IAW on Habitat III: A human rights framework must shape all issue papers

shangaiHabitat III is the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development to take place in Quito, Ecuador, from 17 – 20 October 2016. Member States of the General Assembly, in resolution 67/216 , decided that the objective of the Conference is to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable urban development, assess accomplishments to date, address poverty and identify and address new and emerging challenges. The conference will result in a concise, focused, forward-looking and action-oriented outcome document.

On behalf of IAW, Soon-Young Yoon, main representative to the United Nations, New York has submitted  a comment on the current issues papers of Habitat III :


The sustainable development goals can only succeed if women’s human rights are at the center of the discussion. Equally important, women’s leadership can help scale-up and speed-up progress toward innovative, inclusive, compact and resilient cities.

  1. What’s missing?
  1. Habitat III offers a unique opportunity to ensure that a human rights framework that includes women’s or integrates gender to guide the formulation and implementation of the New Urban Agenda. Habitat III must be a continuation of the Post-2015 Agenda and the SDGs, and build on the internationally agreements that address gender and other inequalities. Valuable insights can be found in the Beijing Platform for Action (191 countries) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (188 countries) as well as other international documents adopted at the Vienna Conference on Human Rights and International Conference on Population and Development. But as important these agreements have been in establishing policy norms and standards, none of these milestones on the path to social progress and women’s empowerment are mentioned in the issues papers.
  1. Missing also are mandates at the regional level that can help to support regional follow-up initiatives to Habitat III. The papers should explore the political potential of regional agreements such as the African Charter and European Union Gender Equality Law. More than just lip service to gender equality and women’s empowerment, these mandates have practical value. For example, they can be used in designing regional-level pilot projects to showcase human rights based and gender-responsive framework that is in line with vision of the New Urban Agenda.
  1. The current draft also ignores data and statistics on gender equality or women’s human rights and empowerment as they relate to sustainable development and climate change. [1] Nor does it identify gaps and methodologies needed to be able to monitor and evaluate gender-based discrimination and violence at the city level.
  1. As noted by several governments, the issues papers should include more examples of best practices. These should be relevant in developed as well as developing countries, correcting the current bias in the papers towards developing countries. In the case of women’s empowerment, there are a host of examples that could be cited in most of the issues papers to reflect conditions at grass roots as well as national and international levels.
  1. A human rights framework must shape all issue papers

Gender equality in the papers is presented primarily as an “add on” to urban planning rather than a comprehensive framework guiding policy and programs. The wide diversity of women’s situation is not acknowledged and women are presented primarily as one of the many vulnerable groups rather than key decision-makers. Women’s unpaid care work is not acknowledged nor a recognition of how redistribution and provision of services can support sustainable cities. Furthermore, the public policy bias of the papers ignores the critical connection with the home and private sphere. The role of civil society, including the leadership of men and boys to achieve gender equality is critical to the success of the New Urban Agenda but is hardly mentioned. In brief, the issues papers need a comprehensive gender analysis. The following are some points that should be noted:

  1. Private and Public spheres are connected– Public policies and services must always measure their success by whether or not they have improved the lives of citizens –not just in the workplace or the public sphere, but in the context of the home and family as well. There is no safe city when women’s human rights are violated due to domestic violence in the home. There is no end to poverty if women’s income must be meekly handed over to a male head of household. And there is no true democracy to strengthen civil and political rights if women and girls are not allowed to make decisions about their own bodies and exercise their sexual and reproductive health rights.
  2. Women are not just victims or a vulnerable group—Women are key decision-makers concerning economic and social rights related to food security, biodiversity, cultural heritage, migration, energy consumption and family size. They also play critical roles in the use of water, energy and natural resources and finding climate solutions. They have a specific role in the urban ecology as managers of household energy. Indeed, women are at the heart of the water-energy-food nexus. In many developing countries, rural and urban women are the human transporters of water, fuel and food and their capacity defines the speed and quality of the rural-urban flow of goods.
  3. Urban women are diverse – The gender analysis of the New Urban Agenda must avoid stereotyping and acknowledge the wide diversity of women’s situation by including the intersections of age, gender identity (including LGBTI) ethnicity, disability, religion, economic, social and political status, as well as cultural and ecological status. The human rights framework must be inclusive enough to apply to women heading corporations, working in city government, active in politics –as well as women living in poverty. In addition, since in many developed countries indigenous women must live and work within urban environments their concerns and specific challenges also need to be addressed.
  4. End violence against women – The New Urban Agenda must include a commitment to prevent—and ultimately end–violence against women and girls. Mental, sexual and physical abuse that take place within the home, in the community or by the State and the threat of violence inhibit women’s political participation and lead to unequal access to services. Men and boys must take stronger leadership roles to address cultural norms and behavioral changes needed to end violence against girls and women of all ages.

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