Speech: For sustainable urban development, violence against women must end

Remarks by Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, at the Global Meeting of Mayors for Gender Equality on 25 February in Mexico City


Buenos días Mexico!!

Buenos días Mexico ciudad de derechos y libertad!

Buenos días amigas y amigos!!

I am very happy to be here in Mexico, a pathfinder country which has shown commendable commitments and regional leadership in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

I thank the Government of Mexico City, and Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera, for working in strong collaboration with UN Women in convening this first-ever Global Meeting of Mayors for Gender Equality, following the adoption of the New Urban Agenda in Quito, Ecuador.  In the New Urban Agenda the role of local governments and the vital role of women in local governments are recognized as indispensable for achieving national and global development, human rights, peace and security and humanitarian agendas.

Thanks are also due to the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation for their support to this meeting as a continuum of support to UN Women from its inception on the promotion of accelerated change towards achieving gender equality.  The Founding Flagship Global Initiative of UN Women “Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces” to ensure safe, smart and sustainable cities with women and girls is a prime example of the Spanish vision of cities living the gender equality dream and of their investment in concrete action to realize it.

I also thank the Governments of Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, the EU, USAID, Microsoft and Unilever for their support in the integrated city led programming on gender equality, and ending violence against women and girls, in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals through this Flagship Programme Initiative.

While I acknowledge the strong partnerships that have been made by UN Women with other UN led programming in cities, such as UN Habitat’s Safer Cities Programme focused on urban safety, and UNICEF’s Child Friendly Cities Initiative, and UNDP’s World Alliance of Cities against Poverty, I also welcome the distinguished guests in the audience, including the delegations from the local and national governments, women’s grassroots/rights organizations, NGO partner/youth champions for gender equality from over 20 countries.

The event today marks a first in UN Women, to co-host a Global meeting with Mayors to make commitments to gender equality, women’s empowerment and ending violence against women and girls co-hosted with the City of Mexico City, and in a very exciting time, during a key turning point in Mexico City’s history, with its first Constitution about to enter into force, firmly establishing the principles of gender equality and the Right to the City for all.

The event is also in commemoration of the Orange Day of UNiTE Campaign to End Violence against Women, which is held on the 25th of every month to raise awareness and prevent violence against women and girls.  In February, in the lead up to 61st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the theme is on Violence Against Women and Girls and Economic Empowerment.

In line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, UN Women’s Planet 50-50 by 2030, Step it up for Gender Equality Initiative, and the New Urban Agenda, this Global Meeting aims to mobilize new commitments and financial resources to eliminate gender inequality and discrimination and violence against women and girls through actions and investments by local and municipal governments and all other actors and stakeholders they must mobilize and hold accountable.  The initiative is about the gender-responsive design and provision of essential services and physical and social infrastructure as well as creating an enabling environment for realizing the three main attributes of women's human rights embodied in SDG 5 - namely physical security, safety and integrity and control over their bodies, voice, participation and leadership in decision, asking at all levels and equal access to opportunities, productive resources, capabilities and choices with regards to their economic, social and personal life.

Local governments have a very key role to play in creating the foundation for Planet 50 50, as they are often the closest to the community level, where in many countries, women and men, and youth and children seek platforms to participate in the governance of cities, where they can express their needs and concerns, where they can access services, and can seek support in cases of violence. Where they look for opportunities to realize their potential.

With urbanization, there are many pressures on local governments to respond, such as climate change, conflict, migration and refugees, and to deal with everyday forms of crime and violence, including violence committed against women, children and youth.

As a result, more and more cities are and should be in search of developing an integrated, human rights and evidence based approach to ensure safe, smart, empowering and sustainable cities with, for and by women and girls.  They are in search of partners, tools, practices and ways to leverage resources to help achieve multiple SDGS, including SDG 4, 5, 9, 11, and 16, rather than through independent isolated programmes.  This can be seen by many of the mayors that are participating in this inaugural meeting today and making their commitments to accelerate action on gender equality.  The document on Driving the gender responsible implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – also available online in UN Women’s website – provides a roadmap of implementation codified into Ten I’s of inspiration, indivisibility, integration, institutions, information, inclusion, innovation, investment, implementation and impact.  

At the inception of UN Women in November 2010, we launched a catalytic Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces Global Flagship Programme with specialized women’s networks such as Women in Cities International, Jagori, Women and Habitat Network in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Huairou Commission and in collaboration with UN Habitat, city and national governments, academic and NGOs.  In January 2011, implementation began in Quito, Port Moresby, Kigali, Cairo, and New Delhi.

The Global Flagship Initiative is a cross thematic programme that brings together women’s economic empowerment, political participation, and ending violence against women and girls, in particular, sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence that women experience and fear daily on city streets, in markets, waiting for or on public transportation, and on their way to and from work and school, an in multiple settings (urban, peri urban and rural).

Gender equality, women's empowerment and the prevention of violence against women in private and public spaces is a precondition for and objective of sustainable urban development. It means making cities sustainable for women and girls but it's also about making it sustainable for all.

Cities committed to accelerate action in this area, including those champion cities participating in the Global Flagship Programme Initiative are giving a political boost which is needed by all to achieve City 50 50 in the lead up to a Planet 50 50 and that too latest by 2030.  I congratulate the 22 mayors who are taking action, and encourage other Mayors to make their commitments known.· These commitments no doubt will address the following actions:

  • Investing in interventions (revising laws and policies, local economic development plans, changing attitudes and behaviors to promote women’s safety) which are needed to ensure a comprehensive evidence based approach to prevent and respond to sexual harassment against women and girls in public spaces, and other forms of violence against women and to create an enabling environment for their economic, social and political empowerment and for the ensuring their right to the city and their full enjoyment of human rights in the city.
  • Updating city/municipal action plans to embed strategic gender based tools and practices as part of ensuring safe and sustainable city initiatives.
  • Enhancing women’s leadership and participation in decision making in all institutions of local governance to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls and support their empowerment while fostering and partnering with women's organizations.
  • Creating force and impact multipliers to help build to scale strategic and effective safe and sustainable city approaches through partnerships with national and state governments, the private sector, and other partners.
  • Becoming the nucleus of the gender statistics revolution as well the Centre of knowledge excellence on social innovation through and for gender equality and peer learning among cities. Strengthening gender institutions at the local level, and forging mainstreaming of gender into all policies and programmes across municipal units as well as institutionalizing gender-responsive budgeting at the local, regional and national levels are key actions into the strategy.

I would now like to begin the meeting, by inviting leaders from cities of three of the founding safe city programmes in UN Women.

As I recognized yesterday, together your work is changing the game!  With your support, we will shake the universe and create transformative results, so that not one woman, not one girl in any city of the world should ever be restricted, held back, and denied her rights.  She should never be told again that: “She cannot, she will not, she dare not, and that she should not!”  On the contrary, she does already! She Can! She Will! And that “She in all her diversity” must have all that is necessary to realize her full potential and benefit from all the opportunities a city can provide.

I would now like to begin the meeting, by inviting leaders from cities of three of the founding safe city programmes in UN Women.