As the world marked International Women’s Day, UN-HABITAT Executive Director Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka hailed the achievements made by womenfolk but called for a thought for those in the developing countries’ cities without access to basic services or adequate shelter.
In a message sent from the UN-HABITAT headquarters in Nairobi, Mrs. Tibaijuka lamented that land and property ownership laws in some countries were still discriminatory against women and called for an urgent redress over the issue.
“Approximately half a billion women and girls live in slums, the vast majority in Asia and Africa. Although slum life is difficult for both men and women in many low-income informal settlements, women bear a disproportionate labour and health burden of providing water to their families,” she said.
According to the Executive Director, in slums where there are few or no sanitation facilities, women’s health and safety is often is severely compromised. Women and children were also particularly vulnerable when forced evictions take place; incidents of rape and killing of evictees is common in many places, she said, adding that women also bore the responsibility of ensuring that children are safe during and after the eviction.
On the discriminatory laws, Mrs. Tibaijuka said the worst hit were widows and daughters whose ownership to property was not recognized, thus making it more difficult the women’s ability to escape poverty or to improve their shelter situation.
“While an increasing number of countries are beginning to recognize women’s equal rights to land and property, thus complying with international human rights standards and obligations, discrimination in customary and personal law matters is still permitted in many countries’ constitutions,” she said.
As the world looked back at the achievements of women in the past year, Mrs. Tibaijuka said, it was imperative to ensure that the achievements are not hindered by deteriorating living conditions in cities and discriminatory laws that have the net effect increasing poverty among women living in both urban and rural areas.
"As we observe and celebrate International women's day, 2006, let us work diligently to achieve the MDG target 3 on gender equality from the perspective of implementing the Habitat Agenda, namely, adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements,” the Executive Director noted.
She said shelter provision was central to the achievement of the MDG. “After all, is not often said by some that women should be in homes? If this position were to be agreed, and I am not saying it should, we would still need to remind ourselves that women cannot be in homes that do not exist and that are not safe and secure!” she said.
Mrs. Tibaijuka added: As we contemplate on all such challenges, I wish all women, especially those in the slums and shanties of our world a good day, despite the challenges that you face. UN-HABITAT will continue to work hard to deliver the dreams that have continued to elude us for so long".