NAIROBI, 28 May 2019 – “Generally at meal times you are asked to put away your phones,” said Kalpana Viswanath, one of the hosts of the Gender Forum breakfast, “but this morning we're asking you to please take your phones out and use the app to participate.” The 150 guests seated at the tables rummaged in their coats and handbags, pulled out their phones and laptops, and within minutes their contributions were appearing on the large screen in the front of the room.
The Gender Forum was an interactive meeting that took place over breakfast on the second day of the UN-Habitat Assembly. The event, sponsored by the Government of Malaysia, with support from Costa Rica and Kenya, was lively, with the app providing an innovative way to immediately reflect participants contributions.
For instance, when the room was asked to name some challenges faced by women in urban areas, it was striking how many times the word “safety” flickered on to the screen as the gathered attendees typed their opinions into their phones.
One of the follow up questions on the slide was, “What can be done to reduce gender inequality in cities?” The answer ranking highest by the participants was, “A better balance of women to men ratio in the decision making process.”
One of the aims of this breakfast was to hear recommendations on how UN-Habitat could improve in mainstreaming gender throughout its work. Addressing the room, UN-Habitat Executive Director Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, highlighted that, “Gender equality is an investment. It requires financial resources, political will and policy changes. It is an investment that will reap social and economic benefits.” She also clarified that gender equality is not only about women, it also includes girls, men and boys. “We must support each other and recognize the different challenges different genders create.” Concluding her speech she said, “In UN-Habitat we believe gender is cross cutting. We have to institutionalize gender aspects in all that we do.”
Rafael Tuts, Director of Programme Division at UN-Habitat, contextualized the organizations new Strategic Plan 2020-2025. Then he reached out to the room for their contributions again. “The exercise that follows is to find out how women can be effectively engaged in each of the topics of the new Strategic Plan? How can the programs that UN-Habitat implements be of equal benefit to both women and men?”
The room then became a hive of real-time discussion, with each of the tables working together to come up with suggestions about improving gender equality in cities, and how to measure this. Many of the tables reflected a desire for increasing women's participation in urban planning and land and housing sectors of cities. The participants also raised the point that there needs to be an improvement in the territorial and spacial data collected in cities, to accurately understand the experiences of girls and women as they travel through and use the city. Another recurring theme was the need for resources to be allocated to help prioritising gender aspects in urban planning.
The recommendations from the Gender Forum breakfast echoed what 12 women on the panel suggested the night before at the Young Women to Women special event. At this event environmentalists and activists from Benin, Russia, Columbia and Jamaica, discussed gender in sustainable urbanization. These activists who work in slum communities and urban centres around the world urged planners to include the perspectives of all genders in urban development.
At that event Deputy Executive Director of UN-Habitat, Victor Kisob, explained how Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11, the goal to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, cannot succeed without SDG 5, the goal that seeks to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. “These two goals go hand in hand,” he said. “It's important to look at that nexus as this is key in going forward.”