Remarks by John Hendra at a side event on “Gender equality, women’s empowerment and the realization of youth rights: opportunities for the new urban agenda”

Remarks by John Hendra, UN Women Deputy Executive Director Policy and Programme, at a side event on “Gender equality, women’s empowerment and the realization of youth rights: opportunities for the new urban agenda”, organized by the ECOSOC Integration Segment: Sustainable Urbanisation, New York, 28 May 2014.

Date: Friday, May 30, 2014

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Distinguished Panelists, Delegates, Civil Society, Gender Activists, 

My name is John Hendra, and I am Deputy Executive Director for Policy and Programme at UN Women. On behalf of UN Women and UN Habitat I’m very pleased to be chairing this important side event today, and would like to warmly welcome all of you to this panel discussion. I’d also like to acknowledge and thank Ms. Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, Deputy Executive Director and Assistant Secretary-General of UN-Habitat, who we have worked closely with to convene this panel today.

This is a very timely discussion.  Just last week, UN Women launched a year-long celebration of, and reflection on, the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. And in April, at the Seventh World Urban Forum held in Medellin, Columbia, the Gender Equality Action Assembly commemorated the urban agenda of the Beijing Platform for Action as it turns 20.  

The World Urban Forum (WUF7), and its outcome document – The Medellin Declaration – highlighted the importance of addressing inequality to ensure that the challenges of cities can be better addressed. In this context, all of the critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action remain as deeply relevant today as they were in 1995, to our efforts to build sustainable, equitable cities. As we commemorate 20 years of the Beijing Platform for Action, there is increasing recognition, not only that women, young people and grass roots organizations play a critical role in advancing sustainable development, but also that gender equality is a precondition for successful implementation of the new urban agenda. 

And as Member States negotiate the new post-2015 development agenda, we’re also seeing growing recognition that a new generation of sustainable development goals must be universal, transformative, and firmly anchored in the principles of human rights.  We’re hearing a strong call for a post-2015 agenda that aims high, that is bold and ambitious, and that really sets out to transform the structural inequality, gender-based discrimination, and unequal power relations between women and men, that underpin and perpetuate gender inequality, and that ultimately impede progress towards all development goals.   

The Open Working Group, tasked with developing Sustainable Development Goals, has identified 16 potential focus areas, which Member States are currently reviewing. Member States have recognized the importance of gender equality and women’s empowerment, and have included a stand-alone focus area, with robust targets, in the current working draft.  

UN Women is pleased to see the inclusion of many of the critical gender issues that were missing from the MDGs, including ending all forms of discrimination and violence, women’s access to, and control over, assets and resources, ending child, early and forced marriage, more equal distribution of unpaid care work responsibilities, and sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights included in this draft. 

However, to really achieve gender equality, and the human rights of all women and girls, we need to not only have a strong, stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment, we also need to ensure robust integration of gender equality in all other goal areas. And this remains uneven. That’s why UN Women is advocating for the inclusion of gender sensitive targets and indicators in other focus areas, including focus area 10 on “building inclusive, safe and sustainable cities and human settlements”. We would like to see several of the targets in this focus area strengthened from a gender equality perspective, in particular:

  • Target A: By 2030, ensure universal access to adequate and affordable housing and basic services for all women and men, and eliminate slum-like conditions everywhere;
  • Target B: By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport for all women and men, improve road safety and urban air quality, and 
  • Target F: by 2030 enhance social cohesion and personal security, and ensure universal access to inclusive and safe public spaces, especially for women and girls  

This is critical, because gender equality and sustainable, equitable urban development are inextricably interlinked. Women’s access to essential social services, to employment opportunities, to safety and freedom from violence, all depend on having inclusive, safe and sustainable cities. And urban environments cannot and will not be fully equitable, safe and sustainable without gender equality and the full participation of women and girls.

Young people’s participation and development is also a crucial issue for the post-2015 development agenda. Currently there are 1.8 billion young people globally – the biggest youth population the world has ever known. And of course, half of these young people are female.  

Young people participated very actively in the 11 global thematic and 90 national consultations held around the world supported by the UN Development Group. Young people are calling for decent jobs. They are calling for a decent education – and not just for equal access to education but also for quality education. They are worried about the sustainability of the environment and the damage that is being done to the planet. They are very concerned about insecurity and all forms of violence including violence against women and children. And they are calling for justice, equality and an end to discrimination and exclusion. 

It’s critically important that young people continue to have a say in the process of developing, implementing and monitoring the post-2015 agenda, because it is young people who will inherit the post-2015 world. And, as the urban population increases, it is young people in cities that will be an ever more dynamic force for change. 

In the context of our discussion today, it’s also vital that we address inequalities in urban settings, in particular in urban slums, where women, young people and children, are especially vulnerable to violence, are concentrated in low-paid and vulnerable work, lack access to social protection, and are unable to participate on an equal footing in decision-making at all levels.  Because as long as parts of the population remain excluded from enjoying equal access to urban services, the overall development of cities, and urban equity, will be constrained.  

Looking forward, we need an integrated, inclusive urban agenda, where gender equality, young people’s rights and inclusive, equitable and sustainable urban development come together to ensure that the benefits of modern cities, the economies of scale they offer in addressing poverty and inequality, health and education, and social protection are truly available to all.  

The third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in 2016 will be the first international conference after the adoption of the new post-2015 development agenda. It’s very much my hope that we will see a very strong, gender-sensitive goal on cities and urban development in the new generation of goals, and that Habitat III will give us an opportunity to build on that, to ensure that cities are truly equitable and sustainable, and that the important role and contributions of women and young people to the urban development agenda are fully recognized.

The panel discussion can be viewed online here: