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48th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women
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Statement by Mrs. Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, Executive Director, UN-HABITAT delivered by Axumite Gebre-Egziabher, Director, UN-HABITAT, New York Office.

Madame Chairperson,
Honourable Ministers, Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen

I bring you greetings and best wishes for a successful Session from Mrs. Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, Executive Director, United Nations Human Settlements Programme, (UN-HABITAT), in Nairobi, Kenya.

It is an honour and pleasure for me to address this important Session on the review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, Beijing +10, women, peace and security, and the rights of indigenous women among other critical issues.

UN-HABITAT is the United Nations Agency with the responsibility for promoting the two goals of the HABITAT Agenda - adequate shelter for all, and sustainable human settlement development. UN-HABITAT has also the responsibility for monitoring the Millennium Development Goals-target 11 of significantly improving the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

Our work covers issues of urban land, secure tenure and the rights to adequate housing, urban governance, urban economy and finance, employment creation, water and sanitation, monitoring the state of the world cities, research and policy analysis. Through its Gender Mainstreaming Unit and in collaboration with other partners, UN-HABITAT is implementing its gender policy through a range of projects intended to promote gender mainstreaming and women’s empowerment.

In May 2003, the UN-HABITAT Governing Council adopted resolution 19/16 on women’s roles and rights in human settlements development and slum upgrading. The main activities related to gender mainstreaming and women’s empowerment include: (1) mainstreaming gender issues in the two global campaigns on secure tenure and urban governance and in water and sanitation activities; (2) empowerment of urban women entrepreneurs through housing development and land rights; (3) promoting local-to-local dialogues which bring women face-to-face with local authorities; (4) awards and competitions to promote gender responsive local governments in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and Pacific regions; and (5) women’s empowerment in disaster management, and post conflict situations.

We have come to this meeting, however, with a request to you all. As you prepare to review the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and develop another 10-year plan for women, you should take into account the concerns of rural and urban poor women, especially those living and working in slums and informal settlements. We urge you to be more realistic by considering the current pace of urbanization.

While the developed countries have reached almost full urbanization, countries in developing regions – particularly Africa and Asia are rapidly becoming urbanized. It is estimated that in the next 30 years, the urban population in the developing world will double to about 4 billion people, at a rate of about 70 million persons per year. Rural population will barely increase and will begin to decline after 2020. The majority of the world’s added population will settle in slums and informal settlements. Consider the problem when it is estimated that already 72 percent of the urban population in Africa is residing in slums.

International migration and rural-to-urban migration are key factors contributing to the current urbanization trends. Draconian policies have not stopped rural people from moving to urban areas. Unfortunately, policies to promote integrated rural and urban development have not been seriously pursued. It is urgent that a spatially integrated approach to development be adopted in national economic plans.

On the one hand, cities and towns are economic and financial power houses, centres of excellence, with great education and employment opportunities, and seats of political, social and cultural activities. On the other hand, cities and towns present a grim visage of urban poverty, best illustrated by the appalling living conditions of slum dwellers.

You need to visit a slum to understand and appreciate what we are talking about. Slums are characterized by lack of secure tenure for women and men, over-crowding, lack of basic services like water and sanitation, sometimes with 200-400 people sharing either a toilet or stand water tap. The stench in some areas is too much for some people to bear, all for lack of water, sanitation and proper waste disposal. This state of affairs presents serious health implications for those living and working in the slums. Slums are a real challenge for HIV/AIDS strategies for prevention, treatment and care. Women are worst affected in all this.

One of the major gaps in the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and national priorities that follow that Platform is that little or no attention has been paid to the plight of the poor urban women and their living environment. Even where increasing the role of women in politics and decision-making has been a priority, more effort has gone into promoting women in national parliaments than helping women to participate in the governance of municipalities, local councils and other urban authorities at where most decisions on human settlements issues are taken.

Honourable Ministers, Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

We ask the Commission on the Status of Women, all governments, women’s organizations, regional and international organizations present, to consider addressing the needs of slum dwellers during your review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. And, in drafting the next 10-year plan, we ask that you also set priority areas for action at local, national and international levels. In this way, you will contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals-target 11 on improving the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

We also request that you take into account the Habitat Agenda, particularly paragraph 46 on gender equality in human settlements developments. The Habitat agenda was the main political document resulting from the Second World Conference on Human Settlements, held in Istanbul, Turkey in 1996. Governments in the Habitat Agenda committed themselves to promote gender mainstreaming and women’s empowerment in all human settlements activities.

Finally, we recommend that Women’s Affairs Ministries proactively engage with those Ministries responsible for local government, housing, transport, urban and human settlement development, as well as, municipalities and local authorities in the struggle to achieve the advancement of women and gender equality

Thank you for your attention

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