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Women’s and the New Urban Agenda at CSW

New York, 29 March 2017 – At the recent 61st Commission on the Status of Women, UN-Habitat hosted a series of multi-stakeholder events at the UN Headquarters to make certain that the role of women in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda is well understood and the realization of inclusive, economically viable and sustainable cities is achieved.

Source: Women’s and the New Urban Agenda at CSW

The recently sworn-in Deputy Secretary General, Amina Mohammed, opened the first panel of gender and development leaders by emphasizing the critical role of the New Urban Agenda in achieving the vision for sustainable and inclusive societies by 2030. “Given the megatrend of rapid urbanization, achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals will depend, in large part, on whether we can make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”, Ms Mohammed said.

Susceptibility to poverty traps and natural disasters, unemployment and lack of opportunities for education impede women across the globe from becoming active members of their societies, therefore halting the successful implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Space for engagement

At the second session, hosted by the Ford Foundation, member state representatives and global and local civil society leaders discussed the fundamental need for inclusive design, planning and governing of human settlements in achieving the vision of the New Urban Agenda.

The event gave stage to the distinguished panel of global experts and leaders in the fields of gender policy, public policy and urbanism. UN-Habitat’s Deputy Executive Director, Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, set the tone for the evening by reminding the attendees that: “People are looking for a sense of belonging in their city. People want their voices valued. People want to have space in their cities; space for play, for debate, for engagement with their leaders and for connecting among themselves.”

Adam Vaughan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development in Canada, discussed the critical nature of accessibility of public services, such as robust transit networks, public spaces and adequate shelter, for all urban residents.

Ana Falú, Vice Chair of the UN-Habitat Advisory Group on Gender Issues, focused on the importance of distinguishing the cultural and societal stigmas of women in the economic and social realms of cities as a crucial starting point for implementing inclusive and gender-balance urban strategies.

Cities as engines of socioeconomic empowerment

The event ignited engagement from the attendees. The representative of the Ecuador Permanent Mission to the UN highlighted the crucial nature of the New Urban Agenda for Ecuador’s sustainable urban future and urged the audience to consider the exigent need for governments across the globe to engage with the New Urban Agenda and implement inclusive and sustainable national urban policies.

Finally, the Population Council gathered a full room of scholars, policy-makers, urban leaders and urban activists to discuss the critical nature of cities as engines of socio-economic empowerment for women and girls. The event covered a wide array of topics, ranging from migration, infrastructure and social integration as they relate to girls’ successful transition to urban agglomerations and, consequently, to their vitality within the social and economic realms of their communities.

The event presented an esteemed panel of speakers, each bringing distinctive and valuable perspectives to the table. Sarah Engebretsen of the Population Council, introduced a summary of comprehensive research findings of the newly-published “Girls on the Move: Adolescent Girls & Migration in the Developing World” report, where she pointed out the important distinction between the different temporal stages of young girls’ migration to urban settlements: pre-migration stage, in-transit and early arrival stage and the settling stage.

Although each of the migration stages presents a unique set of challenges, risks and opportunities for young girls, Ms. Engebretsen asserted that a number of factors, such as safe and reliable networks, access to safe shelter upon arrival, general understanding of the available resources and access to community services and groups, can largely improve the experience of such transition.

Source: Women’s and the New Urban Agenda at CSW

Carrying the Message of UN Meeting on Women in the Economy to U.S. Cities | NextCity

Karima Bouchenafa grew up in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood, surrounded by history. At the intersection of Germantown Avenue and Wister Street, a sign commemorates the first protest against slavery, staged by German Quakers in 1688, 92 years before America’s first state abolition law. The Johnson House, also on Germantown Avenue, was a stop along the Underground Railroad.

Article: Carrying the Message of UN Meeting on Women in the Economy to U.S. Cities | NextCity by OSCAR PERRY ABELLO | MARCH 23, 2017

“My mom would make sure we paid attention to these historic places we walked past,” Bouchenafa remembers.

She’d soon become part of that kind of history, in her own way. Bouchenafa was among the earliest young women to enroll at Central High School. Founded in 1836 as the crowning glory of Philly’s public school system, it only started admitting girls in 1983, after a series of lawsuits and appeals going back to 1975. She almost didn’t get to go to the high school of her dreams; her parents weren’t sure at first, until they got to know the school better. One day, she says, her dad came home after making his own drive-by inspection. She remembers him saying he saw boys and girls there from all over, like a mini United Nations.

