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Miki Desai publications | Madhavi Desai publications

Women and the Built Environment in India

At various levels, from the city to the institutions and from the neighborhood to the dwelling, the ideals and reality about the social relationship between men and women is expressed in the built form. Cultural rules govern the use of space and codes regulate behavior between genders. Feminism has been one of the most significant social movements of the twentieth century, even for India. Within the social context of built space, feminist criticism and consciousness have a profound role to play, multiple manifestations of which can be perceived in South Asia today. Since the 1970s increased attention has been focused on gender issues in fields such as the media, politics, law, management, and women's studies. However, the disciplines connected with the built environment - interior design, architecture, planning, urban design - have lagged much behind. In spite of a proliferation of schools of architecture, research and theory generation is not paid much attention to due to the discipline's strong orientation to design and the profession's predominant focus on practice. Without gender sensitivity, it is easy to accept the man-made landscape as a neutral background. Most men and women designers also believe in the neutrality of the profession and the self, the women preferring to call themselves architects and not female architects. This fact adds to the marginalization of the subject and its solutions.

This book attempts to fill the lacuna existing in this area in the Indian/non-Western context. The essays are selected and further developed out of an inter-disciplinary symposium on "Gender and the Built Environment" held in February 2002 at CEPT in Ahmedabad, coordinated by the author. The publication examines the role of women as consumers and creators of the built space. It has an extensive introduction and about 11 illustrated essays that explore the gender perspective from various angles. They cover a wide range of issues such as the feminist mode in education in general and in schools of architecture, women and leisure as well as their relationship to the public sphere, domesticity and home in the colonial bungalow and in vernacular typology, designing with gender awareness, women laborers and empowerment through construction work. Most of the essays focus on India while a couple of them are from Sri Lanka and Nepal.

The importance of this project lies in the fact that this is the first publication on the subject in India. With a population more than a billion, 50% of which is women, this volume is overdue. Though some of the issues are universal, the book specifically addresses the social, cultural and professional conditions in India. It will hopefully create awareness about making interventions at policy level to bring about change. Perhaps it will inspire alternatives for a more egalitarian perspective through new modes of thinking and creating space.
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