Justice Everywhere

a blog about philosophy in public affairs

Towards a feminist city

Historically, men and women have experienced the city in a drastically different way. Cities were built not for women, but for and by men. This male dominance in urban planning brought about hetero-patriarchal norms, which are based either on women remaining quiet in the private spaces or – if they access urban spaces – relying on the urban structure created by men. The persistence of those urban spaces creates barriers for women accessing transport, land and constrains their social activity and agency needed to exercise their political voice. This is the characterisation of an oppressive and non-egalitarian city in terms of the division of power and resources.

Empirically, numbers show that women, especially non-white women, experience the city via physical, socioeconomic, racial, colonial, and symbolic barriers. This is evident, for instance, in the lack of proper lighting in the streets and parks or in the absence of public spaces with safe recreational areas and children’s facilities, as reported by the Urban 20 White Paper. As a result, women spend more time at home, and sometimes risk their well-being when they go out. According to the inequality map of São Paulo, from 2012 to 2019, the violence against women in the city increased 63%, and the feminicide 33%. In Mexico City, 65% of women who used public transport in 2019 have suffered sexual harassment during their travelling journey. Other than that, male urban planning tends to overlook the challenge of women’s mobility in the city. In London, having a child in the house increased by  23% the number of trips women make; and in Buenos Aires it increased by 13%.

It is plausible to say that this is, per se, unjust; as it creates a scenario in which women are oppressed and are not treated equally. At first glance, these hetero-patriarchal norms shape women’s life: they cannot access urban spaces freely without feeling unsafe; they spend more time on public transport than do men; their political agency is excluded or denied in the urban planning.

Some feminists, such as Leslie Kern, argue that such an unjust scenario in cities creates a big problem which must be addressed, as cities were not built to accommodate women’s bodies. Kern points out that if male urban planning disadvantages women, a feminist city should be the solution. According to her, a feminist city is one without oppression “where barriers—physical and social—are dismantled, where all bodies are welcome and accommodated”. For her, this is an aspirational project and must focus on caring-centres, safe streets, and creative spaces for children, as well as on having an inclusive urban planning. Kern acknowledges that those changes will rebuild the city in an intersectional feminist approach, regarding gender oppression as interconnected with class, race and ethnicity.

Other feminists have supported an egalitarian resourcist-based approach as a practical way to guide the city to equality, by enhancing women’s economic ability and independence. This can be done by cash transfer programmes, or even reforms in the architecture of houses. Anna Puigjaner claims that it is crucial to be critical about the structure of buildings in cities, where walls and bricks are historically designed to support the hetero-patriarchal norms. Drawing on Silvia Federici’s work, when she acknowledges that the expropriation of women with no remuneration for domestic work represents the manipulation and the violence of capitalism against the working class, Puigjaner advocates that together with the remuneration of domestic and sexual work, as Federici suggests, houses should not have private kitchens, but a collective one. Crucially, she believes that, for many years, the kitchen was associated with domestic and sexual work and lost its economic value, becoming, in Federici’s terms, a “labour of love”, which makes women economically dependent on others for their well-being and political voice. Puigjaner proposes, therefore, to abolish kitchens at home and replace them by public and collective kitchens in the city for the economic and political liberation of women. In practical terms, there are already urban collective kitchens in few cities around the world, such as in Lima, Mexico City, Tokyo and Montreal. They are a collaborative project, and act to complement private kitchens. According to Puigjaner, these urban kitchens are used not only for cooking and eating but also for developing the local communities’ political voice.

Of course these proposals are insufficient, and it would be impracticable to demolish all the old structures of the city. However, they are alternatives that could help to transform some of hereto-patriarchal barriers. First of all, both proposals try to target the disadvantaged/advantaged groups, by creating more space in public areas for interaction and for the construction of social bonds between city-dwellers, which may increase the political voice and impact of women and other disadvantaged groups on decisions that affect their lives, thereby challenging the advantaged groups’ perceptions of otherness. Kerns suggests that safer and care-giving public spaces are needed, and Puigjaner considers that kitchens should go beyond private walls and become communal spaces for collective political agencies. Second, they are also sensitive to intersectional injustices, which affect women. This means that without criticising patriarchal, racial, colonial and socioeconomic systems, we cannot increase women’s political voice. Finally, both proposals explore the extent to which governments should not only focus on the consequences of gender oppression and socioeconomic inequalities, but also on how such oppression and inequality are formed and reproduced.

As I see it, Kerns and Puigijaner bring crucial contributions to the reflections of what a feminist city is, which, between the lines, should involve its habitants and local voices interacting with each other in public spaces. This is the first step for creating social bonds and exchanges capable of ensuring a sense of belonging and inclusion of those who were historically not welcomed in urban spaces.

Withdrawing and withholding treatment are not always morally equivalent

In this post, Andrew McGee (Queensland University of Technology) and Drew Carter (University of Adelaide) discuss their recent article in Journal of Applied Philosophy on the moral difference between withdrawing and withholding medical interventions.

Some health ethics writers and clinical guidelines claim that withdrawing and withholding medical treatment are morally equivalent: if one is permissible or impermissible, so too the other.

Call this view Equivalence. It is heir of a related view that has held sway in ethical and legal debate for decades, in support of the withdrawal of treatment that is no longer beneficial.  The thinking was that if treatment no longer benefits a patient, then whether it is withheld or withdrawn does not matter – so there is no morally relevant difference between the two.

Equivalence goes beyond this. It applies to beneficial treatment, where two patients compete for one resource. The reasoning is: To save as many lives as possible, we would have no qualms about withholding a beneficial treatment from one person to give it to another who can benefit more. We should therefore have no qualms about withdrawing it either. In a recent article, we argue that Equivalence is false.

