Gender on the urban agenda

May 24, 1996

Gender issues have been ignored by teachers of urban planning, according to coordinators of a conference in Istanbul.

Turkey's first international symposium on gender dealt with the question of gender in the development of cities focussing on the host country's rapid urbanisation in the past decade.

Istanbul alone absorbs an estimated nearly half a million people every year. The problems this has created have led to a growing recognition of the importance of the subject, particularly by local government. This has given universities the chance to play an increasing role in the development of the cities, while urban planning has established itself as a bona fide university subject.

One positive side effect of the subject's traditional unpopularity and poor job prospects is that it has been accessible to women. Nearly 70 per cent of students studying urban planning are women, who also make up over 50 per cent of architecture students. But the interests and needs of women within the subject remain unrecognised.

The conference, organised by academics at the planning faculty of Mimar Sinan University, the Istanbul branch of the Chamber of Urban Planners and the city's Woman's Library and information centre, brought together European academics from a variety of disciplines as well as representatives from Turkish universities.

Sibel Demirtash, conference coordinator and a researcher at Mimar Sinan University, claimed that gender has been ignored for too long by both urban planners and teachers of urban planning. But she blamed universities which she said persisted in seeing the needs of men and women as being the same.

"The conference will help to put on the agenda in Turkish universities the important question of gender, both on a micro and macro level, highlighting the needs and considerations of women within city life," she said.

Serap Kayasu, of the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, said that the question of gender and urban planning was relatively new, with most academic research originating in the United States.

She first came into contact with academics in the field while teaching at the University of Quebec. But she argued that it had particular significance to Turkey. "The smallest room in a traditional Turkish house is the kitchen, but this is where the woman spends most of her time."

Since the establishment of the first faculty in Turkey at METU in the 1950s, urban planning has been the victim of politics. It has been associated with left-wing politics and most governments have treated the subject and its teachers with suspicion.

Ms Demirtash said: "There's no tradition of planning in Turkey; it has been seen as part of the socialist ideology and consequentially treated with suspicion."

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