On 8th February 2022, Cabinet Secretary Amb. Raychelle Omamo chaired the 1063 session of the Peace and Security Council on the Urbanization, Women, Peace and Security addressing the nexus between Women, Peace and Security and urbanization.
The objective of the session was to explore the role that sustainable urbanization and effective cities and local governments can play in preventing escalation of conflicts, rebuilding the social contract, preventing further displacement, extremism and proxy-wars, and promoting bottom-up stabilization efforts to complement higher-level peace processes.
The meeting was attended by AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, H.E. Amb. Bankole Adeoye; others present as special guests included; H.E. Madam Bineta Diop, AU Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security; Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif – the Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UNHabitat).
In her opening remarks the Cabinet Secretary noted that Africa is rapidly urbanizing and its urban population will almost double in the next 20 years. Data from the UN HABITAT indicates that Africa’s rate of urbanization rose from 15% in 1960 to 40% in 2010, and is likely to rise to 60% in 2050. She noted that while the phenomenon of urbanization exhibits many positive things, unplanned and rapid urbanization is becoming the biggest challenge of our times, weakens traditional family support systems while leaving women and girls extremely exposed.
“Most of the people living in our cities are poor and therefore pose serious challenges to governance, peace and national security.” She said.
CS Omamo said that War and conflict in cities is becoming more pronounced with terror attacks almost exclusively focused on urban spaces, posing new and unprecedented challenges for peacekeepers and humanitarian workers on the protection of civilians and provision of services.
“Attacks destroy infrastructure such as water supply, housing, energy supply and other services and affect the quality of life of women and children the most”.
She said women’s experiences in urban areas are highly varied and context- specific, shaped by factors such as location, education levels, household profiles and wealth.
“In many cities around Africa, the major issues and concerns of urban safety and security affecting women and girls relate to crime and violence, insecurity of tenure and forced evictions, and natural and human made disasters.
The increase in informal centres in urban areas has led to an increase in ungoverned spaces that the Government and specifically security agencies cannot monitor. The unplanned and fluid circumstances in sprawling urban settlements means women are susceptible to human trafficking, slavery and sexual exploitation as well as radicalization and violent extremism”. She told the meeting
For this reason, she said, urban planning and development needs to be elevated to a national security issue and should be gender sensitive and take the unique challenges germane to women and girls into account. For example, she added, women need easier access to hospitals, sanitary and hygiene facilities and effective policing, which are necessary for increasing security of women and their participation in society. She said women, especially those in informal sectors need to be meaningfully included in political decision making, to enable them bring their issues to the peace building table and to create conditions for a gender inclusive sustainable peace.
To take the discuss forward the Cabinet Secretary raised pertinent questions that the meeting sought to address:
How do we incorporate the crisis in Africa’s burgeoning cities and the emerging patterns of violence and instability in urban settings into the WPS agenda, with regard to the key pillars of participation, protection, prevention and relief and recovery;
What initiatives should we take in the areas of peacekeeping and peacebuilding in light of the impact of rapid urbanization and violence particularly in conflict and post-conflict settings and what is the role of women peacekeepers in this regard;
How can women in urban settings become agents of peace and stability in post-conflict rebuilding processes and How can existing organic peace building efforts by local women be incorporated into peace negotiations and peace agreements and related political processes; and,
How do we ensure that women’s voices are heard in efforts towards strengthening local governance and administration to enable the silencing of guns in urban settings;
How can security sector reforms be more aligned to the protection of women in urban spaces, especially with regard to reshaping police forces and other local administration agencies particularly in conflict and post-conflict settings;
What are the new triggers and risks for international peace and security associated with rapid unplanned urbanization, climate change, conflict over land and urban violence; And what kind of early warning mechanisms can be put in place.
The Cabinet Secretary invited guest speakers to share their thoughts on the topic before inviting delegations to make their interventions particularly on what their individual countries are doing to uplift issues affecting women and peace. The topic they said was timely, noting that sustainable urban development cannot be achieved in the absence of Peace and Security with women playing a major social and economic development of our cities.
The three hours meeting proposed for:
The establishment or enhancement of gender champion networks to influence local governments, national decision makers, and African’s private sector to invest in research, technology and infrastructure to support growing urban population and planned city extension;
The development of an AU/UN joint advocacy strategy on enhancing women ability in urban development and conflict prevention;
The need to enhance the work of the UN Habitant in order to ensure the inclusion of women in urbanization activities/processes as a tool to promote peace, security and development;
Member states who have developed efficient urbanization plans with the inclusion of women to encourage others to do the same as part of addressing facing women on rapid urbanization in the continent;
The developing and adopting a Continental Comprehensive Roadmap on Urbanization that is gender sensitive in order to ensure that women’s needs and security are proactively addressed; and
The need to secure sustainable funding to address challenges facing the urbanization.