UNICEF Executive Board eyes gender equality, child protection and urban safety

2011 Annual Session: Day 3

By Tim Ledwith

NEW YORK, USA, 23 June 2011 – A trio of interconnected issues – gender equality, child protection and urban safety – rounded out the agenda at yesterday’s meeting of the UNICEF Executive Board in New York.

The meeting at UN headquarters marked the third day of the Executive Board’s 2011 Annual Session. It featured a progress report on UNICEF’s global efforts to advance gender equality, as well as an in-depth discussion of results on protecting children from violence, exploitation and abuse.

Several points became clear in the course of the day’s discussions. First, sexual violence disproportionately affects poor and marginalized women and girls. Second, greater equality and empowerment for women will be critical to curbing gender-based violence. And third, increased urbanization correlates with intensified poverty, crime and violence, placing women and children at particular risk.



‘Safe and Friendly Cities for All’

The rise in urban violence demands a response in the form of enhanced protection for the most vulnerable city dwellers. The launch of ‘Safe and Friendly Cities for All’ – which took place during yesterday’s Executive Board meeting – is part of that response.


This joint UN initiative aims to reduce violence and empower women and children in urban communities. The five-year programme constitutes a partnership between UNICEF, UN-Women and UN-Habitat.

UN-Women is the newly formed United Nations body dedicated to advocating gender equality. UN-Habitat works to provide adequate shelter for all, including households in rapidly growing cities throughout the developing world.

Opportunities denied

“For the first time, the majority of the world’s population lives in urban areas,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said at the ‘Safe and Friendly Cities’ launch. “And if projections hold true, by 2050 that proportion will rise to nearly 70 per cent of the world’s population.”

Mr. Lake noted that the perils associated with urban poverty encompass inadequate health and sanitation infrastructure, lack of access to education and high levels of violence. Beginning in eight cities, with plans for future expansion, the ‘Safe and Friendly Cities’ partners will work together “to combat violence against women, girls and children,” he said.

As UN-Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet explained, urban violence limits the freedom of women and girls to participate in community life. What’s more, it robs them of opportunities for education, employment, political involvement and recreation.

Shaping the urban environment

Our joint programme,” said Ms. Bachelet, “is designed to increase safety, prevent and reduce violence – and to mobilize and empower women’s groups, youth and children’s advocates to shape their urban environment.”

Along with practical measures such as better lighting and more community police units, she added, “we will advocate for female councillor-led committees to monitor responses to sexual violence, abuse and crime.”

Building on the expertise of the three partner agencies, ‘Safe and Friendly Cities’ will work with local authorities, and with women and young people themselves. All participants in the programme will seek to identify and address the factors that create insecurity in urban public spaces.

“There is a role for everyone in providing safety,” said UN-Habitat New York Office Director Cecilia Martínez. “It is only when safety is seen as an integral part of the city functioning that there will be an impact in reducing crime and violence.”

Protection, safety and equality

Also at yesterday’s Executive Board meeting – in keeping with the focus on protection and safety – UNICEF Director of Programmes Nick Alipui and Associate Director for Child Protection Susan Bissell led a thematic discussion on lessons learned in child protection at the global and country levels.

Mr. Alipui and Ms. Bissell highlighted the need to work on changing social norms with regard to abuses against children. They cited, as well, the importance of a holistic, cross-sectoral approach to protecting children in both emergency and non-emergency situations.

And in line with the day’s theme of equality, Director of Policy and Practice Richard Morgan presented a summary of results achieved to date in UNICEF’s gender-equality work. Mr. Morgan pointed to major strides toward closing the gender gap in primary education but noted that gender disparities still remained in many other areas.

The Executive Board’s 2011 Annual Session wraps up today.

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