Putting gender equality at the heart of the New Urban Agenda


A woman in Quito, Ecuador. Photo: UN Women
Photo: UN Women

Conference coverage |Women and the New Urban Agenda |Publication

UN Women at Habitat III

In the early 1990s, just over 42 per cent of people were living in urban areas. Today, more than 54 per cent of the global population are urban dwellers and in 2030, that percentage is expected to rise to 60 per cent [1]. Sustainable development must ensure a roadmap for sustainable cities.

Against this backdrop, from 17 – 20 October, Habitat III, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development will take place in Quito, Ecuador. The last time there was a Conference of this nature was in 1996, the second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, in Istanbul. Governments, civil society, private sector and UN representatives and experts from around the world will convene at Habitat III to garner renewed political commitment for sustainable urban development, assess accomplishments and emerging challenges and adopt the New Urban Agenda—a robust, action-oriented outcome document which will set global standards in sustainable urban development, rethinking the way we build, manage, and live in cities.

The conference itself is practising the principles of gender equality by creating a gender-sensitive space and helping participants balance their professional work and parenthood. For example, two child care facilities managed by professionals have been set up—one at the conference venue and another at the Convention Centre. Parents attending the conference can leave their children in these facilities for two hours free of charge. The conference venue also includes diaper changing units.

While the movement to cities plays a critical role in accelerating development, particularly in generating economic growth, it has had less success in other areas, including advancing gender equality. Today, the majority of women in urban settlements continue to face multiple challenges.

Women and girls often fear and experience sexual violence and other forms of violence, which affects their everyday lives and restricts their freedom and use of the city and its public spaces. In London, a 2012 study revealed that 43 per cent of young women experienced some form of street harassment in 2011, and in Port Moresby, a scoping study by UN Women indicated that over 90 per cent of women and girls have experienced some form of sexual violence when accessing public transportation [2].

Often slums lack infrastructure and public services, including sexual and reproductive health infrastructure and facilities. For example, a recent analysis of Demographic and Health Survey data from 30 low- and middle-income countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America on access to maternal and newborn services for groups with different levels of poverty found that in some cases, maternal, newborn and child mortality rates in poor and marginalized urban sub-groups can be as high as, or even higher than among the rural poor [3].

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes the link between gender equality and urban sustainable development. The vision of SDG 11, which calls for making cities and urban settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, is intrinsically linked to SDG 5 on Gender Equality, and cannot be accomplished without addressing safe, inclusive and affordable housing, transportation, public spaces and public services for women and girls.

At Habitat III and processes leading up to it, UN Women strongly advocated and supported the development of the New Urban Agenda by placing women’s rights at its heart, encouraging all stakeholders to seize the opportunity to shape sustainable, gender-responsive and inclusive cities, and support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in its true spirit of inclusion and equality.

Conference Coverage

Ecuadorian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Guillaume Long, signs the HeForShe Commitent during a high-level discussion about the contributions of gender equality to development, in the margin of Habitat III Conference.Photo: UN Women/Martin Jaramillo Serrano
Photo: UN Women/Martin Jaramillo Serrano

Women and the New Urban Agenda

Ending violence against women, creating safe cities and safe public spaces

The New Urban Agenda calls for cities to be secure, positive, respectful and safe places for all people to live and work without fear of violence or intimidation. In line with this call, UN Women’s Global Flagship Initiative, “Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces,” which builds upon the “Safe Cities Free of Violence against Women and Girls” programme launched in 2010, is the first-ever global programme that develops, implements and evaluates tools, policies and comprehensive approaches on the prevention of and response to sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls across different settings.

Hacking to combat sexual harassment in Philippines
As part of UN Women’s Safe Cities Global Flagship Programme Initiative, the Metro Manila Programme held the first-ever hackathon in May 2016, to seek mobile technology solutions to sexual harassment and violence against women and girls in public spaces.

Bringing bus drivers on board against sexual harassment in Marrakesh
UN Women Morocco and private bus company ALSA is working to integrate the issue of sexual violence prevention in ALSA‘s drivers' training modules. Under the agreement bus and taxi drivers will be trained and sensitization videos on sexual harassment will be broadcast on the buses’ screens.

Quito: a city committed to preventing sexual harassment in public spaces
In collaboration with UN Women and many local stakeholders, such as grass-roots women and women’s organizations, public transportation systems, and media, the Municipality of Quito is committed to prevent and eradicate all forms of violence against women and girls, including sexual harassment in public spaces.

Economic empowerment

The New Urban Agenda commits to increasing economic productivity, employment and decent work for all, with special attention to the needs and potential of women. It recognizes the contribution of women in the informal economy, their unpaid and domestic work, and the work of migrant women. UN Women is working with partners to promote women’s economic empowerment, their ability to secure decent jobs, accumulate assets, and influence institutions and public policies determining growth and development.

As part of her first visit to Afghanistan, UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka took part in a graduation event with almost 50 young women who had gone through UN Women's internship programme. Photo: UNAMA/Fardin Waezi

Unlocking the potential of Afghan women
A programme by UN Women provides skills training and internship opportunities to young women graduates in Afghanistan to kick-start their careers.

