Delegates from around the world gathered at UN-HABITAT Headquarters Nairobi on Tuesday for an Expert Group meeting on Gender and Women’s issues in Human Settlements to ensure that problems facing women and children are not overlooked as governments make new efforts to improve the lives of urban slum dwellers. The three-day meeting was organised by UN-HABITAT with financial support from Norway.
Ms. Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda, Regional Director of UNIFEM, who chaired the meeting, welcomed participants from all over the world. Ms. Lucia Kiwala, Chief of UN-HABITAT’s Gender Mainstreaming Unit explained that the objectives of the meeting were to examine critical gender issues in human settlements and identify priority areas for action at the regional, national and local levels. She hoped the meeting would propose mechanisms to monitor the impact of human settlement policies and programmes on the lives and work of women in cities, especially those in low-income areas and slums. The meeting would also explore new ways of strengthening women's networks and other organisations working in this area. She maintained that despite various commitments by governments, much remained to be done to make a real impact on the lives of women in the area of human settlements.
Mr. Daniel Biau, Acting Deputy Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, said the organisation was committed to empowering urban women through housing development and land rights. As women and children constitute the majority of the urban poor, there is an urgent need to address the increasing feminisation of poverty. “The significant challenge faced by all of us involved in promoting the Millennium Development Targets on water and sanitation, and improving the lives of the least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020 is to ensure that gender equality and women's needs are sufficiently addressed", he said referring to Target 11 of Millennium Development Goal No. 7.
In her keynote address, Critical Gender and Women's Issues in Human Settlement: Policy Implications, Constraints and Strategies for Action, Ms. Jo Beall from the Development Studies Institute of the London School of Economics, challenged the experts to look at the urban question, which lies at the heart of emerging political agendas.
The growing centrality of the urban issue is evidenced in the fact that the decentralisation of state power and the restructuring of local government have been at the forefront of international development policy and institutional reform over the last decades,” she said. “However, the role of women in local authorities is still insignificant."
Mr. Miloon Kothari, UN special rapporteur on housing rights told the participants at the opening session that while women's right to housing has received recognition from all the international instruments, few governments have implemented these recommendations. The situation is compounded by the impact of globalisation on housing policies that directly affects women and children.With the rapid rate of urbanisation, exacerbated by a growing exodus of people from the countryside attracted to towns and cities, the main casualties are usually women and children who form the majority of the urban poor.
Ms. Unni Ramboll, gender adviser at the Norwegian foreign ministry which sponsored the gathering, praised the active role UN-HABITAT has played in bringing gender issues to the fore in human settlement development. Referring to the failure of governments to reach consensus on the right of women to own land at last year’s World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, she reminded the delegates that a lot of work was required for women to enjoy their full human rights.
Women and representatives of NGOs working with the urban poor in the slums of Nairobi will also testify at the meeting.
Since the 1980s, UN-HABITAT has promoted gender issues and also supported women’s networks through the establishment of its Women in Human Settlement Development Programme, and later, the creation its Gender Policy Unit following the adoption of UN-HABITAT 's Gender Policy in 1996.