Can the New Urban Agenda make the world’s cities safer for women and girls?

The slums of Mumbai. Indian cities have often been in the news thanks to fears about women's safety on public transport. Image: Getty.

One in three women around the world currently experience gender-based violence. Harmful practices such as trafficking, forced marriage, domestic violence and female genital mutilation occur both in public and in private spaces. Today, these forms of violence are recognised as a major violation of human rights, a public health challenge and one of the clearest forms of gender discrimination. It’s also widely acknowledged that women experience heightened levels of violence in cities.

Tens of thousands of delegates from right across the globe met in Quito, Ecuador, to discuss the future of cities at the UN’s Habitat III conference, where the fifth and final version of the New Urban Agenda was adopted by member states. The document will help to guide urban policy around the world for the next 20 years. Which begs the question: how have women’s voices and gender issues been incorporated into it?

Impressively, with each new draft of this latest document, women’s views are increasingly being taken on board. Consultation took place at a range of levels, with notable contributions from important global networks that fight for women’s rights and gender equality, such as Slum Dwellers International (SDI), Women in Informal Employment: Globalising and Organising (WIEGO) and the Huairou Commission.

Living without fear

From the first draft to the final document, references to women more than doubled from 14 paragraphs to 32, out of 175. The final document explicitly states that cities should:

Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal rights in all fields and in leadership at all levels of decision-making, and by ensuring decent work and equal pay for equal work, or work of equal value for all women, as well as preventing and eliminating all forms of discrimination, violence and harassment against women and girls in private and public spaces.

The fact that these commitments explicitly address the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls in public and private spaces, as well as safety and security for women in cities, is a major achievement.

In particular, there are three commitments that have the potential, not just to empower individual women, but also to transform gender power relations in cities. These include land tenure rights for women, which gives women individual titles to land. When integrated into land regulation procedures, measures like these can transform gender power relations because it means women no longer have to depend on men in order to access land, as seen in Recife, Brazil.

Another key commitment relates to informal economy opportunities for women in terms of “livelihoods, working conditions, income security, legal and social protection”. Access to an independent income for those working in the informal economy – such as waste-pickers and recyclers – empowers women, while successfully contesting legal rights can change structural power relations by reducing their dependence on men for financial resources.

Get rights. Image: Jonathan Stening/Flickr/creative commons.

The third commitment relates to calls for cities with “public spaces and streets, free from crime and violence, including sexual harassment and gender-based violence”. This empowers women by enhancing their mobility, and access to both education and employment opportunities, which can allow them to live more independent lives.


Watered down

Yet some measures to address violence against women and girls were diluted throughout the five drafts. The first draft not only identified the importance of preventing and eliminating violence against women and girls in cities, it also specified how it should be addressed: through a range of measures, including the “investigation, prosecution and punishment of the perpetrators”.

It also called for the provision of services for survivors, recognition “that the treatment of women and girls can be a broader reflection of societal norms” and a commitment to “using education and public awareness campaigns as a further tool against abuse”.

But by the final draft, making places safer for women and girls had become a matter relating merely to the design and management of infrastructure and urban public spaces – for instance, by ensuring transport is accessible and improving urban sanitation. There was no acknowledgement that many of the problems faced by women and girls are caused by underlying gender inequalities in society. And in the paragraph on urban safety, crime and violence prevention, women are entirely ignored.

Throughout the agenda, women are typically referred to as part of a composite, monolithic and vulnerable group. There are continual references to “age and gender-responsive” interventions – but very little clarity as to what this means or involves in practice.

In fact, only one practical commitment was made, to age and gender-responsive budgeting. This involves strengthening the capacity of national, sub-national and local governments to ensure that there are equal numbers of women represented throughout all state institutions, and to take women’s needs into account in the allocation of state budgets.

Compromises have to be made when agreeing on global agendas and the inclusion of women is complex and contradictory. But if the UN’s agenda is to effectively address issues of violence against women and girls, it needs to clarify the meaning of generic “gender-responsive” commitments, and consider women specifically, rather than as part of a larger group of “vulnerable” citizens.

While design and management can play an important role in forging safer cities, it is essential to move beyond these aspects, in order to transform gender relations in urban spaces around the world over the next 20 years.

Caroline Moser is emeritus professor at the University of ManchesterCathy McIlwaine is professor of geography at Queen Mary University of London.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. It is part of a series on publicly funded UK research at the UN Habitat III summit in Quito, Ecuador. It is a collaboration between the Urban Transformations Network, UK Economic and Social Research Council and The Conversation UKRead the original article here.The Conversation

 
 
 
 

“This is a civic pride for the digital age”: why we should why we should willingly let City Hall have our data

He was the future once: David Cameron discusses smart cities with Angela Merkel and a German technology executive. Image: Getty.

Victorian England. From the shadows of wealth grew poverty. Slums slumped against symbols of civic pride, cowering next to towering town halls funded through rich merchant princes, whose elitist rule was insufficient to deal with too many people in too few houses with too little infrastructure.

Enter municipality. With darkness came electric light; with disease came tunnels to disperse their cause; with time came reform, regulation and the rise of town planning.

It’s over a century since those places which first industrialised became those first urbanised; yet even the wealthiest cities in the world continue to struggle with the complexities of urbanisation. In London, ten thousand die each year from pollution; in New York, six times this amount reside in homeless shelters.On the rush-hour roads of Sydney, cars stand still, and in the ‘burbs or banlieues of Paris slums still stand.