“I was like ‘yeah I know, Dad, that’s why I wanna go there,’” says Bouchenafa, who graduated from Central in 1990 (the 249th Graduating Class, as Central alums refer to themselves).

Last week, Bouchenafa found herself at the real United Nations headquarters in NYC. She joined thousands of ministers, legislators, ambassadors, policymakers and other high-level dignitaries as well as grassroots organizers and advocates for the 61st UN Commission on the Status of Women. It was Bouchenafa’s first time as an official delegate.

“It’s so interesting for me to be here and see how women all around the world are asserting that same sense of yes, this is who we are, this is what we do, this is our value,” says Bouchenafa.

Bouchenafa, who still owns a home near where she grew up in Philly, applied to be a delegate to this year’s commission through her membership with the United Nations Association of Greater Philadelphia. Founded by Eleanor Roosevelt, the UN Association has local chapters all over the country that mobilize grassroots support for U.S. involvement in the UN. While it can be difficult to always see how such high-level, global gatherings can ultimately lead to substantive policy changes on the ground, Bouchenafa believes the networking and exposure to foreign perspectives has value for those who are lucky enough to attend.

“It’s educational to see what challenges they face and how they’re responding to those challenges,” she says.

The theme of this year’s Commission was “women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work.” Besides the 18 “official” meetings to set policy priorities that shape how UN resources will get deployed to support gender equality and women’s rights going forward, hundreds of side events offered opportunities to discuss progress and status on various fronts for gender equality or women’s rights around the world.

Bouchenafa attended one particularly crowded discussion breaking down policies designed to foster gender equality in the workforce, including paid family leave (for up to three years in some cases) and Hungary’s grandmother’s pension. The latter is a relatively new program designed to encourage early retirement for grandmothers who wish to stay at home with newborn grandchildren, allowing new mothers to return to work sooner. That may not work for all nations, Bouchenafa admits, but it’s interesting to see what countries come up with when they make it a priority to consider realities for women in the economy.

At another discussion Bouchenafa attended, actress and activist Ashley Judd moderated an expert panel on making the UN more feminist. No woman has ever been secretary general of the UN, and while there has been some progress, women still only hold around a quarter of the organization’s under-secretary and deputy secretary positions. Fighting for gender equality in a historically male-dominated institution is a familiar battle for Bouchenafa, who has worked in higher education since 2000.

“This whole idea of women’s rights and gender equality, it’s interesting to me that we have to fight for it and agitate for it, because it’s almost not even a question for me, in a sense, the way I was raised and the women I’m surrounded by,” says Bouchenafa, who was born and raised Muslim.

Besides her mother, sister, other family and neighbors, since 2003 Bouchenafa has also been surrounded by the women of Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA), the historically black sorority with over 70,000 members worldwide, including novelist Toni Morrison, Mae Jemison (the first black woman NASA astronaut to travel to space), and Liberia President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. In 2014, AKA partnered with the UN Association, which led Bouchenafa to join the Greater Philly UN Association. She donned the sorority’s signature pink and bright green attire throughout her time in New York.

Sorority members are charged with making the group’s service priorities come to life where they live, and AKA has already asked local chapters to participate in implementing UN Association’s Global Classrooms Project, which includes the familiar Model UN programming for youth. “It hasn’t been something that a lot of students I work with have been exposed to,” says Bouchenafa, who teaches at the Community College of Philadelphia in addition to being an assistant dean at Rutgers University.

Last year, as part of the UN Association’s members day at the UN, Bouchenafa took a delegation of Rutgers students with her; after, they started a GenUN chapter at Rutgers, making it part of the UN Association’s official college campus network.

“I know so many people invested in me, in my development as a person. That’s the least I can do to turn around and do that for other folks,” Bouchenafa says.

Well, she did one more thing: Her mother joined her at the UN last Friday. They had lunch in the Delegates Dining Room.

“Being at the commission reaffirmed the vision of myself that my parents tried to give me,” she says. “I’m a citizen of the world. I’m from this country, this city, this neighborhood, but there’s a back story to how all that came to be.”

