Second Committee Side Event Explores How to Make Infrastructure Work for Women and Girls
Photo by IISD/ENB | Angeles Estrada Vigil
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The side event considered ways in which infrastructure affects women and girls but does not include them in decision-making.

Examples include: aggression or sexual harassment that females encounter on public transportation, the lack of streetlights, and harassment of females in infrastructure-related jobs.

16 October 2018: The UN General Assembly’s Second Committee (Economic and Financial) held a side event in New York, US, on the topic of ‘Infrastructure and sustainable development: making infrastructure investments work for women and girls.’

Asa Regner, UN Women, illustrated ways in which infrastructure affects women and girls but does not include them in decision-making. Examples presented by Regner included: in 2012, 4.3 million premature deaths resulted from indoor air pollution, with women and girls representing six out of ten of those deaths; the lack of available roads when females need maternal services; and aggression or sexual harassment that females encounter on public transportation while being more dependent on it.

Nick O’Regan, UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS), said increasing the number of women in infrastructure is a pressing moral issue as well as a critical economic opportunity. O’Regan said that ignoring how men and women use services differently only reinforces men’s primacy. He argued that “gender-blind” infrastructure empowers men and perpetuates the existing narrow roles of women in the informal unpaid sector. O’Regan noted an example from UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in which most young girls drop out of school due to lack of proper sanitation facilities. He highlighted that infrastructure has a long-term impact and called attention to the Capacity Assessment Tool Infrastructure (CATI) and its contribution to evidence-based and inclusive decisions.

Richard Kozul-Wright, UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), noted infrastructure-related gaps between developed and developing States, such as paved road density. Wright highlighted how infrastructure has been part of China’s development strategy, and said that the private sector has a role to play in filling investment gaps. Wright noted, in the context of macroeconomic policy challenges, the importance of locating the “infrastructure-gender nexus.”

Natalie Elwell, World Resources Institute, said energy access does not change energy use, providing services does not change women’s status, and opportunity does not mean empowerment. She urged participants to “see women as an integral part of infrastructure development.” Elwell expressed concern that universities are not training those who are feeding into the SDG system about gender in infrastructure. She added that women’s absence from infrastructure jobs is related to harassment.

Sonal Shah, independent consultant, highlighted growth expectations for urban populations, and said three ways to respond to this growth are: avoiding motorized strips through city planning and design; improving vehicle and field technology; and shifting users to public and non-motorized uses of public transport. Shah discussed solutions, including a complaint reporting and redressal system, communication strategy, real time and static information, and gender inclusive signage.

Jim Hall, University of Oxford, stated that, “infrastructure can’t fulfill its essential role in the 2030 Agenda without gender mainstreaming.” Hall said the SDGs provide a vision for what infrastructure should achieve, and added that the SDGs could change the investment gaps that are normally motivated through economic goals rather than infrastructure. Hall introduced a process developed with UNOPS that evaluates existing system performance and reviews the needs for infrastructure services.

During the discussion, participants discussed underrepresentation of women in the work force and its barriers to women, and the need to prioritize the care sector in addition to protecting women through urban planning, such as with streetlights. Possibilities for leapfrogging, such as been the case with Uber, and the role of the private sector were also discussed. [Second Committee side event: infrastructure and sustainable development]

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