Global Resources

Gender roles and opportunities for women in urban environments

Author: P. Pozarny
Publisher: GSDRC Applied Knowledge Services
Publication Date: Jan 2016

Women are becoming the majority in urban areas, and many more people now live in female-headed households, representing a significant shift in gender roles and relations. This GSDRC helpdesk research report examines the literature to tell us about different gender roles and opportunities for women in urban environments, compared to rural. It highlights when gender roles are perpetuated and when they change, with particular attention to factors influencing women’s economic empowerment.

The report begins with an overview, before discussing gender dimensions across a number of sectors and issues in both rural and urban contexts, including: education, training and work opportunities; early marriage and family planning; paid employment; domestic work; informal sector work; care work; and violence against women. Case studies and lessons are presented, such as the status of gender empowerment and reproductive health in urban Nigeria. Recent research has found that in certain urban areas in Nigeria, more needs to be done to specifically address cultural barriers to women’s empowerment, and encourage greater involvement in decision making in the household.

The key messages drawn from the review include that urban women, on the whole, have greater access to services and infrastructure, more opportunities, and enjoy a more relaxed set of sociocultural restrictions compared to rural women. However, women do not benefit equally to men, with gender inequalities experienced in many areas of everyday life. Homogeneity in rural areas often inhibit awareness of alternative gender roles, and opportunities for paid work and education and health services are fewer, both hindering women’s empowerment to challenge prohibitive gender norms. In urban areas, the greater diversity helps break down intolerances, but at the same time women can be at greater risk of violence and discrimination due to the anonymity afforded by dense, urban environments.