Habitat III: Comments on Policy Paper frameworks

Habitat IIIHabitat III is the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development to take place in Quito, Ecuador, from 17 – 20 October 2016.


Most of the policy paper frameworks mention gender equality and women’s participation and empowerment as a general theme. However, a more in-depth analysis is needed. Please note:

  1. None of the papers mention the pervasive culture of violence against women and girls, yet tackling this key social issue is essential to ensuring women’s empowerment and participation. In many cities, the threat of gender-based violence restricts the mobility and political freedoms of women and girls. Women and girls face violence in the home, in cyberspace, in public transport and public places as well as sexual harassment in the workplace.
  2. Throughout the papers there is an incorrect assumption that cities are equally safe for men and women. The reality is that urban crime, terrorist threats and warfare affect women and girls disproportionally. In addition, there is little or no mention of the special needs of women and girls who are victims of trafficking, are refugees or migrants facing sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations.
  3. Women and girls face “intersecting”, multiple forms of discrimination. None of the papers mentions indigenous women, women and girls living with disabilities and LGBT groups. The wide diversity of women and girls by ethnicity, religion, age, economic, legal, political and social status should be reflected in data and research so as to monitor the impact of policies on these groups.
  4. Cities are widely recognized to be open ecological systems. However, most of the attention in these papers is paid to the importance of coordination with national policies. Few of the papers acknowledge that cities are affected by global politics and financial and economic trends that have powerful sway over local development. The ecological urban framework should analyze this interconnectedness and make recommendations at the global level.


  1. The Beijing Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) provide comprehensive policy and legal guidance for the New Urban Agenda. These UN agreements should be highlighted in all policy papers because they cover the women’s issues mentioned above and outline recommendations for multiple stakeholders.
  2. If the 2030 sustainable goals are to succeed, the BPfA and CEDAW must be implemented in cities and communities where innovation and measurement are at times easier and faster than at national level. As a follow-up to Habitat III and the High Level Political Forum in 2016 the UN regional economic and social commissions should experiment with novel solutions through pilot projects. For example, in the Latin America region, ECLAC could choose sub-regionally typical cities to conduct pilot projects that ensure that women’s human rights are fully integrated into the 17 sustainable development goals. These would help guide implementation of the New Urban Agenda throughout the region.


  1. The right to the city and cities for all – The right to cities—meaning that “the territories of the cities and their hinterlands are considered as spaces for the exercise and fulfillment of rights. . . “ should be a fundamental principle and ethical guideline for the New Urban Agenda. While this paper presents this concept and promotes women’s empowerment, it is often confusing and lacks coherence. More concrete examples and reorganization of the argument would be helpful.
  2. Socio-cultural urban framework – Like paper #1, the topic of a socio-cultural framework is extremely important raising issues such as cultural diversity and the important role of civil society. However, the logical flow of the paper should be rethought and recommendations made more concrete.
  3. National urban policy – This is an excellent outline of how national policy frameworks can help cities and communities. It covers a wide range of issues such as regulatory reform, recognition of informality in land rights, and data collection. It also clearly defines concepts, presents pertinent evidence and takes into account the national as well as local policies.
  4. Urban governance capacity and institutional development – This paper stands out as relatively gender-blind. It does not does not offer much help in understanding governance, and it would be improved by including more specific examples.
  5. Municipal finance and local fiscal systems – For readers who are less familiar with municipal financing, this paper provides a clear introduction. It offers concrete recommendations such as the need to build the capacity of city employees to manage city financing and it promotes citizen participation in budget decision-making.
  6. Urban spatial strategies – This paper presents one of the most thoughtful, strategic policy frameworks. It notes that the issue of spatial planning encompasses more than what may appear on paper and includes the role of public space, land, and urban-rural linkages. It emphasizes the importance of addressing the underlying social and political problems often involved in spatial planning. The paper proposes to replace the urban-rural “dichotomy” with the urban-rural “continuum” in order to better understand the dynamics of population growth and the situation of small and medium-sized cities. It is also one of the few papers that mentions the challenges of working with the private sector, noting the need for more platforms for private-pubic partnerships.
  7. Urban economic development strategies – Economic development is extraordinarily important, but this paper disappoints the reader by presenting a general discussion with few strategic specifics.
  8. Urban ecology and resilience. This paper argues that an urban ecological framework must replace a conventional paradigm that looks at human settlements as isolated units. The urban ecology approach includes biotic and physical elements and recognizes the interaction between natural systems and social and cultural systems. For example, to build a resilient city, policy makers must take a holistic view of how social development and citizen participation can contribute to sustainable economic growth.
  9. Urban services and technology –Planning urban services with the use of advanced technology is a promising approach to an age-old problem. However, this paper does not give much insight on how to accomplish this.
  10. Housing policies – Housing policies evoke passionate politics and mismanagement can lead to serious social upheavals. However, the policies needed to achieve sustainable, equitable, inclusive housing are not discussed here. Perhaps best-practice examples would strengthen this paper.

Find the policy papers here

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