Her Royal Highness Princess Mathilde of Belgium,
H.E. Mr. Vladmir Spidla, European Union Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities,
Hon. Sarra Kanoun Jarraya, Tunisian Minister for the Affairs of Women, Family, Childhood and the Elderly,
Madame Brigitte Grouwels, Secretary of State for Equal Opportunities, Brussels Capital Region,
Madame Francine Senecal, President of Metropolis Women International Network,
Ambassadors and High Representatives,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It gives me great pleasure and honour to deliver a Keynote Address to this First International Forum on Dynamic Cities Need Women. It is indeed a privilege for me to share with you my views as a woman leader, activist and long time defender of women’s rights in Africa.
First, I would like to acknowledge the efforts being made within the European Union to promote equal opportunities for women and men, especially through adoption of policies and legal frameworks necessary for promoting gender equality and addressing sex discrimination. The adoption of the Women’s Charter to guide regional and country specific actions, and the declaration of the Year 2007 as a year for equal opportunities for all, are two steps in the right direction. We are indebted to the Capital Region of Belgium, the Metropolis Women International Network and other partners who have contributed in numerous ways towards organising this meeting.
This Forum is taking place at a time when there are numerous economic, political, social, demographic and environmental challenges facing the world. Climate change, poverty, terrorism, conflicts and insecurity, human mobility, and trafficking in persons, especially women and children are critical areas, which affects most of us.
The Forum marks a milestone in raising the profile of gender equality and women’s empowerment in cities, where most of the above ills take place. It is a clear indication of the importance attached to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, the Beijing Platform for Action, the Habitat Agenda, and other relevant internationally agreed commitments in favour of women.
The topic is “Dynamic cities need women”. This statement is a truism because women are part and parcel of city life. The issue however is lack of recognition of the role that women have played and can play to make city life more inclusive and liveable. Unless women are given their due recognition for a positive contribution they can make and must make in the design, planning, governance and management of cities, provision of basic services and infrastructure, promotion of local economic development, and safety and security, cities will not be dynamic but will face social and economical decay and long term decline.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The 21st Century is an Urban Millennium. The year 2007 marked the global shift in urban population, with half of humanity living in cities and towns. Every year, 70 million people join the ranks of urbanites. To-date 1 billion people are living in slums and informal settlements around the world, and this population is set to double by 2030, if no remedial action is taken immediately. Africa and South East Asia host the majority of slum dwellers. It is also in these two continents that the rate of urban growth is highest, almost 4.5 per cent.
About half of the global population is under the age of 24. Approximately, 1.2 billion people on the planet are younger than 15. While the overall share of children and youth in the global population is shrinking as fertility rates decline, in absolute numbers, there are more young people today than ever before. The youth aged 15-24 constitute 85 per cent of the world’s working-age youth, and they live in the developing world – primarily in Southern Asia and Africa. The least-developed countries are younger than the rest of the world. In 2005, the global median age was 28 years, but in 10 least-developed African countries, the median age was 16 or younger.
Given this reality, there is need for evidence-based and age-sensitive information on the situation of women and girls to support advocacy and monitoring gender equality and the advancement of women in cities. Women are not a homogeneous group, so we also need data to highlight urban inequities, particularly the difference between women in the rich and poor parts of cities, and in the rural areas. This is necessary in order to demystify the belief that all is well in cities irrespective of the intra city differentials. And also for that matter inequalities between women as a result of income and social class must also be exposed in order to promote women solidarity and generate the political will to empower the urban poor across gender lines.
Young women and men residing in the poor parts of the city living in slums and informal settlements, for example, are more likely to have a child, be married or head a household at an early age than their counterparts living in the rich areas of the city. Girls and young women living in poverty in cities face deeper challenges than their male counterparts to gaining the knowledge and skills they need to live healthy and productive lives.
At the moment there is a dearth of information on the situation of women in cities in general and on gender and local governance, in particular. Gender and local governance is a neglected area in the gender and development discourse. This results into a distortion of reality and limited responses to the range of problems posed by rapid urbanisation at the decentralisation level, especially in the developing. Efforts to address the equal participation of women and men in decision-making have tended to focus more on women in leadership positions and political decision-making at the national level than at the local level. However, the systematic tracking of both numerical and substantive representation of women in decision-making at city and the local level is necessary for promoting women in dynamic cities. Also household budget surveys at city level would help to shed more light on the situation facing women headed households in cities under different income situations.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Cities are drivers of climate change. They are heat islands because of their concrete asphalt and population masses. They generate 80 per cent of the green house gases responsible for global warming. 75 per cent of global energy consumption takes place in cities, mainly through burning fossil fuels for urban transport as well as energy use in buildings and various appliances used for human survival in cities. Urban transport is the planet’s fastest growing source of green house gas emissions, rising in some cases exponentially in many cities in developing countries. The most important ecological result of these effects is higher temperature and concentration of green house gases and the damage they do to human health and human activities.
