In a side panel on “Harnessing the Potential of Public Space for Women and Youth” organized by UN Women, in collaboration with UN-Habitat, on September 18 at the United Nations Headquarters, the panel sought to enhance awareness and consensus on key priority areas of women and youth in public space that should be integral to the post 2015 development framework, the New Urban Agenda, and Habitat III.

The panelists were Mr. Ahmad Alhendawi, the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth; Ms. Lakshmi Puri, Assistant-Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women; Ms. Aisa Kacyira, Assistant-Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN-Habitat; and Ms. Janice Peterson, Chair of Huairou Commission.

“Public space is a human right” said UN Youth Envoy, Ahmad Alhendawi, “I believe that public space should follow three A’s—it must be available, accessible and acceptable.”

Ms. Lakshmi Puri from UN Women added: “Affordable.”

UN Youth Envoy, Ahmad Alhendawi, said that “The ultimate vision of any city should be to build society. Cities should be planned for people who live there, not just for visitors. Citizen participation in planning is important as helps create invested engagement.”

In her remarks, Aisa Kacyira from UN-Habitat asked attendees, “How can we talk about democracy and sustainable urbanization without involving youth and women?”

Panelists discussed the importance of public space in in empowering women and youth globally. Ownership of public spaces, including parks, streets and malls were central to panelists as key factors in social inclusion.

Ms. Aisa Kacyira shared that in many communities globally, youth don’t believe that public spaces are available and women feel fearful of entering into spaces when they are available.

Janice Peterson, Chair of Huairou Commission, believes that a more integrated approach to development is needed in which United Nations agencies should be viewed as partners to help expand and transfer grassroots work of women and civil society.

The panel concluded with a unanimous voice around the idea that sustainable urban planning should be inclusive of citizens—namely women and youth. For women and youth particularly, the panel acknowledged that public space presents opportunities for empowerment through participation and entrepreneurship.