Informal Consultations
Committee of the Whole
Thematic Committee
Parallel Events
Parallel Event

Local Local Dialogues on Women in Urban Governance
- Listening to Women Voices

11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Wednesday 6 June 2001
Conference Room 8

Co-organise by Asian Women and Shelter Network (AWAS)/Huairou Commission & The Urban Governance Initiative of UNDP

One aspect of good urban governance is having equitable participation of women and men in urban governance. Urban governance must be gender-sensitive if it is to be equitable, sustainable and effective. Participation and civic engagement are critical determinants of good governance, a concept that addresses issues of social equity and political legitimacy and not merely the efficient management of infrastructure and services. The different ways in which women and men participate in and benefit from urban governance are significantly shaped by prevailing constructions of gender, whose norms, expectations and institutional expressions constrain women's access to the social and economic, thus political, resources of the city.

A gender-sensitive approach to urban governance has two principal objectives:

  • to increase women's participation in human settlements development
  • to foster gender-awareness and competence among both women and men in the political arena and planning practice.

A concerted approach to the issues of participation is required, including an improvement in women's representation in political structures and their active involvement in advocacy and lobbying for equitable human settlements development through participation in organizations outside of government.

Urban governance, if it is to promote sustainable human development, has to be not just pro-people or people-centred, it has to be owned by people - and half of that people are women. Given that women experience and use the urban environment in different ways from men, they have different priorities in terms of services and infrastructure, for example with regard to transport, housing and basic urban services. Hence, women should be encouraged and given understanding of their roles in urban governance.

In conjunction with the World Habitat Day 2000, with its theme Women in Urban Governance, The Urban Governance Initiative (TUGI), in partnership with the Asian Women and Shelter Network (AWAS) initiated a series of Local-Local Dialogues on Women in Urban Governance to further highlight the need to work with women to promote and acknowledge women's participation and role in urban governance. Amongst issues highlighted at the region-wide events includes:

  • Equity and equality of participation of women as well as men in decision-making, not only within local authorities themselves, but also within a concerted and continuous dialogues between civil society and local governments.
  • Transparency and accountability to civil society especially women living in poverty within the society.
  • Effective partnerships which mean commitment to power and putting resources behind those who are most effected in order to ensure their participation. It requires deliberate effort on all sides, both in terms of power sharing and recognizing and working on equitable resource allocation.
  • Participation of women working in various sectors in the dialogue so as to understand their role in promoting good urban governance.

Principles of good governance do not necessarily link to or recognise issues of women living in urban poor communities. The framework of governance needs to be enriched by feedback from community practice in which the role that women play is highlighted and the mantle of invisibility removed. Urban governance issues such as transport, infrastructure, housing and basic services and the planning process around these issues excludes, poor communities and women. These issues are not seen as gender issues, or viewed through the gender lens for that matter

  • Women and Community Participation - Women and their capacity to operate collectively for public good are taken for granted by society but rarely supported and assisted or nurtured. Urban governance structures do not allow for easy access to information, and therefore informed participation by women and poor communities. Community consultation exercises held by international, national and local institutions are often insincere consultations in that they seek to legitimize top down planning. New forms of broad-based consultations with the private and public sectors often tend to ignore the people's sector. Participation of women's groups at the planning and design stages of housing, basic services and infrastructure in cities is not seen as important. Devolution of power within cities, at the level of divisions and wards, again does not necessarily lead to the inclusion of poor communities and the women amongst them.
  • Urban planning processes - At the level of cities, urban planning, more often than not, involves professionals, the majority of whom are men. Bottom up planning or planning by communities is not the norm in urban planning; therefore, issues of women and urban poor communities are invisible. Top down planning has also meant lack of ownership of basic services and infrastructure, resulting in misuse of human resources and public funds.
  • Women's settlements issues - In poor communities, which form over 50% of the population of many cities, women continue to subsidise and provide basic services such as child care, health care, drinking water and sanitation to families and communities. This reduces their involvement in public roles. Safety and security of women and children in poor communities is fast becoming a crucial issue in the face of rising violence in cities. Women's priorities in sectors such as transport, roads and drainage, water supply and sanitation need to be highlighted as they are important end users, and measures taken to reduce the drudgery and problems faced due to lack of/ inadequate services. Privatisation of services by municipal authorities has resulted in the distancing of services to poor groups and reduced access for women to key areas such as health services, education, child care, etc. Women's groups face legal barriers in formalising their work in the areas of credit, income generation, etc. Lack of land /house titles and security of tenure, increases the vulnerability of poor women, especially those in women-headed households.
  • Alternate forms of governance - Peoples' organisations, women's groups and co-operatives belong to the people's sector; they have evolved self-help and collective ways of working to tackle key problems faced such as lack of housing, credit, basic services, etc. These organisations and movements represent new forms of democratic participation and governance. Specific issues are: - Lack of recognition of community initiatives as a way of solving problems faced by cities - Legal barriers faced by self-help groups and organisations - Contracts in the area of housing and infrastructure awarded by municipal authorities are serious barriers for participation of women and community groups

Provisional Agenda

  • Brief Introduction of TUGI and AWAS
  • Presentation on the findings of the Dialogues.
  • Lessons learned - The Asian Experience
  • Other Experiences - Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America.
  • Mainstreaming the Dialogues

All participants of the Istanbul+5 Special Session are encouraged to attend.


For more information, please contact :
Sri Husnaini Sofjan at
or Jonas Rabinovitch at





2001 UNCHS