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An Architecture Guide to the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals (Volume 02)

Habitat for Orphan Girls (Khansar, Iran)

05.GENDER EQUALITY- Achive gender equality and empower all women and girls

Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for the peaceful, prosperous sustainable world.

Yet, gender inequality persists worldwide, depriving women and girls of their basic rights and opportunities. Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will require more vigorous efforts, including legal frameworks, to counter deeply rooted gender-based discrimination that often results from patriarchal attitudes and related social norms.

To support a movement towards gender equality, the design of buildings, settlements and urban areas must be inclusive to all citizens regardless of gender.

The organization of public spaces, institutions and services must prioritise the security of girls, women and LGBT+ citizens and help minimize the risk of abuse. The ability to move safely in public spaces, in public institutions and at the workspace is essential to the inclusion of women and girls in civil society and to women being able to hold a job outside of their home, which is key to being self-supporting. Also needed are affordable and secure buildings to provide health services, basic sanitary services and meeting places for women and LGBT+ citizens. Examples of this includes maternity clinics, community centers, safe houses or secure public bathrooms.

Design of playgrounds, public parks and sports facilities must offer girls, women and LGBT+ citizens equal access to leisure and physical activities and create conditions that encourage use by all.

The building industry itself must work towards equal pay, promote diversity and work to oppose sexual harassment. As part of this, the industry must support women’s ability to handle heavy construction processes that are otherwise reserved for men, for example by the introduction of lifting technologies. From design through construction, the industry must avoid a narrowly gendered work culture in order to promote diversity and co-ownership so that more women and LGBT+ professionals will be able to join the industry at all levels.

Habitat for Orphan Girls (Khansar, Iran)


Women in Iran face considerable gender inequality, as documented in the Global Gender Gap Report by The World Economic Forum in 2020, where Iran ranked as number 148 out of 153 countries. Iran is also one of only six nations that has not ratified the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, a 1979 treaty that aims to promote the rights of women across the globe.


While all women in gender- unequal societies suffer inequality socially, economically and culturally, orphan girls are especially vulnerable. With no family or economy to ensure their safety, this group is at high risk of abuse and discrimination. Combined with a society in which the freedom of women is very limited, the Iranian orphan girls have almost no opportunities.

ZAV Architects’ Habitat for Orphan Girls creates a home that aims to both protect and provide personal freedom to young orphan girls. The late Philanthropist Dr Maleki initiated the home, which is located in the religiously conservative city of Khansar. While orphanages in Iran by law are restricted to be designed as large dormitories, the architects and the client in this case insisted on creating a home rather than an institution.

The design of the building shields the girls from the surrounding town, both physically and visually, by a large wall and flexible curtains attached to the balconies. This allows the girls to act freely within their home and to enjoy the sun and wind on the balconies and outdoor areas without being covered up. The garden even has a shallow pool so that the children can cool down in the summertime. The home combines smaller rooms for sleeping with larger social areas – all to give the girls a feeling of a home with private life and family.

While the design protects and shields the girls from the neighborhood, the orphanage is located in the middle of the town to emphasis the fact that the girls are equal citizens and have an important role to play in both current and future Iranian society.