At present, rapid urbanization is challenging both national and local governments in their role to develop compact, inclusive, connected and integrated cities.  In this process of fast urbanization, failure to fully mainstream gender equality into urban planning, legislation and economic development is hindering the inclusiveness of cities and preventing the full integration of women and girls in the economic, social, political and cultural life of cities. UN-Habitat is committed to the goal of gender equality in human settlements development. Women and men, girls and boys, experience urbanization and cities differently and benefit differently from the opportunities available therein. 

Why UN-Habitat? – what cities can offer women and girls

UN-Habitat is uniquely positioned to ensure women’s inclusion in the rapid urbanization process.

Compared to rural areas, cities offer various potential benefits women could profit from:

  • More diverse employment opportunities to increase financial independence;
  • Greater ease in accessing education at different levels,
  • Better access to healthcare;
  • More opportunities to socialize outside the home;
  • More prospects to take up community or political leadership roles and, most notably,
  • More possibilities to redefine the traditional roles of men and women.

We at UN-Habitat are empowering women through the facilitation of gender related projects and activities with a special focus on the areas of equal accessibility, public transport and safety. 

The Challenge

In this current process of the urbanization of poverty, failure to mainstream gender equality into urban planning, legislation, finance and economic development hinders the inclusiveness of cities. In order to empower women and girls and improve the well-being of all persons in the city, it is paramount to work toward promoting inclusive cities with spaces that welcome and engage women and girls.

Informal Settlements

Many girls living in these areas fail to attend school, particular-ly after the onset of puberty, when separate toilet facilities for boys and girls are not available. The concentration of poverty in informal settlements aggra-vates gender inequalities in issues of safety, lack of access to security of tenure, water, sanitation, transport and health services.


Poor urban design choices, such as poor street lighting and secluded underground walkways can put women more at risk of violence in public spaces. Women’s safety involves strate-gies, practices and policies which aim to reduce gender-based violence, including women’s vulnerability to crime. Making communities safer for all requires a change in community norms, patterns of social interaction, values, customs and institutions. Thus gender sensitive policies, planning and approaches to the prevention of crime and violence against women need to be inclusive of development and safety strategies. 

 Young Women

Young women face dual discrimination because of their age and gender, and are often among those living with the highest levels of poverty and marginalization in urban settings. Female-headed households, which can reflect and lead to a change in traditional gender roles where young women take a lead role in their communities are not uncommon, particularly in informal settlements. In addition, young women continue to face challenges relating to security and mobility, rights and access to land, freedom of expression, sufficient basic services, educational and economic resources.

 Economic Empowerment

Women have more opportunities for gainful employment in cities; however, they continue to earn less than men, due to the gendered division of labour which segregates them to lower-paid jobs. For women living in poverty there are immense challenges in accessing credit and financing for themselves and their organizations. Ensuring the integration of women to public life and jobs through the specific location of economic activities for market and accessible commercial uses, public venues and other services, in which social and economic dimensions are developed, is shown to lower poverty levels. 


Improving women and girls active and meaningful participa-tion in decision-making and policy development will change women’s political and socio-economic status. In sum, unless women and communities are involved in decision-making and policy development at every level of governance, changes to women’s political and socio-economic status will likely be minimal, and the improvement of human settlements will be greatly constrained.

 Land ownership

At present, Women own less of the world’s private land, in some cases as little as 2 percent. Lack of secure tenure over housing and land affects millions of people across the world, but women face harsher deprivations with some traditions and customs denying them direct entitlements to property. This translates into policies and laws that prevent women from buying land directly, having a house in their own name, or having control over decision-making regarding land and housing issues.


Legislation is essential to gender mainstreaming and improving the lives of women and girls. Often it is the first point of evolution in women’s rights, although these changes experience challenges when translating into the lives of women and girls on the ground. Moreover, rapidly growing urban areas are burdened by laws that do not match the prevailing urban reality and evolving gender-roles of both women and men.

How is UN-Habitat mainstreaming gender?

In order to promote the creation of inclusive cities UN-Habitat mainstreams gender equality into urban planning, legislation, finance and economic development using various activities and tools, including: 

The strategy provides a framework for designing land tenure and governance interventions around women’s and girls’ land and property rights. It affirms our commitment and motivates our partners to do more to secure land and property rights for women and girls. It underpins the centrality of gender equality in resource sharing and allocation, including land as a productive resource for women and girls. The strategy consolidates efforts to secure women’s and girls’ land and property rights by mobilizing resources and leveraging partnerships to implement activities and monitor progress.

The GEM is a mainstreaming tool that measures the degree to which a project addresses gender equality and the empowerment of women.

  • Extensive network of  Gender Focal Points (GFPs) at headquarters, regional and country levels

These are staff, experts in issues of urbanization, with a passion for gender equality and the empowerment of women in urban development and who function as a network for gender mainstreaming across the agency.

The Gender Hub serves to document the advance in research, policy and practice; their transference; as well as to promote effective governance models that assume the diversity of social actors and city stakeholders. The Hub works to disseminate exchange of processes and tools so as to deliver sustainable urban development with a gender perspective within the continually shifting frameworks of critical global urban trends.

Spearheaded by UN Women, the UN-SWAP assigns common performance standards for the gender-related work of all UN entities, ensuring greater coherence and accountability.


children, both girls and boys have access to safe public spaces. In Dhaka, Bangladesh for the first time girls and women have access to a formerly exclusive male space
More than
50 countries
have benefitted from UN-Habitat’s inclusive and multi-sectoral slum upgrading approach to formulate, independently, human-rights-based, gender and climate sensitive strategies.
516,000 people, including
women benefitted from UN-Habitat’s participatory slum upgrading interventions

News and Stories

Highlighted Publications

Policy and Strategy
GPP: UN-Habitat Policy and Plan for Gender Equality and the Rights of Women in Urban Development and Human Settlements 2020 - 2023
Technical Report
Cities for Girls, Cities for All
Toolkits, Manuals and Guides
Her City – A Guide to Cities to Sustainable and Inclusive Urban Planning and Design together with Girls, Second Edition
Technical Report
Building Gender-Inclusive Cities Toward More Gender-Inclusive Programmes, Public Spaces & Cities in The Arab Region By UN-Habitat In 2021
Technical Report
Harsh Realities: Marginalized Women in Cities of the Developing World
Policy and Strategy
GLTN Gender Strategy (2019–2030): Towards Securing Women’s and Girls’ Land and Property Rights

Donors and partners

UN-Habitat’s work on gender equality in cities is closely in conjunction with women and women’s organizations. UN-Habitat provides platforms and opportunities for grassroots women to have a voice in local urban development and the global urban agenda. UN-Habitat engages local women in
all programmatic work, ensuring that women have a strong voice in policies and programmes that affect them. Furthermore, UN-Habitat engages global women’s networks to ensure that gender equality is at the heart of the urban agenda and urban development.

UN-Habitat works on gender equality with the UN system. UN-Women hold the substantive mandate for gender equality and provide strong collaboration at country and HQ level. Many country-level projects are run with UN-Women and other agencies working in gender equality, including UNDP and UNFPA. We provide urban expertise to ensure women have an equal voice and equal benefit from all UN work.

Our Experts

Angela Mwai
Chief, Human Rights and Social Inclusion Unit
Urban Practices Branch, Global Solutions Division