SPECIAL ENVOY OF THE CHAIRPERSON OF THE AFRICAN UNION COMMISSION ON WOMEN, PEACE AND SECURITY DURING THE PSC MINISTERIAL MEETING ON URBANIZATION, WOMEN PEACE AND SECURITY ON 8/2/2022
- Your Excellency Amb. Raychelle Omamo, Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kenya and the chairperson of the Peace and Security Council in the month of February 2022.
- Your Excellency Ambassador Bankole Adeoye, Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security,
- Your Excellencies Members of the Security Council,
- Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
- Representatives from the UN Agencies,
- Representatives from the Regional Economic Communities,
- Representatives of Civil Society Organizations,
- Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
Since it is my first time addressing the Peace and Security Council this year, please allow me to wish you all good health and peace throughout this new year.
Through you Your Excellency Ambassador Raychelle Omamo, I wish to congratulate the Republic of Kenya, for steering the work of the PSC in this month of February 2022. I am glad, that you have devoted this open session at the ministerial level to Urbanization, Women, Peace and Security in Africa. Indeed, this is a timely topic especially now that Africa is urbanizing rapidly with projections showing a 50% and 60% increase in urban population by 2030 and 2050 respectively. And I want to commend and thank you, Ambassador Raychelle, for putting women at the centre of this complex nexus of urbanization, peace and security.
I also want to take this opportunity to recognize and thank Kenya for the support you have given to my office. For the last three years, you seconded a senior policy Advisor to my office, a clear demonstration of Kenya’s commitment to the aspirations of the WPS. For this I thank you!
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Sustainable urbanization is important for peace and security as it fosters its key enablers: inclusive socio-economic development, democracy and human rights. Evidence shows that there is a positive correlation between urbanization and economic development when cities are well built and spatially organized.
However, urbanization in Africa has failed to bring about inclusive growth; instead, it has resulted in a proliferation of slums, urban poverty, and rising inequality with dire consequences for the safety and security of women and girls.
Excellencies, Ladies, and Gentlemen,
Urban planning is part of the larger context of urban governance and management. Yet, women’s participation in urban governance is at best marginal. Often, urban areas are planned and designed without considering women’s social-economic and security needs and uses; including the needs of low-income women, and other marginalized groups.
Women’s right to peace and security in urban areas is intrinsically linked to access to basic services and essential infrastructure such as water, sanitation, housing, and physical and income security. However, unplanned rapid urbanization and the mushrooming of slums, that characterize our continent have paused challenges in the realization of women’s right to peace and security in different ways.
Allow me to mention just a few:
- Urbanization and gender-based violence, while gender-based violence is largely determined by unequal gender relations and cultural notions of feminity, in unplanned or poorly planned urban centres it is in many instances directly linked to inadequate basic infrastructure and access to services that increase women’s vulnerability to attacks, including lack of street lightings. In Uganda for instance, a study found that in Kampala, Uganda, a city where, as of 2016, only eight per cent of paved road and street networks is illuminated, 79% per cent of young women reported feeling unsafe when walking in their city’s streets.
In Nouakchott, the study revealed that while the lack of lighting affected everyone’s social and economic life, female informal street vendors, young women, and residents of peripheral and slum areas were more affected. Lack of urban public lighting has also exposed young women to sexual assaults leading to unwanted pregnancies and school dropouts.
Urban lighting has an extra economic benefit for women as it expands their economic opportunities by enabling them to engage in additional commercial activity after the end of their other business activities, daily employment or household and childcare duties.
- Urbanization and access to basic sanitation and water; your excellency, sanitation in urban areas remains a great concern for many urban dwellers, but for women and girls, the challenge of accessing clean water and safe toilets come with the added risk of sexual predation. And in Africa where femininity equates with domestic chores, women carry the brunt of family frustrations over chronic water shortages or sewage overflows. In research carried out in low-income suburbs of three Zimbabwean cities — Bulawayo, Harare, and Kadoma — researchers found women were at risk because of deficits in water, sanitation, and other services. Respondents in Bulawayo, for example, feared being raped when they venture outside their homes to use toilet facilities.
Limited access to water, also means that women, who are primarily responsible for providing it, have to spend a long time travelling to or queuing at overcrowded public standpipes and other water sources, sometimes starting their journey in the middle of the night to make sure the household has water in the morning . Water purchased from private suppliers can be prohibitively expensive, sometimes up to ten times higher than water from public suppliers, while Cheaper informal vendors, on the other hand, may sell polluted water that may affect the health of users. In times of the COVID pandemic, adequate water and sanitation have become a core necessity.
- Urbanization and Secure shelter; Housing that is affordable and protected from arbitrary eviction is crucial for both men and women. Women, however, are much less likely to be the legal owners or occupiers of their homes, since men are typically assumed to be the ‘household heads’ and thus land and housing titles tend to be registered in their names. Single women are however commonly faced with the fear of eviction and homelessness.
- Urbanization and income security: While urbanization offers many benefits, the ugly face of urbanization is urban poverty, which often has the most severe impact on women and girls as many of them find themselves in the informal sector, where social security and other benefits do not exist. During COVID I9 lockdowns, job loss was largely reported among women in the informal sector, many of whom have not been able to recover.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The complex links between urbanization, women, peace and security call for multi-pronged solutions tailored to each unique urban context. As I end my remarks, allow me to offer two recommendations on ensuring that women’s right to peace and security is embedded in urban planning;
- Our governments should endeavour to curtail the spreading of slums and other unsafe dwellings that continue to expose women and girls to higher risks of violence.
- Unsafe urbanization is by and large the result of a lack of opportunities in rural areas. Governments should also invest substantially in rural areas and upcountry towns to minimize movements to capital cities in desperate search of livelihoods.
- Decision-makers should ensure greater involvement of women and girls in the planning and management of public spaces for an inclusive and Human security-oriented urbanization that leads to better and more secure life for all residents and Nations.
I thank you for your kind attention.