The 9th World Urban Forum (WUF9) is underway in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, and, on the first day, there were impassioned debates in the Women’s Assembly and an assembly focused on young people.
The gathering is a non-legislative, biennial event convened by the United Nations agency for human settlements, UN-Habitat. WUF9 is being held under the banner “Cities 2030, Cities for All”.
A total of 185 countries are represented.
This year’s focus is on implementation of the United Nations’ New Urban Agenda.
The agenda was adopted in October 2016 at the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development – Habitat III, which took place in Quito, Ecuador.
More than 50 percent of the world’s population now lives in cities and other urban areas and at least one billion people live in slums.
During the Women’s Assembly, Ana Falú, who is from Argentina, and chairs the UN-Habitat’s Advisory Group on Gender Issues, called for a global women’s strike on International Women’s Day on March 8.
“It is in cities where the most shameful inequalities are evident,” Falú said. Fundamentalism is getting stronger, she says, and there is a conservative backlash against women’s achievements.
“Women are still the most poor among the poor.”
More than 80 percent of people in Latin America live in cities, Falú says.
In his opening statement, Malaysia’s Minister for Urban Well-being, Housing, and Local Government, Haji Noh bin Omar, said: “We need to design our cities and territories in an innovative way with a long-term vision of a sound green economy, protection of cultures, and inclusive cities for all.”
S M. Shaikat from the UN-Habitat Youth Advisory Board said that, by 2030, more than half of all urban dwellers will be young teenagers. Young people, he said, faced numerous challenges: finding jobs of their choice, expressing gender identity and sexual orientation, and accessing affordable health care and quality education.
Young people, Shaikat said, make up 25 percent of the global working-age population, but account for 43.7 percent of the unemployed.
“Let us raise our collective voice today, giving world leaders choices of improvements over destruction. Let us ask them to buy books, not bullets and build libraries, not bunkers.”
The adviser to the Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs in Saudi Arabia, Reem Al Saud, said her country was currently witnessing rapid growth in both population and urbanisation. “People under the age of 24 now constitute almost half of the kingdom’s population and people under the age of 15 make up one third.
“Urbanisation is expected to reach approximately 97.6 percent by 2030.”
Al Saud talked about the Future Saudi Cities programme, an initiative aimed at building cities that are “resilient and sustainable”.
Cities, Al Saud said, are not just places defined by their infrastructure and their physical characteristics. “Cities are spaces in which all inhabitants deserve to live meaningful, dignified lives.”
The global ambassador for the Child Health Initiative, Zoleka Mandela, who is the late Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter, made an appeal for action to make roads safer. Her own daughter, Zenani Mandela, was killed by a drunken driver in Johannesburg in 2010 when she was just 13 years old.
Road traffic injury is the biggest killer of children worldwide, Mandela said.
“Today, as we speak at this forum, three thousand children and young people will lose their lives or face serious injury on our roads across the globe.
“As cities are developing, our children are being killed.
“I beg our policy makers, please, please wake up. You have the solutions, so why are you not taking any action?” Mandela said.
“Why are our children still facing speeding traffic on the way to school every day? Why is there a lack of safe crossings and sidewalks for our children? Why do authorities still fail to take enough action against drunk driving?”
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Driving positive change
The new executive director of UN-Habitat, Maimunah Mohd Sharif, who was previously the mayor of Penang in Malaysia, says the power of urbanisation needs to be harnessed for positive change.
“Our goals for our cities should be that they are safe, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable.”
Inclusive cities must provide equal opportunities for all, Sharif said. “Every resident has the same human rights.”
Cities, Sharif added, are hubs of innovation, energy, and ideas, and are the engine of growth.
It is vital, she says, that an environment is created where young people can thrive and participate in their communities.
“Women are the major stakeholders in human settlement, and yet most of the time they are a lesser voice in governments,” Sharif told forum attendees.
It is in cities, she said, where attitudes towards women will change the fastest. “It is in cities where women can get access to education and employment and have a strong voice in leadership.”
Urbanisation, she added, can be a transformative force, one that challenges inequality.
Opening the Women’s Assembly, Sharif, said men and women experience cities differently. She called for gender-responsive participative planning and said cities needed to be cleaner, greener, safer, and healthier.
Maria Noel Vaeza from UN Women says the world needs 50 percent of mayors to be women, not 13 percent, as is the situation today. There is now only one female mayor in the forum’s host country, Malaysia, she pointed out.
Vaeza also said that only one percent of women in the world have access to public procurement.
Also speaking at the Women’s Assembly, Natalja Wehmer from UN-ESCAP said 90 percent of women in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, report that they have been sexually harassed on public transport.
Former British MP Clare Short, who resigned from the Cabinet over the war with Iraq, says successful women have a duty to open the doors for more women to come through. “Inequality is the curse of our times,” she said.
Large numbers of women needed to be sharing power equally, she said, but added that we are living in “increasingly unequal societies” and this also needed to change.
The increase in the number of women, Short says, has got to be a transformative force.
As the chairperson of the Cities Alliance, Short says she is “working to improve the management of urbanisation in the developing world and to improve the life of slum dwellers”.
Rose Molokwane from Slum Dwellers International (SDI) talked about the strength and knowledge of grassroots people: “We are the women who are transforming their own cities. We are the problems and we are the solutions. We want to be part of the decision making.”
Molokwane was one of the speakers who talked about the wealth of information that is being collected by women. SDI, she said, had collected data from more than 100 cities around the world.
Katherine Kline talked about the invisibility of older women. “Aging is a positive, not a negative,” she said.
Older women, Klein said, should be seen as “active contributors to society, not necessarily as charity beneficiaries”. They are donating hundreds of hours of unpaid caregiving work, and contribute via the “silver economy”, Klein said.
Klein, who is 72, said that 58 percent of the world’s 900 million older people now live in towns and cities. “By 2050, that number is projected to rise to over two billion.”
Massa Al Mouselly came to KL from Aleppo in Syria and talked about engaging young people in the reconstruction of the city and the Portico urban social network that she has set up. Al Mouselly says about 40 percent of Aleppo has been destroyed. “But you can do something,” she told Changing Times. “For example, starting with public spaces.”
Al Mouselly (pictured below) says this is an opportunity to put the case to the government for involving young people in discussions about rebuilding Aleppo.
At the end of the Youth Assembly, the secretary-general of the World Organisation of the Scout Movement, Ahmad Alhendawi, called for more investment by government and the private sector in youth programmes. Cities are not just about buildings, Alhendawi says; they need to become communities.
“Financial investment needs to really match what we are trying to achieve.”
By 2050, the world’s urban population is expected to nearly double, and nearly 70 per cent of the global population is expected to be living in cities.
With more than 90 per cent of all urban centres located in coastal areas, it is estimated that 650 million urban dwellers will face serious risks from floods, water scarcity, and ecological and economic alterations as a result of climate change.
About 60 per cent of the world’s 14.4 million refugees and 80 per cent of the 38 million Internally Displaced People are estimated to live in urban areas.
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