UNESCO - United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

10/19/2020 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 10/19/2020 14:00

Call for application: Inclusive and Sustainable Cities – “Migration and Gender in the Arab cities”

  1. Cities, Migrants and Gender

Cities today are home to more than half of humanity (over 54%) and continue to attract people who seek to improve their life conditions. The coexistence of an increasing part of the world's population in urban settings engenders multiple challenges. Many derive from the increased pressure upon the determined space and resources exercised by the growing numbers of city-dwellers, which constrain the sustainable provision of adequate basic services to all (e.g. affordable housing, quality healthcare, safe drinking water, etc.), and impinge on quality of life and resilience to natural hazards. In most, cases, the poor and those in vulnerable situations are the most affected by these conditions. Another set of challenges are related to the tensions generated by diversity in its different forms and manifestations. Migrants, whether international or internal, and refugees follow the global urbanization trends and seek residence in cities, thus rendering urban spaces even more multi-ethnic and multicultural. This diversity of identities, coupled with pre-existing and emerging stereotypes, can be the source of misunderstandings, tensions and mistreatment. In such contexts, women, and especially female migrants, find themselves in vulnerable situations.

In general, women migrate as much as men: in 2015, almost half (48%) of all international migrants were female. From 2000 to 2015, women and girls' migration to developing countries (15.8%) increased more rapidly than to developed regions (6.4%) (UN DESA, 2016b). The proportion of female migrants to Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Northern America and Oceania increased, but the proportion going to Africa and Asia decreased (UN DESA, 2016a). Regarding forced displacement, in 2015 the number of refugees worldwide rose to 21.3 million - the highest level since the Second World War. Refugees comprise approximately 8% of the total number of international migrants, and 47% of refugees were girls and women in 2015 (UNHCR, 2016).

With over 30 million international migrants, the region is host to one of the largest migrant populations in the world. It also hosts the largest number of refugees and displaced persons worldwide, exacerbated by the war in the Syria. At the same time, migration has been a long-standing contributor to the development of countries and communities across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). (UN-IOM, 2015)

Migration implies trade-offs for women and girls, in that it can offer new opportunities but can also expose female migrants and refugees to new or increased risks. For women and girls to benefit from mobility, policies must support the empowerment and economic benefits of migration and also increase protection of female migrants. This is especially important for the most vulnerable migrants and refugees, such as adolescent girls and low-skilled female workers in highly unregulated markets. Female migrants are also not a homogenous group; they have different socioeconomic characteristics. Policy will only amplify the empowerment effects of migration and mitigate increased vulnerabilities if the specific needs of different women and girls, as well as men and boys, in different countries are understood, and policy and programmes are tailored accordingly. Migration is most likely to empower women and girls when it occurs through regular channels, when they can make informed choices, and when they have access to legal protection, services and social networks in countries of origin and destination. Achieving this requires actions at different levels - from the community to the international - and cooperation within and across sectors (international organisations, government agencies, the private sector and civil society). The recommendations below set out key actions for the SDG monitoring agencies, specialist United Nations (UN) agencies (e.g. the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)), relevant national government agencies (home offices, labour departments, national statistics agencies), and civil society organisations, but they are not exhaustive. In addition, countries vary greatly in their political context and leadership on gender and migration issues. Further work is therefore needed to analyse the political and social barriers to progress in different countries of origin and destination and to tailor strategies accordingly.

(O'Neil, Fleury and Foresti, 2016)

In the face of these realities, a people-centred approach, underpinned by human rights, is greatly needed to achieve inclusive and sustainable cities. Indeed, the promotion of inclusion and the upholding of human rights, including gender equality, are the building blocks on which the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is premised. Placing emphasis on equality of opportunities and outcomes in all spheres of life, political, economic, cultural and social, the Agenda calls for the transformation of all societies to ultimately achieve the full realization of human rights for all and 'leave no one behind'.

Cities and their authorities have a key role to play in implementing holistic and effective responses that promote inclusive and sustainable development. Further to the advantages relating to their proximity to cities' inhabitants, local governments are subsidiary duty-bearers with respect to those human rights that fall within their fields of competence, and therefore are bound to complement the actions and decisions of the central government in conformity with international legal obligations. Hence, it is of utmost importance that city administrations are fully aware of their responsibilities with regard to the promotion of human rights and gender equality and that they have all the knowledge and skills required for them to successfully discharge their mandate, in collaboration with other public entities and civil society.