Cities are not only the cause of the problem they are also part of the solution for addressing climate change. The overall impact of this ecological catastrophe can be reduced by revising land use plans, transport modalities, and building designs and retrofitting, while at the same time regulating carbon trading mechanisms and instruments. There are unique opportunities to complement global efforts in emissions control with local efforts, improve the productivity of cities and the quality of life through reducing traffic congestion, improving air and water quality, and generally reducing the ecological impact. Cities and local authorities in some countries hold tremendous power, leverage and resources to influence both the causes of climate change and the solution to advance climate protection through mitigation and adaptation.
It follows that women, youth, and children should be actively involved in the climate change debate and their perspectives should inform policy, programme design and implementation at the local level. Women’s local knowledge and experience of the environment should be tapped in designing climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. Women and youth climate change networks should be strengthened in order to lobby and advocate for the women, youth and children’s voices to be heard in any concerted action to address climate change, which is now high up on to the global and political agendas. In this regard, I hope the recommendations of this will become an important input at the Convention of the Parties (COP-13) to take place in Bali a few days from today. All evidence points out that the poor are most at risk from climate change. Since women and the children they support dominate the ranks of the urban poor and marginalized, they are key stakeholders at the Bali meeting. I urge you strongly to keep that meeting in mind as you continue with your discussions at this conference.
Safety and Security
Ladies and Gentlemen:
This Forum is taking place at a time when the world over is observing the 16 days of activism in combating violence against women and upholding women human rights. It is therefore fitting to discuss urban safety and security and to focus on crime and violence against women in the private and urban spheres. Women, youth, children, the poor and the elderly are most vulnerable to urban crime. Crime and the fear of crime curtail women’s ability to exercise their freedom of choice to live and work in certain areas. It affects their mobility, security and full participation in urban life.
Women and girls have security concerns on and off the streets, in and around their homes, neighbourhoods and at the city level. The separation between private and public spheres, especially residential, commercial and recreational areas, further complicates women’s safety in public spaces. The site for water sources and public toilets, markets, health facilities and schools, bus and train stops are a challenge to women’s safety and security. Yet these are essential services in the daily chores of women.
A key message in the UN-HABITAT 2007 Global Report on Human Settlements tilted “Enhancing Urban Safety and Security in Cities” is that “Land use-planning is a particularly effective instrument that city authorities can employ to reduce disaster risk by regulating the expansion of human settlements and infrastructure.” It would be useful to critically examine the use of planning and the role of local governments in promoting women’s safety in cities.
Although town planning has its origins in improving the physical, social and health aspects of urban areas in order to promote economic prosperity and well-being of communities, quite often town planning does not take into account the realities of men and women, boys and girls. Women have been raped, assaulted, mugged, robbed and abused in subways, at dark corners of buildings, in parks and car parking lots, in public toilets and as they live bus stops walking towards their homes.
Urban planning policies, regulations and guidelines have been found to be gender blind. So bringing a gender perspective into urban planning theory and practice is highly recommended. This requires constructive engagement with a range of Habitat professionals including architects, urban planners, transport planners, city engineers and the police. The training of urban planners and architects could be enriched by introducing a gender perspective and women’s safety audits in the curriculum. Furthermore, urban planners and architects working with local authorities and other organisations involved in planning our cities and towns could benefit from training in gender analysis and the use of gender sensitive planning tools and guidelines. As for the police, it is high time that gender sensitization became a compulsory course in their training programme.
Security of Tenure
Ladies and Gentlemen:
We cannot discuss women in cities without examining issues related to security of tenure, land, housing and inheritance rights for women. A number of women continue to remain in abusive relationships for lack of a place of their own they call home. It is women and children who are worst affected during forced evictions. Many women are landless and homeless sleeping rough on streets because they cannot own land and inherit property as a result of gender discrimination and the application of customary laws and traditional practices. Moreover, not every woman has the economic means to purchase their own land and property, and getting a mortgage is not easy for many women.
A UN-HABITAT urban inequities survey carried out in several cities in Africa revealed that the majority of homeless women in Lagos and Addis Ababa, for example, were widows and divorced women. Another UN-HABITAT rental study also revealed that some single women are discriminated against by landlords for fear of the women’s inability to pay rents. Women have been denied credit facilities for lack of a fixed address, or collateral, which curtails their economic advancement.
However, while much attention has been paid to the development of gender responsive land policies, and law reform, less attention has been given to housing policy and law, land administration and management, land use and planning, land taxation, and land registration, and how these impacts on the continuum of women’s rights to land, housing and security of tenure. This is partly so because there are no women champions in these professions. Secondly, gender experts have not engaged enough with these specialised professions. The few women surveyors, architects, and land taxation specialists are working in isolation and might not necessarily be gender sensitive themselves. While there are women judges associations for example promoting women’s rights in the judiciary, there are no women surveyors and women and land professional associations that I am aware of. These need to be encouraged.
