By Katia Garcia Ulloa
The Habitat III regional Latin American & Caribbean conference held from 18-20 of April in Toluca, México, sought amongst many other aims, to address gender disparity in the construction of the New Urban Agenda.
Women’s empowerment should be a central issue while developing a new paradigm of urbanization. Urban planning and public policies typically do not take account of the unique problems faced by women. Rapid urbanization is hampering the capacity of inclusion and preventing full integration of girls and women in the economic, social, political, and cultural life of cities. The New Urban Agenda needs to understand and change the way urban policies inhibit women from claiming the “Right to the City.” It needs to develop innovative ways to reduce violence, and make urban space inclusive, safe, prosperous, and friendlier for women.
Latin America is the most unequal region in the world. Seven out of ten women in Latin America have been harassed in public transport. The threat of sexual assault is even worse for women living in poverty because they do not have the means to live in a safe place. They often lack the means to access medical services in case of an assault, and they also struggle to bring their attackers to justice. As a result violence against women has become routinized in many Latin American cities, and Habitat III must reverse this trend.
During the conference, several groups addressed the inequalities issues that made women vulnerable in cities. Groups like Huairou Commission, Women Network, MIRA organization, and Lima Como Vamos Citizen Observatory, among others, shared their experiences, recommendations, and essential assets to ensure safety in cities for women and to empower them. The most important are:
- Women must have adequate knowledge of the justice system to be able to report violence. Women need to have more access to information to know their rights. This will also enable women to actively participate in the decision-making process and the development of policies.
- Increase women’s control over land and housing. This can be done by issuing land and property titles to women. Having access to land and housing ownership empowers women to take control of their lives and also fosters resilience of their communities.
- Authorities must make improvements in poor urban infrastructure such as street lightning, safer bus stops, wider sidewalks, and lonely underground passages that make women vulnerable to violence in public spaces.
- Increase awareness and education of elected officials and police members to know how to handle situations of sexual harassment.
- Comprehensive and long-term planning that addresses women throughout cities, including the most disadvantaged communities.
- Safety programs with an adequate budget to face the challenges.
- Financial independence of women through equal access to well paid jobs. Economic empowerment gives women a greater ability to make decisions concerning their families. This is directly linked to lower levels of violence and femicide.
These reforms will serve to benefit women and promote gender equality in both private and public spaces in cities.
The majority of the participants at these meetings were women. This is a clear indicator of how gender issues continue to be sidelined in the planning process. If the situation is to change, men need to prioritize gender issues and be involved in the construction of a better city. Equal gender participation and awareness of the issues facing women and their direct and indirect social consequences is a major step towards a New Urban Agenda.
The final Habitat III meeting in Quito will establish an urban agenda for the next twenty years. Thus, it is imperative that gender issues are on the agenda, and that recommendations can be transformed into concrete actions to improve quality of life in cities for women.
The “Right to the City” must be more than a slogan. It must translate into a habitable environment for women to exercise their rights, so that cities become safe, inclusive and prosperous. By providing equal opportunities for women, cities can become the principle axis of development. Habitat III needs to make a city for everyone.