Urbanisation is a defining characteristic of life across the globe in the 21st century. Cities, in particular megacities and metropolises, offer many opportunities for different types of people to forge a livelihood and lead a fulfilling social life. The diverse options are taken up in particular by women and people who renounce traditional, binary gender roles and norms and are thus often subject to various kinds of discrimination. At the same time, however, social inequalities in cities are intensifying, and residents – especially women and girls – of poorer neighbourhoods are having a hard time escaping the urban poverty trap. It is not only in the burgeoning megacities of Asia and Africa that increasing poverty on the city outskirts is coupled with gender-based violence – that is also true of Europe, where two thirds of the geographical area has long been urbanised. Social segregation and sexualised violence – problems that are too frequently ignored – pose two major threats to social cohesion globally.
How we live together in the future, including how we address ecological issues, will be decided in our cities and urban areas. The necessary construction of long-lasting public infrastructure – housing and public spaces, utilities, roads and public transport, and healthcare, educational and leisure facilities – will determine the trajectory of emissions for decades to come. Global challenges like climate change and the unfair distribution of limited resources – in particular water – can only be overcome through the participation of all urban residents. Sustainable Development Goal 11 in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aims to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable”. It explicitly references providing access to safe transport systems and to green and public spaces for women, persons with disabilities and older persons. The New Urban Agenda developed by UN-Habitat also obliges governments to ensure access to affordable housing – crucial for the large proportion of single mothers who have to provide for big families and for women, girls and queers who seek refuge from violent relationships.