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Why the Collective?

Since the 1990s, women students in most parts of the world, but specifically in India, represent nearly half or more than half of the student body graduating in architecture. Contrary to this, when it comes to looking upon women in the professional domain, the numbers seem to dwindle considerably. There are very few women in high leadership positions such as heads of architecture departments or single principals in firms and non-binary architects are barely even recognized. Why is this and what can be done about it?


There are many reasons for this disparity, unfortunately deeply embedded in the cultural world. Most famous and celebrated architects that students study/see in practice and in publications are male. The histories of early women in architecture are still being reclaimed. Women rarely find representation in national architectural competition juries, in lecture series, as inauguration guests, on interview panels or on college inspection visits except as tokens. There is also no formal engagement with the women's movement, or the knowledge generated by the women’s study centres since the 1970s. This results in a more masculine perspective towards the profession and a vicious circle that is hard to break.


Gender Studies is an interdisciplinary academic field devoted to analysing gender identity and representation.  From the eyes of non-males (females and other genders), it looks at how their world is shaped, seeing life through the inequalities and discrimination created by society. Historically, there has been acknowledgment, discursive and action research from the gender perspective in other fields such as social sciences and humanities, development studies, resource management, etc. However, there's a near-complete vacuum in the domain of architecture and the built environment in India; whatever exists has largely remained an academic discourse, with very little change and action seen in policy development or the everyday practices of educational institutions, research organizations and design practices.


Architecture as a discipline has often been considered/ blamed as being an elitist profession, where the architects as well as the clients belong to privileged classes. In the imagination of the society, it is almost entirely made up of able-bodied, upper-caste, rich males. While the reach of the profession has begun to address the post-modernist and de-constructivist ideologies, the gender makeup and overall outlook have not.  There is an urgent need to address structural issues and to develop strategies that generate gender equity in architecture, in terms of creation of space as well as consumption of space. Especially, with gender equality being one of the important goals of the United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it is imperative that the discipline of architecture also make all effort to achieve this goal. 


If architecture and other allied disciplines of the built environment are to serve society by creating meaningful places for all its diverse inhabitants, then it has to be feminist. Feminist thinking in architecture does not have, as its objective, the mere inclusion of non cis-males of all castes and economic classes, but demands a fundamental redefinition of the discipline and its overall scope. It does not aim at simply adjusting the old lens but seeks the formulation of a new lens. 

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