Despite the potential of governance theory to connect with feminist critiques of the public- private dichotomy in that it recognizes that processes of governing do not just take place within the formal, public arena of politics, but also in the “private” through families, workplaces and schools, gender analyses of governance have been lacking. Thus, with regard to urban governance, it becomes important to scrutinize the seemly “natural” ways of organizing and structuring the city and its decision and policy making processes. The right to the city, to participate in and influence decision making processes affecting one’s life should, theoretically be the same for all citizens, regardless of sex, age, ethnicity and so on. However, not everyone has the same opportunities to participate. The city, through its space, architecture, social relations and activities produces and reproduces the gendered, racialized, sexualized and classed power relations in society. These have the potential to oppress and dominate not just through the distribution of material resources, but also through taken-for-granted assumptions and practices that include some while excluding others.
Women and men, as heterogeneous categories, use and experience the city differently and have different priorities in terms of services and infrastructure. These differences are socially constructed reflecting that the lives of women and men are deeply and systematically conditioned by various social norms and expectations and unequal economic and social power relations. Feminist research on the gendered construction of cities shows how women’s insecurity in urban spaces curtails not only their access to and participation in the city, but also limits their visions of the city as a “good place” to live and work. Women’s fear of men’s violence, and the ways in which it constrains their freedom to exercise their citizenship, raise fundamental problems for democracy. This paper aims to contribute to the gendering of governance theory by exploring how women’s insecurity in urban areas affects their use of, access to and participation in the city and the consequences for their citizenship. Drawing on theories relating to the embodied nature of citizenship, focus group interviews with different groups of women (reflecting age, class and ethnicity) gathered in four Swedish municipalities are analyzed and the implications of women’s visions of the city for urban governance considered.