The potential role of local governments is unequivocally recognized by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and specifically the Sustainable Development Goal 11 (Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable). The commitment of working with city authorities to promote social inclusion is further reinforced by the vision that transpires the New Urban Agenda, which was adopted by the Habitat III Conference (Quito, Ecuador, October 2016).

2. Regional perspectives

The Arab region is currently in an important demographic growth phase and experiences increasing urbanization rates, with 56% of its citizenry living in urban areas.[1] In addition to growth at the peripheries of already large cities, secondary cities are also experiencing some of the fastest population growth rates. Urbanization patterns in the region are driven by many contributing factors, of internal and external nature, including economic migration and forced displacement associated with conflict and instability. Several Arab countries experience some of the highest rates in the world in terms of refugee per capita and migrant labour per capita.[2] Refugees, internally displaced people and migrant workers tend to live mostly in cities.

These urbanization and population movement patterns are exacerbating already entrenched challenges of poverty, unemployment, and environmental degradation. They tend to aggravate economic and social inequalities and exclusion, and spur tensions and urban violence in all its forms - including gender-based violence. Many who are in vulnerable situations are being 'left behind' in Arab cities.

Failure to cope with the above transformations and address their repercussions in an effective manner by all levels of governance risks compromising seriously the capacities of the countries of the region to guarantee a process of sustainable development for their populations. Despite progress towards the elaboration and implementation of more integrated and inclusive development policies in Arab countries, institutional structures have remained fragmented and ineffective, thus preventing the translation of policy into positive change on the ground. Moreover, inequalities often remain officially 'invisible' due to lack of disaggregated data that cover all grounds of discrimination. Arab city managers will need to be equipped with the capacities and resources needed to guarantee equality and equal access, and combat discrimination in accordance with human rights standards. In achieving this objective, the region could greatly benefit from successful experiences and initiatives in the region and beyond, as well as the globally cumulated knowledge in this area.

Against this background, it is particularly timely to launch an inter-regional partnership that involves leading human rights and global citizenship think tanks to assist local governments in the Arab region to fulfil the role preconized in the Agenda 2030, and notably SDG 11 on inclusive and sustainable cities and the broader SDG 10 on reducing inequalities and SDG 16 on peaceful and inclusive societies.

To promote the inclusion of migrants and refugees, UNESCO undertakes the following:

a) advocates for the empowerment of city-level actors to address challenges relating to migrants and refugees by increased national and regional collaboration, the exchange of good practices and the collection and analysis of relevant and reliable data and guidelines.

b) improves public perceptions of migrants and refugees by sensitizing media professionals and outlets; focusing on the importance of providing accurate and responsible information when reporting on migrants and refugees, fighting common beliefs and perceptions of refugees; and mobilizing the media to launch campaigns that focus on the human rights and positive impacts of refugees.

c) raises awareness - through public campaigns to advance respect for diversity and mutual understanding, relying particularly on the persuasive potential of communications using arts and creativity, mobilizing various networks.

  1. Policy brief

UNESCO is keen in building the capacities of local policy-makers and concerned city stakeholders in the region to integrate human rights and gender equality considerations in policies and actions building on the evidence informed policy dialogue.

The call is launched to inviting researchers, team and centers to share a proposal to produce a policy brief based on recent conference and workshop which provided substantive discussions on the gender equality and migration issues in the Arab region.

Interested applicants (both institutions and researchers) are expected to submit a proposal no later than 4 November 2020 to Ms Carol Donabedian ([email protected](link sends e-mail)).

[2] For example, migrants constitute more than 40% of the population in Jordan (48% including Syrian refugees recorded by UNHCR as of mid-2013). Whereas 18% of the population in Lebanon are migrants (or 26% including Syrian refugees recorded by UNHCR). Moreover, countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council represent the third largest migration flow in the world. Source: ESCWA and IOM, 2015 Situation Report on International Migration.