A side event at the UN-Habitat’s Governing Council and convened by the Huairou Commission examined how women are taking advantage of the urban landscape.
Taking into account that the majority of studies are focused on the negative impacts of urbanisation this session looked at how women are converting urban challenges into opportunities for empowerment.
Carmen Griffiths of the Huairou Commission spoke of the need for women to engage directly with local policy makers so that they fully appreciate their issues and incorporate them into policy. Various experts noted that urbanization can be both an impediment and a catalyst for impediment for women’s development, but this depends on how women react to urbanization and the support they receive.
Ms. Lene Conradi, the mayor of Asker Municipality Norway illustrated how women mobilized themselves to create a majority for themselves in government while Rose Kwale of Slum Dwellers International (SDI) gave numerous examples of what women in the slums have achieved through mobilization in terms of savings and engaging with local governments. She was of the view that urbanisation is a catalyst for the empowerment of women.
Mr Rafael Obonyo of the UN-Habitat Youth Advisory Board noted the vital importance of education in empowering women and allowing them to engage in the urban space to their benefit and the benefit for all as women’s issues are men’s issues.
To move this agenda forward greater recognition of the role of women in the urban space is needed by governments and in policy and programmatic work. The joint Huairou Commission/ UN-Habitat Report on Women Cities and Economic Empowerment from the Expert Group meeting held in June 2012 at Harvard University was expounded upon by Regina Pritchett and presents an interesting opportunity to compare the results of the literature survey conducted and a similar study based on the views of practitioners.
Key recommendations that arose from this meeting include the need for adequate documentation of women led initiatives. The post MDG agenda should have a focus on women to facilitate urban sustainability. Other areas that require further research are the gendered effects of migration, the impact of restrictions on women’s access to public space, property in urban areas and finally the potential use of technology and social media as a tool for mobilization around women’s issues.
The discussant Thomas Lid Ball, Deputy Permanent Representative of Norway to UN HABITAT commented that the report was timely and provided an optimistic view of urbanization and women’s empowerment that needed further documentation and support for doing so.