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Safer cities for women: the big plan

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Habitat III, Quito, Lakshmi Puri, women and cities, New Urban AgendaPutting gender equality at the heart of the New Urban Agenda.

In the early 1990s, just over 42 per cent of people were living in urban areas. Today, more than 54 per cent of the global population are urban dwellers. And by 2030, that percentage is expected to have risen to 60 per cent.

Clearly, sustainable development must ensure there is a roadmap for ensuring that the cities are sustainable. And women and girls are safe in them.

It was against this backdrop that Habitat III, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development took place in Quito, Ecuador, from 17 to 20 October 2016.

The last time there was a conference of this nature was in 1996 when the second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements was held in Istanbul.

Governments, civil society, private sector and UN representatives and experts from around the world convened at Habitat III to gather renewed political commitment for sustainable urban development, assess accomplishments and emerging challenges and adopted the New Urban Agenda

This is a robust, action-oriented outcome document which has set global standards in sustainable urban development, rethinking the way we build, manage, and live in cities.

While the movement to cities plays a critical role in accelerating development, particularly in generating economic growth, it has had less success in other areas, including advancing gender equality and the majority of women in urban settlements continue to face multiple challenges.

Women and girls often fear and experience sexual violence and other forms of violence, which affects their everyday lives and restricts their freedom and use of the city and its public spaces.

In London, for example, a 2012 study revealed that 43 per cent of young women experienced some form of street harassment in 2011, and in Port Moresby, a scoping study by UN Women indicated that over 90 per cent of women and girls have experienced some form of sexual violence when accessing public transportation.

And often slums lack infrastructure and public services, including sexual and reproductive health infrastructure and facilities.

A recent analysis of Demographic and Health Survey data from 30 low and middle-income countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America on access to maternal and newborn services for groups with different levels of poverty, for example, found that in some cases, maternal, newborn and child mortality rates in poor and marginalized urban sub-groups can be as high as, or even higher than among the rural poor.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes the link between gender equality and urban sustainable development.

The vision of Sustainable Development Goal 11 (SDG 11), which calls for making cities and urban settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, is intrinsically linked to SDG 5 on Gender Equality, and cannot be accomplished without addressing safe, inclusive and affordable housing, transportation, public spaces and public services for women and girls.

At Habitat III and the processes leading up to it, UN Women strongly advocated and supported the development of the New Urban Agenda by placing women’s rights at its heart, encouraging all stakeholders to seize the opportunity to shape sustainable, gender-responsive and inclusive cities, and support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in its true spirit of inclusion and equality.

The New Urban Agenda calls for cities to be secure, positive, respectful and safe places for all people to live and work without fear of violence or intimidation.

In line with this call, UN Women’s Global Flagship Initiative, “Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces,” which builds upon the “Safe Cities Free of Violence against Women and Girls” programme launched in 2010, is the first-ever global programme that develops, implements and evaluates tools, policies and comprehensive approaches on the prevention of and response to sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls across different settings.

The New Urban Agenda also commits to increasing economic productivity, employment and decent work for all, with special attention to the needs and potential of women.

It recognizes the contribution of women in the informal economy, their unpaid and domestic work, and the work of migrant women.

And UN Women is working with partners to promote women’s economic empowerment, their ability to secure decent jobs, accumulate assets, and influence institutions and public policies determining growth and development.

Also in line with the New Urban Agenda, as cities develop, UN Women has been working to ensure that women’s voices and needs are heard, that women participate equally in decision-making and development policies and efforts include a gender perspective. UN Women works to support women as key decision-making actors at all levels of life.

As outlined in the New Urban Agenda, safe, inclusive and resilient cities need public services that are adequately distributed and that address the specific needs of traditionally marginalized constituencies, such as women and young people.

And the quality of public spaces shapes the character of a city: they can influence the patterns of crime and violence against women or enable women to exercise their human rights fully.

The New Urban Agenda commits to including women in sustainable development by ensuring that the physical and social infrastructure of cities, including water and sanitation, housing, energy, education, healthcare and communication technologies are responsive to the needs, rights and safety of urban women and girls.

The outcome document of Habitat III meeting, the New Urban Agenda, also outlines the challenges and opportunities that the new agenda provides while ensuring that gender equality thrives through sustainable, gender-inclusive and gender-responsive cities.

“We have before us an unmissable opportunity,” UN Women’s Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri said of the potential of the #NewUrbanAgenda when it comes to gender equality.

“Our challenge now is strategizing on how to ensure the ink on paper translates promptly into effective implementation on the ground.”

To read the outcome document, click here.

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