In matters of access to land and property there is also the unresolved issue of lack of political will to review the laws of succession most which continue to discriminate against women. In many customary and faith based tenure systems women either do not have any rights to own land and property in their matrimonial homes or have lesser rights than men in natal homes. As a result, in many communities in Africa, the only sure way for women to acquire land and become independent farmers is to buy it. This has in turn forced women to go into urban areas for prostitution to be able to raise money before they can return to their villages to buy land and become decent farmers! With the onset of HIV/AIDS, this has put women at greater risk than ever before. I call upon this august gathering to discuss this issue and see ways to assist women to avoid getting engaged in risky sexual practices and occupations as an economic survival strategy. While the rights and safety of sexual workers need to be protected, and health information be provided to them as a matter of urgency and top priority, society must also address the underlying and fundamental causes of the problem. Women economic empowerment including education and skills training is the ultimate answer.
In other words, the question that should be addressed by this Forum is how to improve security of tenure, and increase women’s access to and ownership of land and housing in real terms? This means going beyond policy formulation and law reform to assisting women to acquire land titles and houses either individually or in housing cooperatives by improving access to institutional credit that is always cheaper.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
A response to the above question brings us to a discussion on financing gender equality in cities and towns. How much money is allocated to support gender equality and women’s rights work at the community, city and decentralisation levels by both central and local governments, utility companies, the private sector, civil society and other service providers, as well as the donor community? What are the expenditure patterns on women’s empowerment programmes? This information will enable all actors to establish the value attached to the gender equality programmes. It will also give an indication of the extent to which cities and local governments are actually striving to fulfil their government commitments towards the gender equality duty.
I believe that through sharing best practices you will also be able to capture the lessons learned from those cities and local authorities that have adopted gender budgeting as a tool to track public expenditure and revenue collection for the benefit of women.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
As part of implementation of the UN-HABITAT gender policy and in fulfilment of commitments to gender equality within the UN System, UN-HABITAT is supporting a range of programmes in various regions of the world. Women Land Access Trusts (WLATs) have been designed to act as financial intermediary organisations between low income women’s housing cooperatives and financial institutions, governments, local authorities and other actors, to access housing finance and to acquire land and housing. The Global Land Tool Network is developing pro-poor and gender responsive land tools for use by governments, local authorities, NGOs, civil society, grassroots organisations, men and women in their efforts to address issues of land, housing and property administration. I understand some of the WLATs we are supporting including one from Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda are participating in this meeting. They should be able to share with you the experience so far on the intricacies involved to empower low income urban women to access mortgage finance. Without a financial intermediary, the amount of time involved itself excludes an average woman to participate. As regards WLATs, I invite our host Belgium and those of you representing donor governments and agencies also to see how you can assist this new innovative mechanism to mobilize women to get land and housing, instead of just talking about it.
Awards and competition for women friendly cities and local governments are taking place in Asia, Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean regions to encourage local governments, and other partners, communities and individuals to do more for women. The recently launched strategy on safety and security in cities emphasises planning, governance and the use of women safety audits to promote women’s safety in cities. UN-HABITAT supports local to local dialogues to enhance women’s engagement with city and local authorities in addressing community problems and to empower women in decision-making.
Efforts are being made to mainstream gender into the activities of the Water and Sanitation Trust Fund, especially in relation to the Water for African and Asian Cities Programmes as well as the Lake Victoria water and sanitation initiative. A range of resource materials will soon be published including a gender equality and equity sourcebook for training local governments, and practitioner’s guides on post crisis reconstruction, post crisis governance, and land administration. A publication on best practices in gender and human settlements development is also being developed. The Medium Term Strategic and Institutional Plan, 2008-2013 addresses gender as a cross-cutting issue, and a Gender Equality Action Plan 2008-2013 will be developed in 2008 to strengthen gender mainstreaming in our normative and operational activities.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
As you deliberate on dynamic cities and women you should consider strengthening partnerships through city-to-city cooperation involving women in the north and south, as well as south to south cooperation through peer exchanges and the use of ICTs. It is high time that critical issues of concern to women in cities are firmly placed on the agenda for the Commission on the Status of Women, the Commission on Sustainable Development, and the UN Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, especially issues such as security of tenure, land and adequate housing, decentralisation and local governance, and the delivery of basic services to the urban poor.
It is my hope that the deliberations at this Forum will lead to an invigorated women’s constituency to continue to fight for women’s rights in cities at the global, regional, national, city and local level.
I hope to meet you in Bali at the COP-13 negotiations that I referred to earlier. I would also like to end by inviting you all to attend the Fourth Session of the World Urban Forum in Nanjing, China in October 2008 to raise your voice and bring your knowledge to a wider urban audience on the subject. As Executive Director of UN-HABITAT I am the Convener of the WUF on behalf of the General Assembly. I shall be submitting a report on the WUF outcome to the Governing Council of UN-HABITAT that will meet in Nairobi in April, 2009 and onward to Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly. This way, the important recommendations you will make will be mainstreamed to higher decision making bodies of the international community. From that perspective this is a strategic meeting. I am pleased to have been able to participate and I am grateful for your invitation.
I wish you very successful deliberations and I thank you all for your kind attention.