“Cities of the world, step it up for gender equality”—Lakshmi Puri

Remarks by Ms. Lakshmi Puri, UN Assistant Secretary-general and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women at the opening of the Women’s and Youth Assembly, Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III)


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Excellencies, distinguished delegates, dear women of the world, dear youth advocates, colleagues and friends,

Buenos días Quito!

Buenos días la tierra de Manuela Saenz, the land where important pioneering women have made great strides in conquering public space for freedom and well being of all.

It is my deepest honour to be here today at the opening of the Women’s and Youth’s Assemblies. My heartfelt thanks to the Government of Ecuador for your warm welcome. Special thanks to Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-Habitat, for his leadership in moving forward the gender equality goal within the urban development agenda. Many thanks to our host, the women of Ecuador for their hard work and commitment to Habitat III and their hospitality. Many thanks to all women of the world for their tireless work in the consolidation of what we called in Medellin the urban agenda of the Beijing at 20.

Today we are here to celebrate the naissance of the Agenda that will drive urban sustainable development for the next twenty years.

From New York, Nairobi, Surabaya, Toluca, Prague and all the other cities that have joined efforts on this journey towards Quito, the voices of women and youth have been heard loud and clear. Gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls must be as bold and central as they are in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

I am pleased to recognize that Member States have listened to these aspirations. In the Quito Declaration, they clearly envisioned cities that “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, ensuring women’s full and effective inclusive participation and equal rights in all fields and in leadership at all levels of decision-making, and by ensuring decent work and equal pay for equal work, or work of equal value for all women, as well as preventing and eliminating all forms of discrimination, violence, and harassment against women and girls in private and public spaces.”

This is a bold statement by which Member States recognize that gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is both an end and also a vital means to ensure full achievement of urban sustainable development, while also recognizing the inextricable links between the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 and its targets on making cities and human settlements sustainable, inclusive, safe and resilient, and SDG 5 on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.

The New Urban Agenda contains important transformative commitments to further strengthen the gender equality compact of the SDGs.  Among those, ensuring women’s participation in decision-making at all levels—including in the local governments, and securing land tenure rights for women, promoting safe and secure cities so to ensure women’s right to a life without violence, fear or intimidation.  The New Urban Agenda also recognizes women’s equal rights to economic access and opportunities as well as to decent jobs.  Furthermore, it makes an explicit recognition of the working poor in the informal economy, particularly women, including the unpaid, domestic, and migrant workers to the urban economies.

The agreed text also recognizes that it is at the local level, in the cities, villages and communities where the promises of the 2030 Agenda will be translated into reality while ensuring that the principles of leave no one behind and reach the furthest first will be instrumental to accelerate pace in the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.

We have before us an unmissable opportunity. Our challenge now is strategizing on how to ensure the ink on paper translates promptly into effective implementation on the ground.

Our deliberations today and during the week ahead must be about strengthening strategic partnerships to take the agenda to the next level and identifying priorities for implementation, in particular in the front loading phase when the architecture for the accelerated implementation of the New Urban Agenda is to be built.

Habitat III is also about ensuring significantly increased resources, commensurate with the centrality of gender equality in the new text while ensuring women and girls are at the centre of implementation efforts, as beneficiaries and as decision makers, implementers and advocates.

This conference is the occasion to bring the discussion of a gender data revolution to the local level, ensuring significant investments to develop the statistical capacities required so to ensure that every woman and every girl counts and that they are visible in decision-making.

Further, it is about building strong accountability mechanisms with clear responsibilities for all stakeholders while also providing avenues for women’s and grass roots’, youth and other civil society organizations at all levels to hold decision makers answerable for their actions, and seek redress when necessary.

Men and boys, faith-based groups, unions, youth, ethnic groups, students’ organizations, all of us have a shared responsibility in making gender equality mission possible and the reality of our time.  Our challenge also is about changing mindsets, movement-building and bringing into the conversation all stakeholders and ensuring that they understand that gender equality is not a woman’s issue, but a societal and urban development issue.

UN Women welcomes the New Urban Agenda and its gender-responsive language.  We will continue to work with all our partners—inter-agency, governmental at all levels, including the local, and civil society—to ensure that the Agenda delivers to and for women, young women and girls in the cities and everywhere, in sustainable, measurable and accountable ways.

The job has started. From Cities 5050 to our Planet 5050 by 2030—Cities of the world, step it up for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls everywhere!

I thank you!