The United Nations has reaffirmed the catalytic role that women and girls play in development at the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York.
Importantly, the Deputy Secretary General, Ms Amina Mohammed and other speakers called for participatory approaches, such as slum upgrading, to be used as tools to deliver the sustainable development goals, especially urban goal 11 “making cities inclusive” as well as the New Urban Agenda.
Presiding over a panel discussion on the role of women implementing the New Urban Agenda, the Deputy Secretary General echoed the call of the Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres, for the empowerment of women to deliver their potential. The DSG said that inclusive approaches, such as participatory slum upgrading, within a city wide framework, are powerful tools for inclusive urban development as they help address the deeply rooted gender inequalities. “While cities are powerful engines of development and innovation, they are also home to slums and many millions of vulnerable women and girls,” she reminded the audience. “We need to ensure that all urban dwellers are captured in urban development approaches such as city-level data. Women and girls have a key leadership role to play in these efforts in their communities,” highlighted the United Nations Deputy-Secretary General.
The DSG also showcased UN-Habitat’s Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme’s (PSUP) approach to address gender gaps through its human rights based and integrated approach whereby living conditions are improved through the multi-stakeholder management, participatory planning and delivery of community driven projects focussing on livelihoods and basic urban services.
Referring to the PSUP, she invited audiences to consider how change occurs. “Allow me to call your attention to one example that shows how even modest investments can bring wide-ranging impacts” she said. “The Community Development Committee in Mtwapa, Kenya, gives women and men an equal voice in slum upgrading. Four of the seven projects funded were implemented solely by women’s groups, the other three by youth groups containing both young women and men”. “We should all be inspired by what ensued,” she added. “Through the initiative in Kenya, tenure, and social protection were improved. Safety for women in the community and public spaces strengthened and new water kiosks, managed by women, installed, dramatically reducing the time spent on water collection. A training and skills centre was also established, giving new skills and hope to unemployed young mothers”.
The UN-Habitat Deputy Executive Director Aisa Kirabo further emphasized the crucial role of women in tackling the slum challenge, facing an estimated one billion slum dwellers. “The voices of the working poor, particularly of women should be heard and their representation enhanced.” She further lauded the efforts of international actors financing local, national and global response interventions. “UN Habitat is working with partners to implement the Participatory Slum Upgrading Program (PSUP) with close work with African and Caribbean States. We recognize as well the financial support of the European Commission,” she added.
Other speakers made clear that bridging the gender equality gap, empowering women and girls and harnessing their strengths in slum contexts is critical to the development agenda. “Women informal workers are organizing themselves internationally and at local and national levels… and slums are often the industrial engines of many cities so we must harness both those components” reported Professor Marthy Chen, International Coordinator of WIEGO – Women in Informal Economy, Globalizing and Organizing.
The Huairou Commission proposed the establishment of a plan ensuring equal rights between men and women in access to land ownership, housing and property, as a means to empowering women in the development arena. And speaking on behalf of the UN Women Regional Director for Asia-Pacific region, Ms Miwa Kato said that “ there is no slum upgrading if there is no guaranteed right of ownership for all women included,” while pointing out the urgent need to bridge the existing gender gaps. Additionally, the Permanent Representative of Ecuador Ambassador Horacio Sevilla Borja further recommended the provision of basic urban services, equal pay and quality jobs in addition to preventing all forms of discrimination as pre-requisite to achieving sustainable development.
Recommendations advanced in the session will strengthen the inclusive approach of the Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme to enhance the delivery of the New Urban Agenda and will also be shared further at the upcoming UN-Habitat Governing Council with a view to ensuring that women’s role in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda remains central.