Challenges and Progress
We live in an increasingly urban world where providing healthy and safe living environments, productive economies and equitable social benefits are challenges facing towns and cities globally. Today, just over half the world’s people live in urban areas, and we expect the percentage of urban dwellers to rise to 70 per cent by 2050. An important dimension of urban life is the condition of women in towns and cities; it is a condition marked by historical exclusion and multiple deprivations.
One in three people in cities of the developing world lives in a slum. Although conditions vary, research shows that women and girls often suffer the worst effects of slum life, such as poor access to clean water, inadequate sanitation, unemployment, insecurity of tenure and gender-based violence (exacerbated at home by stressful and over-crowded living conditions, and in public areas by poor security and eviction threats). On the whole, governments and policy makers are still responding inadequately to different gender needs in towns and cities. With time, this deepens the disadvantages for women and girls. It denies them an equal voice to bring about improvements in their communities, and holds back the full potential for social and economic development in their countries. With global threats such as climate change and global recession, never has there been a greater urgency to develop innovative interventions.
• Research based on a sample of 141 countries (1981–2002) found that, on average, natural disasters (and their subsequent impact) killed more women than men, or killed women at an earlier age. In some cases, more men die in natural disasters than women. This was the case in 2001, when Hurricane Mitch hit South America. Men were more likely to engage in risky activities, such as search and rescue.
• On average, women account for half the population in refugee camps, but their participation in camp decision-making remains low. Data from more than 80 camps show that equal participation has been achieved in only about two in every five camps. However, more recent data (2005, 2007) shows that women’s participation is increasing.
• Conflicts and disasters can accelerate urbanization—with rural people displaced by war or natural disasters moving to urban centers in search of better resources and protection. This can cause fierce competition for resources, land and jobs in urban areas, adding to already difficult conditions in slums that are often highly disaster-prone in the first place. Women and vulnerable groups often experience the most difficulties accessing limited resources.
• Violence against women during or after armed conflicts has been reported in every international or non-international war-zone. Between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, as were 20,000 to 50,000 women during the conflict in Bosnia in the early 1990s.47 Over the last decade, up to 300,000 women in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been raped.
Approximately one million families and over five million people around the world were made homeless by conflict and natural disasters in 2007 alone,49 and it is the world’s poorest people, including slum dwellers, who suffer the most from these crises. Gender equality in disaster management and mitigation enables communities to reduce underlying risks and vulnerabilities that have traditionally made women more disadvantaged in such situations. The approach recognizes that women form a large part of the poor around the world, and that many may need additional economic resources if they are to develop more resilience to disasters—for example, by building stronger homes in regions susceptible to earthquakes.
Fair redistribution of land, property and resources is critical, as well as increased participation of women in decision making. Promoting gender equality in humanitarian relief and reconstruction efforts remains a constant challenge, since many communities, and even governments, do not make this a priority and fail to associate the issue with longer-term urban development plans. However, training and advocacy efforts are gaining momentum, and attitudes and approaches are also gradually changing for the better.
Towns and cities are increasingly important places for tackling gender inequalities. gender equality for smarter Cities highlights some of the key gender issues we face in the context of rapid urbanization in the developing world. Creating more equal opportunities and protecting rights for both women and men contributes to better living conditions for the urban poor and achievement of the Millennium development goals.