Address by Lakshmi Puri at the Gender Equality Action Assembly (GEAA): “Fostering Economic Empowerment in Cities”

Date: Sunday, September 2, 2012

Address by Lakshmi Puri at the Gender Equality Action Assembly (GEAA):“Fostering Economic Empowerment in Cities. Sunday, 2 September 2012.

[Check against delivery]

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Friends and colleagues,

Good morning

I would like to thank UN-Habitat, the Huairou Commission, all partners here - my sisters and brothers who are working together to advance gender equality and women's empowerment for a more sustainable urban future.

Our partnership with UN-Habitat is strong and we are making great strides ahead in incorporating gender perspectives in the urban development agenda.

Women's rights organizations and civil society as a whole, which inspired the creation of UN Women, continue to be our friends, visionaries, and guides.

I welcome the focus of this Assembly in “Fostering Economic Empowerment in Cities". UN Women has made women's economic empowerment a priority and we are looking forward to sharing experiences in this area.

Gender equality and women's empowerment and the urban future are inextricably linked. Not only because women are moving in greater numbers to cities, but also because the city provides many opportunities for self-realization.

However, more often than not, these dreams fall short. More than half the world's population is referred to as the “homo urbanus" and of this population, more than half are women and girls, with a high percentage living in urban slums. Millions of women are struggling in the informal sector with day to day survival strategies and often lack the most basic assets to be able to live in dignity. As urban citizens, women become more dependent on income-generating activities and a monetized economy than in rural areas.

Many women are seeking basic levels of income through home-based micro enterprises, domestic work, street vending and waste picking. Data from South Africa show that 66 percent of women street traders in Johannesburg are the only breadwinner in their families.

Land and housing are critical issues for women's economic empowerment. Without access to land and other assets, women's access to financial services also remains limited. The home is often used by entrepreneurs and street vendors as one of their central point for running their business. Thus, limited housing or slum dwelling have serious implications for women's engagement in business.

The economic crisis has had a particular impact on women with limited income and assets and low profit margins when, for example, the costs of public goods and services increase, such as for electricity, gas and transport.

So how do we develop cities in which women can prosper economically? We already have many good examples of cities that have taken steps to promote sustainable women friendly cities. One such example is Seoul in the Republic of Korea, which has developed a certification process of women-friendly workplaces. They conduct women's safety audits, which identify unsafe spaces and envision solutions that are sometimes simple. For example, Seoul has created create women-friendly restrooms, streets, and parking lots.

UN Women, in collaboration with UN Habitat, has developed a Safe Cities Initiative. We are working with city officials in Cairo, New Delhi, Kigali, Quito and Port Moreseby to make these cities safer for women and girls. A key element of these initiatives is their integrated and holistic approach to urban planning and budgeting, and partnerships built between a range of actors, including government, grassroots women, youth, private sector, UN Agencies, etc. Women and girls are involved as key actors in the city economy and need to supported to drive and promote prosperous and sustainable cities.

UN Women does not only place an important focus on creating strong norms and standards in the area of gender equality and women's empowerment. We also aim at translating these norms and standards into national and municipal-level laws and practice. We are beginning to develop a UN system-wide framework for women's economic empowerment to bring the UN system together on this important matter. UN Habitat and the Global Urban Development Agenda will be a central partner in this endeavor.

UN Women is promoting women's economic rights and access to productive assets, their economic opportunities and their active participation in economic decision making.

UN Women is also in the process of establishing an online platform “the Knowledge Gateway on Women's Economic Empowerment" with communities of practice on a range of economic empowerment issues. Here again, we hope that women's economic empowerment in cities will be an important issue featured on this website.

More of such initiatives will be needed to ensure the development of sustainable cities around the world.

Sustainable cities and human settlements was a key thematic area of the Rio+20 Conference. A key aspect for women's economic empowerment in the outcome of the conference “The Future We Want" is the acknowledgement that urban planning benefits from the involvement of multiple stakeholders as well as from full use of information and data disaggregated by sex.

Municipal governments play an important role in setting a vision of sustainability - from the initiation of city planning through to the revitalization of older cities and neighborhoods. This includes for example enhancing access to energy, transport, safe and green urban spaces, safe and clean drinking water and sanitation, healthy air quality, generation of decent jobs and improved planning and slum upgrading, social protection and engendering the provision and expansion of child care.

These are all critical elements for promoting women's economic empowerment. Other key elements include increasing public awareness and participation of urban residents in all their diversity in decision making, and the adoption of policies that support inclusive housing and social services, and a safe and healthy living environment for women and for all.

So, what are the next steps in leading up to Rio+20? Rio+20 recognized the importance and utility of a set of sustainable development goals and that these gals need to be addressed and incorporate all the three dimensions (economic, social, environment) in a balanced way and coherent and integrated with the post 2015 development agenda.

UN Women is advocating for a stand- alone Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality and women's empowerment, as well as gender sensitive targets and indicators in all other goals. Among the suggested Sustainable Development Goals are Sustainable Cities and Sustainable Human Settlements. It is critical that these goals include gender perspectives and become instrumental in promoting women's empowerment.

A critical contribution to the post 2015 agenda and the SDGs would be to develop concrete targets and indicators for measuring women's empowerment in cities. Time use surveys can improve our understanding of how women are using their time on domestic and unpaid chores, how far they have to walk to access clean water, energy, and essential services, and how much time they spend on paid employment.

I would like to invite you to UN Women's website and consult our signature publication for Rio+20 “The Future Women Want: A Vision of Sustainable Development For All".

It highlights some key issues of gender equality and women's empowerment in the context of sustainable cities.

Let us all envision the Urban Future Women and Girls Want and discuss what effective measures may be needed to make that happen. We can use the efforts made in some cities already and the discussions we will have today and during the World Urban Forum as an inspiration for action.

Thank you.