Carrying the Message of UN Meeting on Women in the Economy to U.S. Cities | NextCity

Photo Caption: Karima Bouchenafa takes in a United Nations discussion on gender equality as a strategy for development. (Photo by Oscar Perry Abello)

We need global data on women’s participation in local government | CitiScope

Celestine Ketcha Courtès (left), mayor of Bangangté, Cameroon, sits next to Fatimetou Abdel Malick, mayor of Tevragh Zeina, Mauritania, at an event in November 2015. (UCLG/Flickr/cc)

What proportion of the world’s mayors and councillors are women? Which cities and regions are world leaders in gender balance in local institutions and why? Answering these questions is more difficult than it may appear at first glance. Despite the growing consensus on the role that women’s participation plays in sustainable development, there is no globally comparable data on the proportion of women in local elected office.

That gap could have major impact. It has been demonstrated that when women have greater voice and participation in public administrations, public resources are more likely to be allocated toward investments in human development priorities, including child health, nutrition and access to employment.

That’s why it’s so important that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the global anti-poverty agenda that entered into force last year, directly address the issue of women’s political participation. Under the framework, Goal 5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment includes a specific target to “ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.”

Read more at the source: We need global data on women’s participation in local government

The representation of women in elected office in local institutions is a vital part of this target. It is essential that women are included in decision-making at the local level and are not excluded from the governance of our cities and territories. Further, local institutions provide a pipeline of candidates to national parliaments and executive positions, meaning that closing the gender gap in national leadership depends on addressing the issue at local level.

Achieving gender balance in local government is also important for achieving Goal 16, which addresses issues of transparency, strong institutions and access to justice. Two targets beneath this goal pledge governments to bolster accountability and representativeness in institutions at all levels.

[See: How Seberang Perai’s first female mayor is reducing waste and boosting citizen engagement]

So if there are no official statistics on women in local government, what is the anecdotal evidence? At UCLG, the world association of local and regional governments, we estimate that around 20 percent of local councillors and just 5 percent of mayors worldwide are women, with significant variations between world regions and countries.

While such numbers are striking, they are just estimates. Reliable data is needed to obtain an accurate picture of the current state of affairs and to effectively monitor progress on SDG 5.

Be Counted

That’s why on 13 March, a delegation of female mayors will gather in New York in parallel to the annual session of the U. N. Commission on the Status of Women to launch the “Be Counted” campaign, calling for better global data on women in locally elected office.

“Around 20 percent of local councillors and just 5 percent of mayors worldwide are women.”

The Be Counted campaign aims to support efforts led by UN Women and backed by global networks of local and regional governments to develop an indicator for Goal 5. Such indicators, which remain under discussion, offer specific metrics that governments and civil society can track to gauge progress on the goals and related targets.

[See: If cities are to ‘leave no one behind’, disaggregated data is invaluable]

The new campaign is urging the development of the proposed Indicator 5.5.1, which would pledge governments to measure the “Proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments and local governments”.

Under the current proposal, Indicator 5.5.1 is not exhaustive. For instance, it doesn’t measure the proportion of female mayors or of women in other executive roles. Nevertheless, identifying and developing globally comparable data sources on the proportion of elected women in local councils would represent a huge step forward with regard to the current information black hole.

Such action would help to address the dearth of information on gender equality in local governments across the world. It also would enable the international community and development professionals worldwide to identify and share good practices in promoting women’s participation in public life.

Where are some such good practices taking place today? Look, for example, at the introduction of quotas for women in local government in many countries in South Asia, which have resulted in significant increases in the number of women being elected.

[See: Bangladesh’s only female big-city mayor may also be its most effective]

Likewise, we have found that local government associations can play an important role in providing resources. This is the case of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities’ scholarship for women in municipal government, as well as the  the association of Basque municipalities’ “welcome guide” for locally elected women.

While these are strong models, better data would help to target support toward municipalities that are lagging behind on female representation.

At the outset of the SDGs process, a high-level panel appointed by former U. N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon to advise on the global development agenda called for a “data revolution”, using existing and new sources of data to fully integrate statistics into decision-making. It’s now time for this revolution to include indicators on gender equality in local government, the institution charged with achieving all 17 SDGs on the ground.


Emilia SáizBegoña Lasagabaster


Caption / Credit:

Celestine Ketcha Courtès (left), mayor of Bangangté, Cameroon, sits next to Fatimetou Abdel Malick, mayor of Tevragh Zeina, Mauritania, at an event in November 2015. (UCLG/Flickr/cc)


City LeadershipWomen’s RightsCities and the SDGsUnited Cities and Local GovernmentsFinance/Governance

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The way to do so is by developing a robust indicator under the Sustainable Development Goals.