Women entrepreneurs find hope in post-earthquake Ecuador
In Manabí, one of the provinces hardest-hit by the April earthquake, some 80 women now living in shelters recently took a UN Women skills-training workshop on business development, fuelling dreams of recovery. 

Central Asia Chairwoman

With sewing and sowing, self-reliance blooms in Central Asia
A regional migration programme ensures more than 5,000 families of migrant labourers in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have received training, resources and micro-credit loans to become self-reliant entrepreneurs.

Haidara Djeneba Sy. Photo: UN Women/Coumba Bah

From where I stand: Haidara Djeneba Sy
Haidara Djeneba Sy is a religious woman leader from Yirimadio (Bamako), Mali who became the first woman Vice President of the National Network of Malian Muslim Youth and works to empower women economically and sensitize them about their rights.

Leadership and governance and participatory cities

In line with the New Urban Agenda, as cities develop, UN Women has been working to ensure that women’s voices and needs are heard, that women participate equally in decision-making and development policies and efforts include a gender perspective. UN Women works to support women as key decision-making actors at all levels of life.

Women’s political participation gains momentum in Moldova
UN Women-UNDP collaboration with the government and the Parliament of Moldova contributed towards the adoption of a new law on 14 April, 2016, which for the first time, introduced gender quotas for party list candidates and cabinet nominees.

Lucía del Socorro Basante

From where I stand: Lucía del Socorro Basante
Lucía del Socorro Basante, is a lawyer and the only woman Councillor in Pasto, in the Department of Nariño, Colombia.

Local women in China after casting their vote for Village Committee election. Photo: ACWF.

Women gain political representation and leadership in rural China
Working at the grassroots level, a programme in the world’s most populous country successfully trained young women to run in local elections, and dismantled negative perceptions and discriminatory rules that hindered women’s political participation.

Members of the Uganda Women’s Situation Room, including eminent women of Uganda and Africa, at the official opening on 15 February 2016 at the Sheraton Hotel in Kampala. Photo: UN Women/Nadine Kamolleh.

Women’s Situation Room to contribute to the electoral process in Uganda
The Women’s Situation Room is an early warning and rapid response mechanism against violence arising before, during and after elections.

Gender and institutional development

As outlined in the New Urban Agenda, safe, inclusive and resilient cities need public services that are adequately distributed and that address the specific needs of traditionally marginalized constituencies, such as women and youth. In particular, the quality of public spaces shapes the character of a city. They can influence the patterns of crime and violence against women or enable women to exercise their human rights fully.

Cristina Francisco Reyes.

From where I stand: Cristina Francisco Reyes
Cristina Francisco Reyes, paraplegic since the age of 9, founded an NGO that advocates for the social inclusion, rights and equal access of women living with disabilities in the Dominican Republic, in all areas of life.

Women bringing up issues related to social housing during the public consultations in the Municipality of Fier. Photo: Rezart Xhelo

Local budgets in Albania respond to community feedback
A UN Women-led campaign results in Albania’s first-ever community budget consultations and brings immediate benefits to those in need.

Pelin Aslantaş, 43, is the only female bus driver in the city of Edirne, in north-western Turkey. Photo: UN Women/Gizem Yarbil

From where I stand: Pelin Aslantaş
Pelin Aslantaş, is the only female bus driver in the city of Edirne, Turkey, where UN Women provided gender-responsive budgeting training to the municipality so that when budgets are planned, they respond to the needs of all, men and women.

Sustainable cities, sustainable development

The New Urban Agenda commits to including women in sustainable development by ensuring that the physical and social infrastructure of cities, including water and sanitation, housing, energy, education, healthcare and communication technologies are responsive to the needs, rights and safety of urban women and girls.

Cambodia: Women protecting their properties
Over 120,000 people in Phnom Penh have been evicted from their homes since 1990. But women are fighting back. This video goes to the streets of Cambodia's capital to feature one story. UN Women is one among many agencies supporting land rights in Cambodia, particularly building on crucial work of our sister UN agency, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Sita Shrestha stands infront of community tab at Irkhu VDC-7 in Sindhupalchwok, Nepal. Photo: UN Women/N. Shrestha

From where I stand: Sita Shrestha
After a two-day training on leadership in Nepal, Sita Shrestha helped construct a tap and organize villagers to turn a natural water source into a public space they could share.

In Moroccan oases women watch plants and incomes grow
A group of women living in Moroccan oases have found a unique way to earn an income and mitigate the effects of climate change on their environment by cultivating medicinal and aromatic plants, using renewable energy.

Kimiyaa Umar showing her energy-saving cooking stove that her group assembles and sells. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Loans and energy-saving technology transform lives in rural Ethiopia
A joint programme in Ethiopia brings together six UN Agencies to help women save and invest in energy-saving cooking stove technology cooperatives.


Gender Equality and the New Urban Agenda

The outcome document of Habitat III, the New Urban Agenda, outlines the challenges and opportunities that the new agenda provides while ensuring that gender equality thrives through sustainable, gender-inclusive and gender-responsive cities. In this brief, learn more about how the New Urban Agenda strategically supports mainstreaming gender equality and women’s empowerment across all social development goals. Read more»