Compared to rural areas, cities generally offer women more diverse work opportunities to increase financial independence, greater ease in accessing education at different levels, better access to healthcare, more chances to socialise outside the home, more opportunities for filling community or political leadership roles and, perhaps most importantly, more possibilities to redefine traditional roles about men and women.
But there is much work to do to turn these potential benefits into realities for women. More than half the world’s population now lives in cities, but women and girls still make up three-fifths of the world’s one billion poorest people. Women are also underrepresented in decision making, especially in public administration, the private sector and politics. They make up only 18 per cent of parliamentarians and 20 per cent of local councillors worldwide.
Nowhere are the inequalities facing urban woman more clear than in slums and informal settlements, where the picture around the world is almost invariably of women experiencing the greatest degrees of poverty, reproductive health risks, sexual threats and violence, as well as the worst barriers to education, employment, housing, and basic services like water and sanitation.
These are just a few examples of gender issues affecting housing and urban development:
- Women own less of the world’s private land than men, as little as 2% according to some estimates.
- A woman’s right to land and housing is often linked to marital property and inheritance rights, and subject to cultural and traditional practices.
- Poor urban design choices, such as poor street lighting and secluded underground walkways can make women more at risk of violence and sexual attacks in public spaces.
- Girls in many areas of informal settlements fail to attend school, particularly after the onset of puberty, when separate toilet facilities for boys and girls are not available.
- Women and girls are most often tasked with collecting water, and in informal settlements sharing a water supply with more than 200 households is not unusual, making water collection a laborious and time-consuming task that can impede education and employment.
- Even though women have more opportunities for work in urban areas, they still typically earn less than men, partly because they are concentrated in low-paying jobs and sometimes because they are paid less for the same work.
UN-HABITAT’s work helps to make cities develop sustainably, with effective and inclusive services that benefit all residents. An important component of this is gender equality. This is why we strive to improve women’s rights, promote equal participation in decision-making, and develop services that benefit women and men equally in all our programmes.