gendered City movement you’re leading?
Actually, in the last chapter of my book which explores how we can move away from gendered cities, I delve into the urban issues that perpetuate gender inequalities and discuss strategies for moving towards a more inclusive and equitable, feminist urban environment. Recognizing that this is a complex and challenging task, we need to acknowledge the necessity of dismantling gendered structures to create cities that are safe, sustainable, and gender-inclusive.
To achieve this goal, a multifaceted approach is required. Here, one important aspect is promoting equal access to opportunities for all members of society, including women and sexual and gender minorities. This entails addressing barriers such as discriminatory policies, cultural norms, and systemic biases that limit their participation and hinder their ability to thrive in urban settings. By actively working to remove these obstacles, we can create more inclusive cities that provide equal opportunities for all individuals.
Another crucial element is the collection and utilization of data. Gathering sex-disaggregated data is essential for understanding the specific challenges and needs faced by different genders within cities. This data enables policymakers, urban planners, and activists to make informed decisions, develop targeted interventions, and monitor progress towards gender equality. It provides a foundation for evidence-based policies and initiatives that aim to address gender disparities effectively.
We know that combating gender injustices requires collective action.“One way to fight these injustices is to take collective action” so that individuals, communities, organizations, and governments can come together to challenge gender norms, advocate for change, and create spaces where everyone's voices are heard and valued. Only through these collaborations and efforts toward solidarity can we build a more inclusive and feminist urban landscape. This collective action might be the light at the end of this tunnel from gendered to feminist!
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