Gender roles and opportunities for women in urban environments


What does the literature tell us about different gender roles and opportunities for women in urban environments compared to rural? Highlight when gender roles are perpetuated and when they change with particular attention to factors influencing women’s economic empowerment.


Key findings include:

  • Urban women, on the whole, have greater access to services and infrastructure, more opportunities to engage in paid employment, and are subject to fewer sociocultural restrictions than women living in rural areas. However, they do not benefit equally with men in urban environments. They are disadvantaged in income poverty, asset poverty, time and power.
  • Homogeneity and limited exposure in rural areas can limit awareness of alternative gender roles discouraging contestation of gender norms and confidence in the possibility of social change, e.g. in the division of labour. Urban heterogeneity fosters tolerance of differences, and can erode existing assumptions of gender differences and cultivate support for equality (Evans, 2014; 2015b).
  • Increasing feminisation of labour in urban areas has accompanied an informalisation of labour, but informal sector activities (e.g. street vending) are precarious, mostly unregistered and poorly paid (Tacoli, 2012).
  • Urban environments provide advantages for education compared to rural areas, but there are barriers particularly for girls from poor urban households. In slums, after-school study is often limited by lack of space, peace, light and other infrastructure (Chant & McIlwain 2013).
  • Women can increase their empowerment and agency when they have accumulated more (and more diverse) assets and when supportive structural policies are in place.
  • Gender-based violence is a core area of focus in analysing women’s economic empowerment, and in urban settings, particularly, where gender norms may be challenged.
  • Transformation of gender roles in urban contexts will require wider community involvement and in many contexts collective action to promote group interests and entitlements (Moser, 2016).


Suggested citation

Pozarny, P. (2016). Gender roles and opportunities for women in urban environments (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1337). Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.