Grassroots women leaders work to bridge the urban divide at WUF V Rio and beyond

Source(s): Huairou Commission

From 22-26 March 2010, over 60 women working to empower grassroots women to take leadership in community development in our cities and towns in 18 countries came together for the fifth World Urban Forum, Right to the City: Bridging the Urban Divide.

At the WUF, the Huairou Commission's delegation of grassroots women leaders and NGO partners addressed global concerns to end poverty and redirect development so that systemic crises are reduced through their contributions spoke in all of the important WUF events, including the Official Dialogues, Official Round Tables and Networking events, in the thematic areas of governance and decentralization, building safer cities for women, women's role in constructing disaster resilient communities, and gender inclusive land tools. The Huairou Commission delegation also sought partnerships with local authorities, national ministers, donors, planners and academics who were interested in helping grassroots women's groups find solutions to local community issues as well. The following is an excerpts of the highlights that came out of the thematic events the Huairou Commission panellists spoke in.

Community Resilience: Reducing Vulnerabilities to Climate Change, Thematic Open Debate.

Relinda Sosa, a community leader from Lima, Peru, President of CONAMOVIDI, Confederacion Nacional de Mujeres, Coordinator of the GROOTS Peru network and member of the Huairou Commission, was featured as a 'local champion' central to resilience building in the high level roundtable. Relinda spoke about her twenty years experience, working with 15,000 women across 60 communities in 16 regions of Peru on issues of food security, reforestation, community hazard mapping and access to basic services to reduce communities' vulnerabilities from disasters and climate change.

This panel emphasized the need for participatory integrated planning and pressed policy makers to enhance resilience by mainstreaming communities' needs and priorities into disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation policies. As Relinda said "We are asking policy makers to take into account our strategies because it doesn't make sense to talk about big agreements if they don't translate into local and concrete changes for our communities."All participants agreed there was a need for public consultation with communities to improve resilience. In some examples however, it was unclear the extent to which communities were actually involved in the decision making processes.

Suranjana Gupta, Global Coordinator of the Huairou Commission's Campaign on Community Resilience made a strong intervention and a call to action, to comments by some panelists labeling women as vulnerable groups. "I'm not in favour of labelling women as a vulnerable group because that marginalizes them from decision-making processes and they are a critical component. But, if we don't create policies that unpack the process of women as leaders in settlements then we can't see what they are contributing, and we will just keep reproducing the same vulnerabilities we are trying to prevent."

Community Resilience: Local Leadership Priorities, Practices and Partnerships for Building Resilient Cities: Driving the Local Implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action."

This event was sponsored by, The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) Geneva and Panama, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway, UN-HABITAT, EMI and Huairou Commission.  It featured five local authorities from Bolivia, Ecuador, Philippines, and Brazil and two grassroots women leaders from Jamaica and Peru, members of GROOTS International and the Huairou Commission, to understand how local governments are partnering with communities to promote the building of resilient cities.

Arvinn E Gadgill, Political Adviser and Junior Minister from Norway framed the event by giving an excellent analysis on the state of political and institutional arrangements, stating that "they do not currently exist to address local community priorities or women's issues and capacities." He spoke of the need to develop new policies and tools to adapt to new contexts and inter- institutional coordination that links to the communities. He closed by saying that grassroots women's groups are an untapped resource in this process and can drive the demand for disaster risk reduction.

Local authorities spoke about the risks that their communities were facing and how they institutionalized DRR into local decision making through - community participation and participatory processes (i.e. Quito and Manila), managerial (Rio de Janeiro) and technological approaches to monitor upcoming events (i.e. Bolivia). Margareta Wahlström, Assistant Secretary General for Disaster Reduction, noted that it is important to acknowledge the sometimes uneven balance between 'governments know best' approach and the respect of community knowledge.

With that, Carmen Griffiths, Director of CRDC in Kingston Jamaica spoke about local authority cooperation with grassroots women's groups on issues of housing reconstruction that incorporates hazard reduction, women's safety and environmental initiatives that promote safer cities. Carmen said, "we have trained women in 20 communities to look at their housing vulnerability to disaster, and how they can incorporate small mitigation techniques such as roof retrofitting, hurricane straps etc. As a result, these techniques have been incorporated into building codes at the municipal level."

Castorina Villegas from GROOTS Peru and Mujeres Unidas gave a comprehensive overview of how communities can organize to reduce vulnerabilities to disaster through hazard mapping and advocacy awareness of DRR policy frameworks (such as the Hyogo Framework of Action). She helped to implement this initiative in 9 communities in Peru with the support of municipal governments to redress vulnerabilities found from the process. As a result, the local governments have committed to building retention walls, and reinstalling water and sanitation systems that were found to be hazard prone. Illustrating the scale of their work Castorina explained, "now the national disaster agencies are commending our work and have asked us to train them!"

In short, this session called for more innovative political frameworks that create opportunities for real participation from networks of grassroots women who are capable of sustainable action to reduce vulnerabilities and build a culture of resilience in their communities. Small steps, big change at the World Urban Forum As the week of the World Urban Forum came to a close, Huairou Commission delegates analyzed and evaluated their time and contributions to the WUF, concluding that the Huariou Commission had "added energy" and an "indispensable grassroots voice and on-the-ground reality" to the Forum.

The successes of the Huairou Commission's participation in the World Urban Forum included the official signing of the Communications Portal between the Huairou Commission and UN-Habitat's commitments to long-term investments in Haiti, with a focus on women's roles in rebuilding and anti-violence initiatives; the presence of the urban poor at the meeting at several events, bringing the realities of poor urban dwellers to the Forum, underlining what the Urban Divide truly looks like; and the surprise announcement during the GLTN Round Table that the women belonging to Espacio Feminista and the 8000 families in their region were granted ownership and titles to the land they had been fighting to control.

In the Closing Ceremonies of the World Urban Forum, Huairou Commission Secretariat Chair Jan Peterson stated, "We are working on extending government to make it an everyday reality, we stand for principals, women are not just looking monitor services and programs is used well and used in priority ways. We are very willing to communicate the key messages of the World Urban Campaign. We will work with our cities and set up champions. We cannot survive in a world without bottom up solutions to local development issues."The audience erupted in applause with this important statement.

Josephine Castillo of DAMPA, GROOTS Philippines and Huairou Commission gave a closing speech on behalf of women and grassroots women. "We are united by working to improve conditions in our local communities, livelihoods, and participating in local decision-making bodies. At the Academy and WUF, we have shared our strategies to bridging the urban divide and promoting democratic local governments, by fighting evictions, reducing violence, advocating for development that makes our communities resilient to disaster and climate change. (...) We call on governments, donors, civil society and academia to increase the plan to bridge the urban divide as experienced by women. We expect our commitments, contributions to be valued, and our hope is that words will lead to action. We expect local and national to report on secure they have secured, the services available to women and describing and celebration that participatory planning governing structures to deliver resilient development to the poor."

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