Dynamic Urban Policies for Women, Families, Yield Dynamic Cities for Everyone, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Metropolis Women International Network Forum

22 October 2009

Dynamic Urban Policies for Women, Families, Yield Dynamic Cities for Everyone, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Metropolis Women International Network Forum

22 October 2009
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Dynamic Urban Policies for Women, Families, Yield Dynamic Cities for Everyone,


Deputy Secretary-General Tells Metropolis Women International Network Forum


Following are the remarks by Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro delivered to the Second Metropolis Women International Network Forum “Dynamic Cities Need Women:  Visions and Challenges for a Women-Friendly City”, in Seoul today:

It is a privilege to represent the United Nations at this important event.

I thank the Metropolis Women International Network for organizing this Forum.  I also congratulate the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the Seoul Foundation of Women and Family for their important work.

I have just arrived here in Seoul from Kigali, in Rwanda, where I had the honour to meet with the female Speaker and other Members of Parliament.  I can tell you that I speak to you today more than ever convinced that women’s empowerment takes both visionary political leadership, and, importantly, the dedicated participation of women in the legislative and executive branches of societies.

Today, half the world’s people live in urban areas.  With increasing urbanization, the world population is expected to be 70 per cent urban by 2050.

One billion people around the world currently live in slums and informal settlements.  If trends hold, this number will double by 2030.

That’s the demographic challenge.  But it is hardly the only one.

Climate change, the financial and economic crisis, conflict and migration are all having a profound impact on urban areas.

These are daunting challenges.  Yet the ideas and initiatives that bring us together today can help us address them and others, too.

The title of the Forum puts it right:  “Dynamic cities need women”.

I would only add that women and families need dynamic gender equality policies ‑‑ policies that take into account women’s priorities and contributions to urban development and management.

Global policy commitments such as the Beijing Platform for Action and the Habitat Agenda have highlighted this important fact.  So have the Millennium Development Goals.  The seventh Millennium Development Goal, to “ensure environmental sustainability”, includes a specific target on improving the lives of slum dwellers.

We know that cities can offer many advantages to meet the diverse needs of women.  Indeed, more and more women migrate to cities in search of work, in their own countries or abroad, with their families or independently.

Yet, women face significant challenges.  Urban poverty can negate the potential advantages of cities for women.

What can we do about it?  Today I would like to focus on five specific policy areas where dynamic gender equality policies can truly build more dynamic cities.

First, water.  Many poor city dwellers do not have adequate access to water and sanitation.  This disproportionately affects women because of their roles in collecting and managing water supplies in the home.  Location, type of water facilities, and pricing policies, all have direct consequences for women.  Yet far too often, they are not a part of decision-making.  A situation which must change.

Experience has shown that women’s involvement in management committees improves service and levels of payment.  It also makes sanitation systems more socially and culturally responsive and increases the sense of ownership.

Second, transportation.  In many cities, women are responsible for a disproportionate share of household transport burdens.  At the same time, they have more limited access.  Women depend more heavily on walking or on public transport, and women use transport differently because of the gender division of labour.

For example, women are more likely to travel in off-peak periods and to be accompanied by others when taking children to school or taking older or infirm relatives to hospitals or clinics.  Transport planning must focus explicitly on such patterns and needs.

Third, housing and the use of public space.  Overcrowded and unhealthy living conditions provide a breeding ground for respiratory infections, intestinal diseases, meningitis and tuberculosis.  In addition, without adequate housing, employment is difficult to secure, health is threatened, education is impeded and violence against women is more easily perpetrated.

Local authorities can play an important role in facilitating equitable access to adequate housing.  They can provide low-cost housing to the urban poor; offer tax incentives for developers to build affordable housing units; subsidize low-income family rentals through grants; and support collective arrangements, such as cooperative housing.

In urban areas, women from low-income households are more often found toiling in the informal sector, often in or near the home.  The “privatization” of urban space ‑‑ such as through the expansion of shopping malls and “gated” residential communities ‑‑ can have dramatic effects on the livelihoods of those engaged in small-scale enterprises.

Urban developers should understand the needs of all users of public space in order to ensure a fair allocation of space and a more collaborative approach to its development.  One positive example can be found in the upgrading of market facilities in Liberia, after years of war.  Now, following a needs-survey carried out by the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund, new markets will be constructed, existing ones will be improved, and prioritized services ‑‑ including crèches and literacy classes ‑‑ will be provided to women traders.

Challenge number four is safety and security.  Violence against women and girls is a tragically common feature of urban life.  Cities can be made safer through better street lighting, increased lighting in parking lots and parks, and more secure locations for bus stops, public toilets, markets, schools and other essential facilities and services.

Women’s safety audits are an innovative means to improve women’s involvement in city design and planning.  In a pilot programme in India’s four largest cities, eight new commuter trains are reserved exclusively for female passengers.  In New York, subway cars display signs that read: “Sexual harassment is a crime”.  UNIFEM [the United Nations Development Fund for Women] and UN-Habitat [the United Nations Human Settlements Programme] are testing a global model for safer cities.  And the Secretary-General continues to press his system-wide campaign, Unite to End Violence against Women.

The fifth and final challenge ‑‑ participation ‑‑ underlies all the rest.  Women are still far from being equitably represented in political and administrative decision-making in cities.  As a result, institutions, facilities and services are not always conceived with women’s needs, priorities and contributions in mind.

Women’s representation and participation in urban planning and management is not just a matter of efficiency and effectiveness.  It is a human rights and citizenship concern.  The absence of women from decision-making undermines democracy.  While participation has been increasing steadily, serious challenges remain, and the pace of change is far too slow.

Bringing a gender perspective into urban planning and management requires the engagement of local councils and a range of professionals, including urban planners, architects, transport specialists, city engineers and the police.  All these actors need to understand the importance of women’s full participation and the ways to achieve this, including through the use of gender-sensitive planning guidelines and tools.

Regional and global women’s associations such as yours carry out tremendously valuable efforts to promote gender-sensitive urban governance.  You bring different constituencies together.  You have an important influence on public policy.

Such engagement is a matter of fairness, justice and simple common sense.  The integration of a gender approach into policy, planning, management and budget processes makes local development more equitable.  It also makes these processes more effective.

It is abundantly clear that dynamic urban policies for women and families will yield dynamic cities for one and all.

As world leaders themselves declared at the 2005 United Nations World Summit:  “Progress for women is progress for all”.

Thank you once again for coming together to empower women and power cities into the twenty-first century.

I wish you all the best in your deliberations and I trust that the outcomes will immensely contribute to making cities more dynamic and responsive to the needs and rights of women.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.