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Eve Woman of the Year Award
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Hon. Najib Balala, Minister for Gender, Sports and Culture
Hon. Amos Kimunya, Minister for Lands and Settlements
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to be here on the eve of International Women's Day. This is the day that women all over the world celebrate their achievements. And what could be more appropriate than to gather here in Nairobi to honour 10 Kenyan women award winners, and 30 nominees, who are a testament to women's courage and ability. Each one of these women has shown selflessness and dedication to community development and, especially, to the progress of women.

This is a particularly exciting time for us to be celebrating the achievements of women. After all, Kenya now has 13 women MPs. This, however, is still only 7 percent of all MPs and is low as compared to neighbouring countries such as Uganda, which has 27 percent, and Tanzania, which has 23 percent. Still, it is a great improvement on previous years. It is my belief that the presence of women in parliament brings a more humanitarian perspective to national policy, helping to advance the cause all those who are less fortunate than ourselves.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we live here in a city where 60 percent of the population subsists in slums and squatter settlements. What is worse is that that 60 percent is crowded onto only 5 percent of the land without adequate shelter and basic services like clean water and decent sanitation.

In these slums and in shanty settlements all over the world, it is mainly the women who bear the burden of raising children under the most appalling conditions. In a rapidly urbanising world, women suffer the most. Women walk miles to get clean water; they endure the indignities and dangers of unhygienic toilets; they are most vulnerable to violence and crime; and they are inordinately affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which can place additional burdens upon them as both victims and caregivers. And on top of all this they are constantly under threat of eviction, having no secure home for themselves and their families.

According to recent research conducted by UN-HABITAT, it was found that many women, as heads of household, are forced to leave their rural homesteads because they do not have any legal right to their property and have no other way to earn a living. Many of these women end up in our urban slums where we are now seeing a feminisation of poverty.

One way to address this is to ensure that all governments honour women's equal rights. Although a woman's right to inherit and own property is enshrined in many universal declarations, these have yet to be fully implemented in most countries in this region. Even when the laws are on the books, they are blocked by patriarchal customs, traditions and cultural factors.

If the situation of women is to improve in this region, action is required at a number of levels. For example, a country's constitution should explicitly prohibit those customary laws that discriminate against women. This has been done in the Ugandan Constitution and is now proposed in the Kenya Draft Constitution.

At UN-HABITAT we believe that ensuring women's equal rights to property is only one of many priorities. If we are going to make our human settlements truly habitable, then we must also encourage the full participation of women at all levels of urban development.

There is no question that cities are more liveable places if women are integrated into the planning process. Addressing governance issues from a gender perspective empowers women. And there are many case studies and best practices from around the world that show how women' participation improves the way a city is managed.

In Montreal, women's participation in a safety audit of the town led to improved lighting, which made the streets safer. At the same time, the public transport system was made gender sensitive by ensuring that women passengers could alight the bus at any point nearest to their home, not just at designated bus stops.

In India, women's groups are at the centre of slum upgrading projects in Mumbai and Pune. It is through women's efforts that the communities are being provided with clean water and sanitation for the first time. It is through their thrift and micro-credit facilities that women are managing to upgrade their own homes.

Even in Afghanistan, where the potential of women has, for many years been ignored, women have now established a community forum, which acts as an entry point for all development planning.

And, the role of women in overcoming the problems of HIV/AIDS must not be underestimated. At UN-HABITAT we are working on a project to ensure that local communities, often led by women, begin to take charge of the millions of aids orphans.

All these important initiatives show how women can have a strong impact on governance if they are sufficiently empowered, informed and supported.

I would like to conclude by calling upon the women assembled here to take up the challenge of making Nairobi a more liveable city. There are too few of us involved in human settlements planning and development. Recently, a survey found that, although the percentage of women local councillors is higher in industrial countries, it is still only about 23 percent in the USA, 18 percent in Canada and 20 percent in Europe. It is much worse in Latin America and in Africa where women hold less than 5 percent of local council positions.

Ladies - and gentlemen - whether we act informally or formally, individually or in concert, let us each take inspiration from our award winners and nominees tonight, recommitting ourselves to the task of making life better for all those women and their families who live in conditions of poverty and need.

Again, congratulations to you all and thank you for your attention.

 
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