Working Paper
Urban change and rural continuity in gender ideologies and practices

Theorizing from Zambia

Across the world, people in urban rather than rural areas are more likely to support gender equality. To explain this global trend, this paper engages with geographically diverse literature and comparative rural–urban ethnographic research from Zambia.

It argues that people living in interconnected, heterogeneous, densely populated areas are more likely to see women performing socially valued, masculine roles. Such exposure incrementally erodes gender ideologies, catalysing a positive feedback loop, and increasing flexibility in gender divisions of labour.

Women in densely populated areas also tend to have greater access to health clinics and police, so are more able to control their fertility and secure external support against gender-based violence. However, the urban is not inevitably disruptive. Experiences of the urban are shaped by international and national policies, macro-economic conditions, and individual circumstances.

Through this comparative ethnography, this paper contributes to literature on the drivers of change and continuity in gender ideologies.