Statement by Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka
Executive Director of UN-HABITAT
Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations
on the occasion of the
Gender Equality Action Plan Partner
Sunday 29 March 2009
Ladies and Gentleman:
It is a privilege to address you today on the eve of our 22nd Governing Council. I am delighted that you are standing by us at this important occasion. I am delighted also see Jan Peterson, Chair, Huairou Commission, and Ms. Sylvia Kinigi, the former Prime Minister of Burundi, in this distinguished audience.
Gender equality and women’s rights and empowerment are pivotal components of sustainable urbanisation in the face of the current economic, financial, and food crises, not to forget the increasingly frightening ravages of climate change.
I want to thank you for joining hands with UN-HABITAT in strengthening gender equality programmes in the area of housing and urban development. I thank you also for taking the trouble to come here this weekend to consolidate your involvement in our agency’s new Gender Equality Action Plan. I know how far many of you have travelled to be here with us today and I thank you all for going that extra mile.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
As you know, the combined impact of rapid urbanization, climate change and globalization is resulting in increasing inequalities, which pose enormous social, economic and environmental challenges. One of our major concerns at the United Nations is the plight of the estimated one billion women, men and children who live in slums. One out of every six human beings is currently deprived of the most basic amenities, such as water, sanitation, security of tenure, durable housing and sufficient living space.
Needless to say, if these trends are not addressed and reversed, the slum crisis will continue to be yet another threat in the long list of threats to global peace and security.
Under the Millennium Development Goals, we are mandated by world leaders to achieve a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. I tell you this because already, the United Nations has calculated that the financial crisis with high and volatile food and energy prices, has pushed at least 100 million people around the world back into poverty.
How many of you in this audience are aware that right here in our host country Kenya, the rains have failed, and the food crisis is affecting 10 million people. Drought has affected food production in many areas and shortages have seen food prices soar. Women make great sacrifices to help their families to stave off hunger. That can mean skipping meals to allow their children to eat or deciding not to spend money on transport and fees to see a doctor, even if the clinic is free. Some women and girls are even selling sex for food.
Go to any shopping centre and you will see for yourself the charities asking shoppers to donate food. Daily the overcrowded slums of Nairobi are seeing more and more drought refugees coming in from the countryside.
Many of them are women and the hungry children they support. Even when times are good, exercising their rights are one of the biggest problems faced by women, and especially those living in poverty. Whether it comes to securing a loan to building or renovate the home, or obtaining title to inherited property, women always have more trouble.
These are just some of the reasons why gender equality is everybody’s business. Never forget that women’s rights are human rights. The success of the Gender Equality Action Plan depends on collaborative efforts between UN-HABITAT and our partners at the global, national and community levels. This includes other UN entities, regional networks, local authorities, academic and training institutions, NGOs and grassroots organisations.
From outset we have developed the Gender Equality Action Plan with our partners many of whom attended our special meeting at the fourth session of the World Urban Forum in Nanjing, China last November, and a review of the Plan in January.
You are our eyes and ears and you help to make us accountable. Your voices are our voices!
The International Labour Organisation pointed out that women are in a weaker position than men to weather the economic crisis. Women have lower employment rates, and even when they do have jobs they usually earn less than men.
These issues cannot be separated from the urban agenda, whether we are talking about protecting women from homelessness and evictions, ensuring low-income women have equal access to affordable housing, or looking for new, more sustainable approaches to housing finance. These are just a few examples, but as the recession continues to filter through from developed countries to developing countries, we need to be vigilant in ensuring that women’s rights and priorities are given special attention in urban development.
In the face of these challenges, our approach to gender equality needs to be strategic and systematic. This is partly why the Gender Equality Action Plan places such a great emphasis on cooperation and partnerships that pool together strengths of different organisations.
Here are some examples.
Firstly, we are working in partnership with the United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) and researchers from the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA), the Asia Institute of Technology, and other universities to undertake a global assessment on the status of women’s empowerment and gender mainstreaming in local governance. The findings of this research will help us and our partners during the implementation of the Gender Equality Action Plan.
As a second example, UN-HABITAT is finalising a Memorandum of Understanding with UNIFEM to strengthen our partnership in relation to the UNIFEM-led Global Programme on Safe Cities Free of Violence against Women. Other areas of collaboration will include broader issues of good governance, women’s empowerment, political participation and gender-responsive budgeting.
Thirdly, we have encouraged member countries to establish women land access trusts as vehicles for helping women to acquire land and housing in their own right, overcoming traditional prejudices and discrimination in accessing housing finance.
At UN-HABITAT, we are committed to strengthening gender equality and women empowerment and we are counting on our partners to work with us in improving the status of men and women in towns and cities around the world.
I would like to end by inviting you all to the Governing Council Sessions, especially the dialogue on the special theme for the Governing Council on financing affordable housing in the face of climate change.