Written by Ramjee Bhandari, Gideon Baffoe and Sohail Ahmad.

Three researchers from the SHLC team at the University of Glasgow organised a session at the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2021 on the theme of ‘inequalities in cities of the Global South’ on 31 August 2021.

Here, we record our reflection based on six papers presented in two sessions. These papers demonstrated the prevalence of inequalities at all spatial levels – international, national, regional, city, and sub-city (i.e., neighbourhoods’ level) – across several parameters from income to access to urban amenities in case studies from three continents – Asia, Africa and South America. From the presentations, it was clear that a one-size-fits-all strategy would not be appropriate in redressing inequalities in the cities of the global south. A policy or an intervention must be attuned to the socioeconomic, political and environmental realities on the ground. The seeming consensus from the discussions was that there is a need for targeted interventions, both ‘people and place’ and inclusive governance to address the challenges of inequalities in multiple forms. The sessions allowed appreciation of the endemic, dynamic and widespread nature of urban inequality in the global south. It was also an avenue for networking among the presenters who all happened to be early career researchers (ECRs).

Soweto, South West Township, Johannesburg, South Africa. Shutterstock, Cedric Weber
Inequalities exist everywhere: Identifying nature and severity are crucial for interventions  

Based on findings from recently published work along with colleagues from Glasgow, Sohail Ahmad highlights the dearth of comparative urban and neighbourhood studies in the Global South. Using measures such as Gini Index, his results set a background of prevailing inequalities in selected case study cities of SHLC (presentation). Among the case study cities, Johannesburg was the most unequal and Datong was the most equal city. The income inequality was positively correlated with the unemployment level.  He further suggested numerous forms of inequalities such as built environment and economy sectors.

This was followed by findings from Wa, Ghana, presented by Samuel Amoah and a colleague. Samuel stated how the neighbourhoods are segregated by the differentials in the provision and access to water and sanitary facilities. They argue that the primary underlying cause of the identified disparities are differences in the socio-economic characteristics of households and conclude that provision of equitable access to amenities by authorities and strict enforcement of building regulations would be critical in bridging the disparities in Wa.

Street market in Dar es Salaam. Credit: Shutterstock, Jon Naustdalslid

Gideon Baffoe’s talk was based on a recently published peer-reviewed journal article about rethinking sustainable urban development in Kigali. The talk explored the development trajectory and citizen aspirations concerning Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He identified inclusive governance as a key strategy to achieve SDGs in Kigali and Rwanda as a whole.

Ibrahim Msuya from Ifakara Health Institute, Tanzania, shared his exploration and attempts to understand the socio-spatial stratification in Dar es Salaam’s neighbourhoods. His study found an emergence of ethnic-based neighbourhoods in the peri-urban areas of Dar es Salaam but with high cohesiveness on similar ethnical backgrounds. He suggested a need to understand ethnic-based neighbourhoods and their role in shaping built environment qualities in the city.

Carolina Mayen Huerta from the University of Melbourne presented her work on the (in)equitable distribution of green spaces in Mexico City, with special reference to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. She undertook a spatial analysis of the distribution of urban green space (UGS) in Mexico City that reveal access to UGS is not independent of the level of poverty concentration in neighbourhoods at any functional level (children parks to district parks). She shows 72% of neighbourhoods do not have access to urban green space within 300 metres in the city, a critical distance to access comfortably. A clear socioeconomic difference was noted between neighbourhoods with or without access to UGS. In addition, her results highlighted which neighbourhoods in Mexico City should be prioritized in terms of UGS access, which is critical for future urban planning in the city.

Street scene with labourers waiting to start work. Kigali, Rwanda. Credit: Shutterstock, Jennifer Sophie

Finally, Faisal Munir from the University of Gujrat, Pakistan shared findings from his research that aimed to explore the nature of housing inequalities and their determinants in urban areas of Pakistan focusing on ethnolinguistic groups using the Pakistan Social and Living Standard Measurement Survey 2014-15. The main message from his talk was that intersectionality between ethnicity, income and education play a crucial role in determining this level of inequality. Based on the findings, Faisal advocated for targeted housing policies to limit housing inequalities in the country.

Methodologically, the majority of the papers used econometric frameworks in spatial context employing large datasets from nationally representative household survey data or city-specific census data. So, the session used mixed research methods to address inequalities across the regions.

These studies reveal inequalities exist everywhere and public policy interventions are crucial to bridge them by identifying the nature of inequality such as sectors and severity and targeting them through public policy interventions focusing on people and place.


About the Conference and Session: The Royal Geographical Society with IBG organised Annual International Conference between 31st August to 3rd of September 2021. Because of the ongoing pandemic, this year’s conference was in the blended/online format. The conference was a great learning opportunity for geographers and those from related fields. The conference which was chaired by Professor Uma Kothari of the University of Manchester was under the theme “Borders, borderlands and bordering”. SHLC made a representation during the week-long event by hosting/chairing two sessions and making use of the forum to share some research findings. On the 31st of August, the two sessions were put together to explore and highlight the inequalities in the cities of the Global South. During the two sessions, there were presentations from the SHLC and other researchers. The first session was chaired by Ramjee Bhandari, and the second session was chaired by Sohail Ahmad and Gideon Baffoe.