by Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, Deputy Executive Director, UN-Habitat

Twenty years have passed since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, where an exceptional number of participants and activists from all around the world met and endorsed the conference that produced the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. This landmark document remains the definitive expression of our collective agreement and support for gender equality and the empowerment of women worldwide. For UN-Habitat, it continues to be the fundamental framework for ensuring and promoting the rights of women and girls in cities and human settlements worldwide.

With rapid urbanization, the world has entered an era in which cities, one of the most innovative human constructs now play a dominant role in defining human destiny, where the prosperity of urban dwellers and the productive forces unleashed by humans are increasingly shaped by its urban spaces. While cities are at the heart of today’s global crisis, they are also the source of solutions for a sustainable, gender equal future. Although urbanization is not dealt with specifically in any of the twelve critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action, in reality it cuts across all areas of concern. It is for this reason that UN-Habitat’s programme of work in supporting member states and other partners has strongly emphasized gender equality and women’s empowerment as one of its core cross cutting pillars including it’s the production of the biennial flagship “State of Urban Women Reports”.

At present, women constitute the largest segment of urban residents facing multiple vulnerabilities such as rights violations, poor housing, water and sanitation as well widespread discrimination in the labour market. Women, girls and LGBTQ-persons are too often restricted in their access to public spaces, and hence in their overall right to the city. This needs to change.

The fast approaching Habitat III Conference, to be held in 2016, will address sustainable urbanization and human settlement. It will be the first global summit after Beijing+20 and offers a unique opportunity to discuss how gender equality can thrive through sustainable, gender inclusive cities. The Conference will focus on promoting an urbanization agenda that will foster a safe, inclusive, gender-enabling and sustainable socio-economic transformation in cities, towns with strong territorial and urban-rural linkages.

To maximize the use of the potential provided by the New Urban Agenda, women and girls as well as men and boys need to be actively involved in shaping the city at all levels. This includes creating friendly and safe spaces to enable equal participation in society. Ensuring full and equitable access to public space - including streets and transport systems - for women and girls will allow them to harness the transformative potential of our cities. UN-Habitat is committed to creating cities of the 21st Century, and as Dr. Joan Clos, United Nations Under-Secretary General and UN-Habitat Executive Director stated, “For cities and towns to fulfill their role as drivers of sustainable development, gender equality and women’s empowerment need to be at the centre of the New Urban Agenda”.

As we approach the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, there is a new sense of undeniable urgency, a recognition that we are at a critical point for in the struggle for women’s rights, a recognition that realizing gender equality, the empowerment of women and the human rights of women and girls must be a pressing and central task of the international community. Cities are the world’s greatest assets for creating gender equality. With a gender sensitive New Urban Agenda, we can and should take the necessary step forward in creating the cities we need.

Read more about UN-Habitat and gender