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What is the wrong of misgendering?

More precisely: how to make sense of the wrong of attributing to someone, and treating them according to, a gender that’s different to the one they say they have?

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Why should we protect the vulnerable?

In this post, Emma Curran & Stephen John discuss their recent article in Journal of Applied Philosophy on duties to prioritise vaccinating the vulnerable.

In the December of 2020, the UK seemed to breathe an, albeit small, sigh of relief as the first COVID-19 vaccinations were administered. After almost nine months of lockdowns, the vaccine roll-out was the first concrete sign that life might return to – at least something like – normality. Indeed, throughout 2020, the promise of a vaccine seemed to be the end to which lockdown pointed. Lockdown was tough but necessary to protect the lives of those most vulnerable to COVID-19, until they could be helped by a vaccine. Unsurprisingly, then, the vaccine roll-out started with the most vulnerable, with a primary focus on age. In this post, however, we explore a  seemingly small alteration to the Government’s vaccine strategy which concerned and confused many. Using this policy, we explore the reasons we have to protect the vulnerable, the complexity of ethical discourse around the distribution of vaccines, and the need for transparent, open debate.

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Why Property-Owning Democracy is Unfree

In this post, Paul Raekstad (University of Amsterdam) discusses their recent article in Journal of Applied philosophy on whether Property-Owning Democracy can resolve the unfreedom of capitalism.

Socialists rightly argue that capitalism cannot be free. This is because it’s built on the personal domination of workers by bosses, the structural domination of workers in labour markets, and the impersonal domination of everyone by market forces. The solution to domination is democratisation. But do we really need to replace capitalism with socialism to secure emancipation? Advocates of Property-Owning Democracy argue that we don’t. In a recent article I argue that they are wrong.

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How does the international order harm disadvantaged societies? A look at the practice of international investment

There’s a longstanding debate amongst students of global justice and within popular discourse about the extent to which the ‘international order’ harms populations in disadvantaged countries. While some scholars argue that international trade agreements are exploitative or unfair and otherwise fail to work to the most disadvantaged, others caution against over-attributing the causes of global poverty to external factors. Instead, it is often said, domestic corruption and poor governance are at least half the story.

It’s true that global poverty and underdevelopment have complex causes and no single solution. But even if domestic factors matter, the fact is that certain rules of the international order can constrain domestic institutions in ways that perpetuate the plight of disadvantaged populations. In other words, the relationship between the global order and the dire situations often faced by disadvantaged populations in the Global South may sometimes be one of indirect harm, and yet such harm is nonetheless morally significant. The international investment regime, as I have argued elsewhere and will discuss below, is a good case of this relationship.

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Why it’s Wrong to Spy on Animals

Humans like watching nonhuman animals. We watch them in parks, in zoos, on farms, in sanctuaries, in pet shops, in our gardens, on the streets, in our homes, on tv, and so on. Lately, we have developed increasingly innovative and ingenious ways of watching animals: ways of accessing their intimate lives without them knowing. Take, as an example, the BBC documentary “Spy in the Wild” in which “animatronic spy creatures infiltrate the animal world to explore their complex emotions”. (If you haven’t seen it, here’s a clip.) Or consider the proliferation of wildlife cams, zoo cams, and pet cams that are placed discretely in animals’ homes and give us unlimited access to their daily lives. Last year, a wildlife fan installed a camera within a birdbox to watch a family of blue tits and the footage was viewed 41 million times within a month of being uploaded. In 2017, 1.2 million people tuned in to watch April the giraffe give birth at Animal Adventure Park.

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What the pandemic can tell us about prison

In the last few months, many countries have seen the lifting of numerous Covid 19 restrictions. While the pandemic is far from over and some countries are still opting for strict lockdowns, as in the notable case of China, in most of Europe and the US it has entered a new phase in which much of what made up life before Covid has resumed, at least for most people. A progressive return to the life before is also taking place in prisons. The time is right to have a look back at the last two years to review what prisons looked like during the pandemic, and what that can tell us about this fraught institution.

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Why we should think twice about persons who struggle to empathize

In this post, Daphne Brandenburg discusses her recent article in Journal of Applied Philosophy on empathy, communication, and responsibility.

In the TV detective series Bron/Broen, one of the main characters, Saga Norén, delivers the bad news to family members after a murder has been discovered. She does so by abruptly announcing the victim’s death, and starting a thorough interrogation without giving the family member any time to gather themselves. She gets impatient when they do not immediately answer, and does not hide her impatience.

Maybe you feel shocked or even angered by this lack of responsiveness. We tend to expect more concern in these types of situations. However, her behavior may (at least partly) be explained by a difficulty to pick up on, and respond to the emotions of others.

These difficulties are commonly described as empathy deficits which should excuse a person from the general expectation to attend to the feelings of others. But, in a recent article I argue we should reconsider our assumptions about why and how these persons are excused.

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An interview with Ciaran Thapar (Beyond the Ivory Tower series)

This is the latest interview in our Beyond the Ivory Tower series (you can read previous interviews here). Back in February, Aveek Bhattacharya sat down with Ciaran Thapar, a youth worker, educational consultant and author of the recent book Cut Short, which draws on his experience working with young people in London to analyse violence, inequality and criminal justice among other issues. Through the youth organisation, Roadworks, he delivers PATTERN, a storytelling workshop programme based on the themes of Cut Short. Thapar began mentoring young people as a Master’s student in Political Theory at the London School of Economics, and our interview explored the relevance of academic philosophy and the realities of disadvantaged young people’s lives.

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