By J Nastranis
For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population of 7.5 billion is living in cities. By 2050, the world’s urban population is expected to nearly double, making urbanization one of the twenty-first century’s most transformative trends. This lends special significance to the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III).
Heads of State and Government adopted at the Conference, held October 17-20, 2016 in Quito, Ecuador, the New Urban Agenda as a collective vision and political commitment to promote and realize sustainable urban development, and a paradigm change, rethinking how cities are planned, managed and inhabited.
As part of the follow-up and review of the Habitat III outcome and taking into consideration the New Urban Agenda aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), the Secretary-General was requested to submit “an evidence-based and independent assessment” of UN-Habitat to the General Assembly during its seventy-first session (2016-2017).
The independent assessment will contain recommendations on enhancing the effectiveness, efficiency, accountability and oversight of UN-Habitat, according to a UN press release. The report will serve as an input to a two-day high-level meeting of the General Assembly, convened by its President during the seventy-first session, to discuss the effective implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the positioning of UN-Habitat in this regard.
With this in view, a High-Level Panel announced on April 12 by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, would meet on three occasions (twice in New York and once in Nairobi), and conduct two workshops: one in Nairobi, the seat of the UN-Habitat and another as part of a visit to a field project at a location to be determined in the first half of 2017.
In addition to the Panel report, a Chair’s summary of the high-level meeting of the General Assembly will serve as an input to the work of the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) during the seventy-second session (2017-2018) for its consideration of the action to be taken in the light of the recommendations contained in the independent assessment, in its annual resolution under the relevant agenda item.
There is, however, yet another important dimension to the New Urban Agenda: Gender equality. As UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said at an event on on March 13 during the meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York, “Given the megatrend of rapid urbanization, achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will depend, in large part, on whether we can make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable,” as the Goal 11 envisages.
Gender equality, she said, is central to the New Urban Agenda. “While cities are powerful engines of development and innovation, they are also home to slums and many millions of vulnerable women and girls . . . .We should not only focus on the needs of women and girls, but also empower women to deliver on their potential. That potential is immense.”
Mohammed stressed: Women in cities are agents of change in many ways: within the family, in the workplace, in politics and in public spaces. They should be full and equal participants in shaping the way cities grow and in designing housing policies, economic opportunities, transportation systems, services, streets, parks and so much else. All too often, this is an uphill battle.
“Our shared advocacy over the years has produced an inspiring set of commitments and measures. Those efforts need to continue. We also need strong accountability mechanisms to hold decision-makers answerable for their actions and seek redress when necessary. Women’s groups, grass-roots organizations and civil society will continue to be invaluable partners,” the Deputy UN Secretary-General emphasised.
She cited one example that shows how even modest investments can bring wide-ranging impacts. “The Community Development Committee in Mtwapa, Kenya, gave women an equal voice to men. Four of the seven projects funded were implemented by solely women groups, the other three by youth groups with young women and men. We should all be inspired by what ensued.”
Because of the project, tenure and social protection were improved. Lights were placed in public spaces. New water kiosks, managed by women, dramatically reduced the time spent on water collection. And a training and skills centre was established, giving new skills and hope to unemployed young mothers. “We see clearly that inclusive and participatory approaches to sustainable urbanization can make a real difference.”
Given today’s focus on participatory methodologies, Mohammed stressed the importance of women and girls in data and monitoring efforts. “We know that local-level data is essential for implementation of the SDGs, and that we can only address what we have measured, she said, adding: “We need to ensure that all urban dwellers are captured in city-level data, and women and girls have a key leadership role to play in these efforts in their communities.”
The report of the High-Level, which would report directly to the UN Chief, will play a crucial role in implementing the New Urban Agenda. The independent panel is composed of eight members:
Peter Calthorpe an architect, urban designer, urban planner, and founding member of the Congress for New Urbanism; Dian Triansyah Djani, the current Permanent Representative of Indonesia to the United Nations; Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, France; Sheela Patel, Founder and Director of the Society for Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC) and a global expert on urban poverty alleviation and advocacy for slum dwellers; Rosario Robles, the Secretary of Agrarian, Territorial and Urban Development of Mexico; František Ružička, the Permanent Representative of the Slovak Republic to the UN; Ponsto S.M. Sekatle, the Minister of Health and Social Welfare in Lesotho; and Mpho Parks Tau, the President of United Cities and Local Governments and the President of the South African Local Government Association.
The High-Level Panel will hold consultations and workshops with the Governing Council and the Committee of Permanent Representatives of UN-Habitat, member states, key partners in multilateral international organizations, associations of local authorities, and other relevant stakeholders.