Huairou and the Urban Agenda at the 26th Governing Council
Emerging from the Africa Regional Meeting as a strong team, the Huairou delegation entered the twenty-sixth session of the UN-Habitat Governing Council (GC26, held 8-12 May 2017) in full force. In the open hallways of the beautiful United Nations Offices in Nairobi, grassroots women leaders from across the region interfaced with diplomats and policymakers with a mission to ensure the urban agency retains and expands its focus on gender and women’s empowerment. The Governing Council was an important follow up to the Habitat III Conference, one of the most open and participatory United Nations fora, where certain constituencies like grassroots, older persons, and persons with disabilities, held formal roles for the first time.
Building on a long tradition, the Huairou Commission hosted a daily women’s caucus at GC26. Grassroots and professional women, civil society partners, and representatives of Member States joined forces to discuss key topics, strategy, and language for points on gender and women in the Governing Council resolution (later approved in negotiations). The women’s caucus additionally received Ms. Ana B. Moreno, Coordinator of the Habitat III Secretariat, and Ms. Norliza Hashim, the Malaysian Government’s WUF Coordinator, to discuss preparations for and modes of engagement in the upcoming World Urban Forum (WUF9) to be held in Kuala Lumpur, 8-13 February 2018; a strong recommendation emerged for WUF9 to integrate substantial gender and women’s empowerment components throughout its program.
Caucus participants were additionally briefed on the UN-Habitat Action Framework for the Implementation on the New Urban Agenda (AFINUA) by the agency’s Director of Programme Division, Mr. Raf Tuts, during which they lobbied for a gender-responsive approach. They heard as well from Mr. Eduardo Moreno, UN-Habitat’s Director of Research and Capacity Development, on the agency’s global City Prosperity Initiative (CPI). Utilizing six dimensions of prosperity, the CPI’s composite index is a tool for both authorities and stakeholders, as a metric to support evidence-based policy formulation and a global monitoring mechanism; it also presents an opportunity for grassroots women’s leaders to partner with their local government on a participatory urban agenda. Finally, caucus participants celebrated the launch of the UN-Habitat Gender Journey, a publication which not only documents the agency’s successes in gender-responsive programming and policy, but also explicitly recognizes the solutions and contributions of grassroots women worldwide.
Prompted by the outcomes of the Habitat III Conference, UN Secretary-General António Guterres appointed in April a High-Level Panel to assess and enhance the effectiveness of UN-Habitat. The Panel welcomed members of SDI and the Huairou Commission during their meetings at GC26. Participants affirmed the value of UN-Habitat as a partner, maintaining that the agency should receive high marks on its interactions with real people on real issues, all conducted under a spirit of inclusivity. They asserted that over the years UN-Habitat has been the only UN agency to recognize grassroots leaders as experts, as evidenced by a number of invitations to join the Habitat III Policy Units. The representatives also regarded UN-Habitat as a leader in the development and implementation of the New Urban Agenda (NUA), a tool that would help achieve Goal 11 (the “urban SDG”), and appreciated the document’s embrace of rural-urban linkages. For example, Joyce Nangobi, Director of Slum Women’s Initiative for Development (SWID) in Jinja, Uganda, noted that her town is fast becoming a city and would therefore do well under the guidance of the NUA. The High-Level Panel will continue to meet and receive input, but one thing is clear: the grassroots are in support of a robust UN-Habitat.
“We need UN-Habitat to stay with the grassroots, only then we can accomplish what we have started.” – Fati Alhassan, Director, of the Grassroots Sisterhood Foundation (Ghana)
Sri Husnaini Sofjan, Huairou Senior Program Administrator & Strategist, highlighted grassroots women’s urban initiatives in the side event “Taking Action to Implement The New Urban Agenda Through Urban Thinkers Campuses (hosted by Arcadis Shelter Program & World Urban Campaign). She noted that 15 Huairou member groups are organizing post-Habitat III Campuses in Africa, Asia and Africa; several of them have already been lauded by their governments for their leadership in raising local awareness of the New Urban Agenda. In a second side event “Putting Safety at the Core of Local Government Development Agenda” (hosted by the Government of South Africa), Sri referred to the Huairou Commission’s long history of supporting organized grassroots women working on safety issues. Along with Huairou network member, Women in Cities International (WICI), the groups have advocated the safety audit as a tool to assess community safety; the safety audit is now recognized as an important element and process in many Safer Cities program activities, including those that are implemented and operational in South Africa.
The Huairou Commission brought a range of stakeholders together in a final side event entitled “Engendering the New Urban Agenda Implementation.” Magdalena Garcia Hernández, Co-Chair of the GAP Women’s Partner Constituency Group; Emily Mohohlo, of the South African Federation of the Urban Poor and the SDI Management Committee; and Bert Smolders, Arcadis Shelter Program Manager, formed a formidable panel. Although coming from different backgrounds, they each agreed that a gender-responsive NUA implementation plan must be based on strong partnerships.
Speaking of partnerships, the Huairou delegation was pleased to actively participate in an open meeting of the General Assembly of Partners (GAP) toward Habitat III, as it navigates its post-Quito role. Several leaders within the Huairou network sit on the GAP Executive Committee: Magdalena Garcia Hernández (Mexico) and Teresa Boccia (Italy) represent the Women’s Group; Mildred Crawford (Jamaica) and Violet Shivutse (Kenya) on the Farmer’s Group; and Analucy Bengochea (Honduras) and Ndinini Kimesera Sikar (Tanzania) on the Indigenous People’s Group. Furthermore, of great excitement was the chance to sit down with UN-Habitat Executive Director Dr. Joan Clos to sign a Memorandum of Understanding that names the Huairou Commission as a UN-Habitat Agenda Partner. As a key operational partner, Huairou will infuse “the work of UN-Habitat with the realities of women and in particular grassroots women in human settlements.” We are ready for the task!
The Board of the Huairou Commission would also like to extend a warm farewell to UN-Habitat Deputy Executive Director Aisa Kirabo Kacyira as her term comes to an end. We wish her the best of luck in her next endeavors, and thank her for her leadership on women’s empowerment and gender equality.