A gathering of countries at the United Nations this week which approved the platform for action for women at the historic Beijing conference 10 years ago was urged to do more for the plight of millions of women mired in poverty in urban slums around the world.
“Women today constitute 70 percent of the poorest of the poor in the world, in spite of the actions undertaken by governments, non-governmental organizations, community based groups and the international community since the first Women’s World Conference in Mexico in 1975,” said Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT. “Although progress has been recorded in a number of areas the struggle for gender equality and women’s empowerment continues.”
In an address marking International Women’s Day to the 49th Session of the Commission of the Status of Women at the United Nations, she recounted the grim deaths of two children in a fire in a Nairobi slum called Huruma. They had been left alone in their shack while their single mother had gone to look for a job. The place was set alight when they tried to light a fire to cook some food. The neighbours were unable to help because there was no water supply to help douse the flames. Their plight, she said spelled out the grim reality and hardships faced by many women and children living in slums and informal settlement around the world.
“Against this grim back-drop, I would like to draw your attention to sustainable human settlements development, which has not received the adequate attention that it deserves in the last decade,” she said. “It is my conviction that the battle for achieving the strategic objectives of the Beijing Platform for Action, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and the Millennium Development Goals should be fought in human settlements where people live - in our cities, towns and villages. It is at this level that pro-poor policies and global commitments are translated into reality. It is here that local actions must and can deliver global goals. It is at this level that the benefits of all actions to reduce poverty will become visible.”
Efforts had to be made, Mrs. Tibaijuka said, to move beyond land policy and law reform, to improving the laws of succession and inheritance which continued to disadvantage women even when progressive land and property rights had been enacted. Customary tenure continued to deny women the right to inherit land and property in matrimonial homes. It meant the only way for women to own land was to buy it. In many places, she added, women had taken to prostitution to raise money to buy land and thereafter become “respectable farmers” or landladies.
“These are the realities of our time – 10 years after Beijing,” she said.