Gender and the Habitat Agenda: Engendering our Human Settlements



Habitat II was a world conference on human settlements organised by the United nations, held in Istanbul, Turkey, from 3rd to 14th of June, 1996. This was 20 years after the first such conference was held in Vancouver in Canada in 1976. The conference was attended by over 16,000 people, bringing together more representative of non-governmental and community based organisations than any other previous UN conference.

The two main themes for the conference were

  1. adequate shelter for all
  2. sustainable human settlements development in an urbanising world

These themes were very relevant since it is currently said that some 100 million people, most of them women and children, are homeless. Overall, at least 600 million people live in shelters that are life or health threatening in cities in the developing world.

Women constitute seventy percent of the world’s 1.3 billion absolute poor and 50,000 women and their children die daily as a result of poor shelter water and sanitation. Thousands of women went to Istanbul, many from the grassroots level, to seek deeper commitments from the international community to change the conditions that keep the majority of women powerless and poor.

Habitat International Coalition (HIC) and the HIC-Women and Shelter Network played a big role both during the preparatory process towards the Habitat II conference and during the conference itself. The Huairou Commission to which HIC – Women and Shelter Network is a member played a very important role in engendering the Habitat Agenda. As a result of intensive lobbying by women, the primary role of women in Human Settlements was strongly recognised and several clauses on gender and women were included in the Habitat Agenda.

At the end of the Conference, people started thinking about the implementation of the Habitat Agenda. Heads of States and Governments and official delegations made commitments to the objectives, principles and to the recommendations contained in the Habitat Agenda and pledged their mutual support for its implementation. In parallel session, NGOs also made a commitment of contributing to the implementation of the Habitat Agenda.

The Habitat Agenda is a global call to action at all levels. The document offers, within a framework of goals and principals and commitments, a positive vision of sustainable human settlements where all have adequate shelter, a healthy and safe environment, basic services and productive and freely chose employment. The Habitat Agenda is a guide for all efforts geared to turning this vision into a reality.

Since the Habitat Agenda has several clauses on gender and women, the HIC-WAS Secretariat decided to put all such clauses together in one booklet for easy access and reference by all interested parties. The idea is to share in a focused manner, the commitments that have a direct relevance to actions in the thematic area of women and shelter.

The selection of the gender and women clauses from the Habitat Agenda was done by the HIC WAS Secretariat with the assistance of the Women and Habitat Program of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UNCHS) – Habitat and the Habitat International Coalition. The HIC – Women and Shelter Secreatariate further felt that adding an official summary in simpler language would make this compilation even more accessible.

We hope this booklet will help readers navigate through the Habitat Agenda to find specific paragraphs bearing gender and women’s concerns and directives for action. We feel this booklet can be used as a tool for:

  • creating awareness of governments’ commitments and responsibilities
  • lobbying and creating partnerships with local governments, central governments and the international community and agencies
  • keeping governments accountable for their commitments
  • advocating for projects and gender issues in human settlements development
  • learning about NGOs, CBOs and women’s groups participation in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda
  • developing indicators
  • monitoring implementation

It is the intention of the Secretariat to make the booklet accessible to all interested government officials, people from non-governmental organisation, community based organisations, activists at all levels but more so at the local level, so that it can be a useful tool in implementing and monitoring the implementation of the Habitat Agenda. That is why, at the moment, the booklet is available in four languages: English, French, Spanish and Kiswahili. This, the English version, is the first of the set.

It is our hope that all actors in the field of human settlements will find this booklet handy and easy to use.

Tabitha Siwale, MP
Secretary – HIC WAS
April, 1999

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