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New York, 2 Jul 10

A Special Ministerial Roundtable Breakfast Meeting on the theme Bridging the urban gender divide: An imperative for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, was held in New York as part of the ongoing high level segment of the Economic and Social Council.

This year the annual review is spotlighting actions and progress aimed at achieving the global agenda on women’s issues and international efforts to promote higher standards of living, full employment and socio-economic progress — particularly for women and girls.

The breakfast meeting was co-hosted by the Government of Brazil and UN-HABITAT. The aim of the meeting was to understand the special problems faced by women in cities especially as they form the majority of the population in slums and informal settlements.

Women migrate from rural to urban areas mainly in search of employment, and in order to escape from poverty, gender-based violence, gender discrimination and disinheritance. Exclusion of women from land ownership can push them out of rural areas, towards the cities, where they join the ranks of the increasing number of women headed households and slum dwellers. At the same time, women in slums suffer disproportionately from multiple deprivations including lack of access to basic services – water, sanitation, housing and infrastructure.  

In a speech read on her behalf by the Director of Global Division Mrs. Axumite Gebre-Egzhabir, UN-HABITAT Executive Director Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka emphasised that rampant uncontrolled urbanization adversely affects women. She continued to elaborate how UN-HABITAT’s work is guided by gender policy, a gender equality action plan, and the UN system-wide strategy on gender mainstreaming. 

“For example,” she said, “Women’s access to housing and to security of tenure is at the centre of our advocacy actions. The Global Land Tool Network (GLTN), which is facilitated by UN-HABITAT, has developed ‘Gender Evaluation Criteria’ to assess gender sensitivity in land policies and practices. These ‘Criteria’ have been recently piloted in Brazil, Ghana and Nepal where grassroots women have assessed Land Administration Programmes, Land Reform and Urban Planning Statutes regarding their gender-responsiveness. The pilots empowered women and grassroots organizations and increased their knowledge and confidence to negotiate their land rights with their respective governments. In Brazil, for example, this led to secure land rights for 8,500 families or 55,000 people.”

The role of Brazil in pioneering the advancement of women’s access to land and property was emphasised in the statement by the Brazilian Minister in charge of the Special Secretariat of Policies for Women, Nilcea Freire. “If we want more democratic cities, women who are half of the world, must have half of the power and half of the earth,” she said. She emphasised that this was why Brazil had adopted policies to universalise women’s access to land and basic services, especially in urban areas. She informed the participants that the Gender Equality Action Assembly, held just before the 5th Session of the World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro, which was also jointly hosted by UN-HABITAT and the government of Brazil, had led to a number of policies aimed at improving the lives of women. This included examples like the Women for Peace which provided a medium for women to work on peace and mediation in favelas.  

The Moroccan Minister of Social Development, Family and Solidarity, Nourzha Skalli felt that realistically speaking women represented over 80% of the world’s population, especially if you realise that they are responsible for the well being of children, the elderly and the disabled. This was why the government of Morocco had committed itself to full equality and equity for women. For example, a recent law had made it possible for both men and women to be considered the legal head of the family.   

Following the presentations, the participants discussed different ways in which the urban gender divide could be bridged. Examples ranged from how women can play a positive role in mediating conflicts in slums through to strategies for providing free access to legal information on land and property rights.

What united all the participants was a commitment to ensuring that the Millennium Development Goals are met especially Goal 7, target 11 which commits itself to improving the lives of a 100 million slum dwellers.

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