An umbrella bought during a downpour costs more than one bough under blue sky – and the truth is that, for too, long city halls have failed to forecast and so incurred greater costs. It’s a reactive culture summed up by words first head in Jimmy Carter’s budget office: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Disease before sewer, gridlock before investment, collapse before rebuild – visible fix over unseen prevention

But with the world’s urban population growing by 65m every year, this has to change: there is not enough resource to manage cities reactively. Enter technology and the move to smart cities.

From Barcelona to New YorkOxford to Amsterdam, Singapore to Seoul: billions of low-cost devices are being installed into everyday objects to send and receive data: street lights recording pollution, and bridges reporting performance; traffic lights that count, and whose analysis will be counted upon, to ease traffic congestion; health wristbands understanding our heart’s needs, shop ceilings noting our heart’s desires. A web of information woven into the very fabric of cities which, when added to data from sources like mobile phones, is providing a living-breathing picture of how we and our cities operate.

This data is no longer retrospective or historic but live and dynamic. It is of such quantity, and can be analysed at such granular detail, that it can provide certainty where once there was only supposition. It is build-up before the gridlock, illness before epidemic; the crack of an ageing bridge, the first signs of smog. It is diagnostic to preventative. Umbrella under blue sky.

Those promoting the “internet of things”, estimated to be worth $11.1trn a year by 2025, will declare it a panacea – but it is not, at least not entirely. Sure, challenges regarding data quality, privacy, standardisation, and security will be overcome; 4G will become 5G will become 6G. Devices will communicate intelligently with each other – autonomous vehicle to autonomous vehicle, autonomous vehicle to bridge, drone to home. Data will become as fundamental to cities as infrastructure, and will be referred to as such.

Yet city halls in democracies, whilst infinitely better informed, will continue to make their decisions which are restricted by commercialism, framed by political ideology, and driven by short-term electoral or media pressures.


People first

From the mid-sixties to the start of this century a UK television programme called Tomorrow’s World showcased future living. For every correct prediction (mobile phones) came countless incorrect ones: the floating-bicycle, say, or paper underwear. My point is that only a small part of understanding the future of cities is about understanding technology. The majority is about understanding people and society, the people from whom the very word “city” is derived: civitas, the collective of citizens.

Gutenberg did not change the world by inventing the printing press in the 13th century – but he did enable the world to change. The technology was the printing press, the outputs were books filled with knowledge, the outcomes were the actions of the many who used that knowledge. Technology is a tool, a process towards an outcome. 

In much the same way, the Internet of Things will not change the world – but it will enable the world to change. Sensors are the technology, data the outputs, the analysis of this data and subsequent decisions, the outcome.

It is crucial to avoid the Tomorrow’s World approach. That is, racing to implement technology first without consideration of identified social, economic or environmental needs; introducing more complexity when most citizens seek simplicity. As the writer and urbanist Jane Jacobs once said:“First comes the image of what we want, then the machinery is adapted to turn out that image.”

Start with people. Form the image. Think of technology through the Greek origins of the word, techne and logos – a discourse about the way things are gained – and capitalise on collective intelligence to move towards that image.

Since cities first started to appear some millennia ago, they’ve provided incontrovertible evidence that the wisdom of crowds is far greater than the individual; that collective intelligence gained from that trinity of city institutions – citizen, government, industry – surpasses what can be achieved by any one in isolation. Where would Apple, Uber, or Google be without the government-backed inventions like the world-wide-web, touchscreen technology, WiFi or global positioning systems?

A new civic pride

Of course, an app on a smart phone that can ask a thousand questions is meaningless if nobody feels motivated to answer. Increasing urbanisation brings increasing interdependency: lives intrinsically linked, services shared. The challenge for city halls is to turn the increase in what people have in common, into an increase in common purpose, through understanding the three benefits that motivate and lead to action.

Extrinsic benefits, of status and reward, caused merchant princes to fund city halls in Victorian England: such benefits today see the ambitious putting in extra hours. Intrinsic benefits, like competitiveness or fun, that once caused business tycoons to compete to build the tallest skyscrapers, now explain why “hackathons” and “city challenges” are such a success. Then there are the pro-social benefits of altruism or benevolence, that cause millions to volunteer their time to give back and feel part of something bigger than themselves.

These motivations are of greater significance, because there are no longer people with clipboards standing on street corners asking permission to collate our views on services: it is happening automatically through the Internet of Things. Our choices online, movements offline; the travel we take, the pollution we make; our actions and interactions. We are data.

City halls can take a click-box-small-print approach to this, like so many apps. But there is opportunity to do the opposite. They can promote the fact that citizens can knowingly provide their data towards making lives better; visualise and enable citizens to see and understand their input, alongside data provided by others.

They can incentivise interaction with data, so that entrepreneurs can work back from outcomes, solve challenges, and re-localise where appropriate (we should not need a multinational to get a taxi). They can be proudly open, enabling citizens, industry and government to receive pro-social benefit by contributing to something bigger than themselves: their life and the lives of others.

This is a civic pride for the digital age. Not just localism or patriotism based on geography but the strength of connection between people and their ability to direct and determine change through data. Not just pride in the buildings and infrastructure that form our physical world, but in the quality of data that will shape our future world and move us from a diagnostic to preventative society – umbrellas under blue sky.

We should take pride in technology, yes; but that should come second to the pride in those who, enabled by that technology, drive progress. Who, through the wisdom of crowds, form an image of the future and strengthen democracy by motivating society to move towards it. Who embrace openness and help overcome the challenges of urbanisation.

Kevin Keith is a writer, researcher, urbanist, and director of the southern hemisphere’s largest open data competition, GovHack. He tweets as@KevKeith.

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