On 17 April, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) released the “State of Women in Cities 2012/2013,” highlighting the specific challenges women in cities face and the need to build equitable, inclusive and prosperous cities that harness the full potential of all citizens – men, women, and the youth.
In seven chapters the report studies the urban prosperity, gender and empowerment nexus; considers regional variations in urbanisation, gender equality, poverty and wealth; examines factors that underpin the “quality of life” in cities with a specific focus on housing, health and gender-based violence; outlines key issues in relation to women’s access to adequate infrastructure in cities; elaborates on the gender divisions of labour in the urban economy; and underscores the importance of gender-sensitive and gender-equitable cities. It also provides recommendations for effective urban planning, design, governance and policy-making from a gender perspective.
The “State of Women in Cities Report 2012/2013,” based on a survey among policy-makers, decision–makers, academics, and city dwellers to learn more about their perceptions on gender and the prosperity of cities, explains that urban dwellers face specific circumstances which can exacerbate and perpetuate poverty. Many of these conditions affect women most.
Women are still disadvantaged compared with men in cities in terms of equal access to employment, housing, health and education, asset ownership, experiences of urban violence, and ability to exercise their rights. For example, the survey found that two-thirds of the respondents were of the opinion that 50% of women have no access to secure housing and 50% of the respondents identified the lack of gender equity in access to education and skills as barriers to women’s economic empowerment.
The survey called for more recognition for women’s role in the informal economy and unpaid care work. In many societies women are leading in undertaking unpaid caring and social reproductive activities such as childcare, caring for the sick, disabled and elderly, washing, cleaning and other community servicers, as well as building and consolidating housing and providing basic services and infrastructure. This phenomenon is strengthened by the fact that cities are marked by increasing numbers of women-headed households. In addition, the report notes that it is expected that cities of the future will comprise a majority female component, especially among pronounced ‘older’ populations (>60 years) and among the ‘older generations’ (>80 years).
The report emphasizes that all these activities allow the urban economy to function and prosper, but regrets that women’s labour and contributions are often ignored and hardly recognised or valued by city officials, urban planners and development practitioners. Women are key drivers of economic growth and make crucially important economic contributions to the prosperity of cities through their paid and unpaid work. “Wealth in the hands of women leads to much more equitable outcomes in terms of the quality of life of families and communities,” the report states.
By making a strong moral/ethical, economic and political call for women and men to enjoy equal rights and opportunities in cities, the report aims to contribute to more “gender-just” cities. Throughout the report, various initiatives are highlighted that have helped to improve the liveability and safety of cities for women; valorise women’s unpaid care work; and enhance women’s productivity and chances in the urban (in)formal economy. Examples are the “Adopt a Light” initiative in Nairobi, the Bantay Banay Campaign in the Philippines, “Hogares Communitarios” in Latin America; the Grameen’s Bank Village Phone Programme in Bangladesh; the Women’s Construction Collective of Kingston, Jamaica; and the “Girl Friendly” schools initiative in the Gambia.