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close this bookHabitat Debate - Vol. 3 - No. 1 - 1997 - Partnerships (HABITAT, 1997, 65 p.)
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View the documentCommitments by Partners to the Implementation of the Habitat Agenda
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View the documentThe Huairou Commission and Women, Homes and Community Super Coalition
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The Huairou Commission and Women, Homes and Community Super Coalition

A New Way of Partnering to Expand Women’s Leadership in Global Policy Initiatives

The following article was written by Sandy Schilen of Groots International, with assistance from Jan Peterson, Secretary of the Huairou Commission and Chair of Women, Homes and Community Secretariat, and Sangeetha Prushuthoman, researcher and scholar on grassroots women’s networks.

Since the United Nations global conference series began, women-led networks1 have made significant contributions in deepening policy-makers’ understanding of the environment, human and reproductive rights, sustainable development, women’s status, and most recently, human settlements. Nevertheless, gender inequity in decision-making locally, nationally, and internationally, requires women to struggle constantly to have our voices included in those sectors and institutions that make the resource and policy decisions that are central to improving women’s status.

In the following, we sample organizing strategies initiated by the Women, Homes and Community Super Coalition (WHCSC), and by the Huairou Commission (HC), a multisectoral partner body in which it is the NGO core. From the Fourth World Women’s Conference in Beijing to the present, a group of us have been creating or strengthening internal and external partnerships to accomplish our objectives. As many of us have discovered, partnerships require us to be flexible and creative. In our case, this has been doubly true. We have had to find ways to not only broaden and strengthen our own women’s movement but also to instruct men on new ways of doing business so that women really have a seat at the global decision-making table.

Beijing to Istanbul and Beyond

For more than a decade, a number of women have been organizing to ensure that the voices of grassroots women are a part of the women’s movement. This has meant creating space for poor women from the North and the South to speak to their own issues and solutions and opportunities for other women to lend their skills and influence to advance these concerns. In March of 1995, at the UN Preparatory Committee Session to the Fourth World Women’s Conference, this process took a major step with the formation of the Women, Homes and Community Super Coalition. Three international networks - Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Sisterhood (Groots International), Habitat International Coalition-Women and Shelter Network, and the International Council of Women - formed a coalition to create greater attention for issues related to human settlements and community development at the Fourth World Women’s Conference.

Although poverty was a critical area of concern, the dominant strategies failed to reflect grassroots women’s focus on participating in sustainable community development. To ensure this focus was maintained, a core group of regionally diverse women involved in housing and human settlements2 met for ten days during the Women’s Conference in Beijing to develop a joint policy statement on these issues and to agree to continue organizing with other like-minded women through to the Habitat II Conference in Istanbul in 1996.

One reward for this initiative was a visit by Dr. Wally N’Dow, Secretary-General of Habitat II, to the final day of the grassroots tent to hear our plan and recommendations. Impressed by the hard work, he offered to help place gender issues and women’s leadership at the centre of the Habitat II Conference. And thus, from the Huairou rains, the Huairou Commission and a year’s worth of additional organizing began.

The Huairou Commission

Dr N’Dow, had envisioned and proclaimed a “Huairou Commission” (HC) the day he received women’s declarations at the grassroots tent. But it has taken eighteen months for women from the initiating networks and special partners to conceive, birth, and nurture a plan, with clear objectives and basic agreements, that have made it our own.3

Historically, the Commission was established to bring together a variety of actors for the first time, including representatives of the Supercoalition (SC), UN agencies, local and national governments, research and educational institutions and the private sector to further the work of enabling women to sustain and create communities. Dr. N’Dow and former Secretary-General Gertrude Mongella were involved in linking the agendas of the Fourth World Women’s Conference and Habitat II. Over time, UNIFEM Director Noeleen Heyzer, Angela King from the Commission on the Status of Women, UNDP’s Rozina Wilshire and other women of influence have agreed to join the HC to share information and provide assistance in implementing the action priorities of grassroots women.

Yet, given the diversity of perspectives and power, the coordinating group for the HC has devised a set of basic agreements to help build trust and unity as we work to achieve common objectives across substantial differences. Detailed and specific working agreements help us establish “principled partnerships” by creating methods for appreciating one another’s contributions and also the racial, class, cultural and occupational diversities present among us. They also remind us of our shared commitment to communicate and plan in ways that promote full participation and build action agendas that are inclusive and that enhance the effectiveness of all partners.

The mandate for the HC frames our work and includes:

· Highlighting and strengthening grassroots women’s initiatives and capacities.

· Monitoring Governments at all levels on the implementation of the Habitat Agenda in a manner that ensures the participation and resourcing of grassroots women.

· Creating opportunities for dialogue and mutual support efforts among women from different sectors - grassroots activism, government, the private sector, education, research and foundation - so that we maximize the use of each other’s unique skills and constituencies and better coordinate efforts to expand women’s role in promoting sustainable, human development.

· Formally advising UNCHS (Habitat) and other UN agencies on how to institu-tionalize gender-equitable approaches in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda and other national and global commitments.

To ensure that the HC remains an effort directed from the bottom up, the Super Coalition will continue to coordinate opportunities for participating networks and all interested women to share and receive information and establish priorities for action. Both the SC and the HC welcome anyone who wishes to join in their efforts to implement a gender equitable Habitat Agenda and make visible the solutions grassroots women are pioneering in communities all around the world.

Across the regions, devolution is requiring us to build grassroots women’s capacity to dialogue with local government authorities. Hence the HC is sponsoring a networking initiative to link women in municipal and city governments so they can support each other in male-dominated political structures and in turn partner more effectively with grassroots women in their own cities and regions.5

In an effort to highlight how grassroots women are key to urban and rural solutions (and not the problem) and why they must be directly resourced to implement their approaches, we are expanding our “Our Practice” campaign. Thus we are soliciting examples of women-led innovations from around the world. In addition, we will be giving best and worst practice awards to Governments and other bodies to illustrate what empowerment, partnership, and power-sharing look like in practice.


1. Among them DAWN, WEDO, GROOTS, the Center for Global Leadership and numerous regional networks organized by women.

2. The working group included Latin American, Asian, African, North American, European and South Pacific women representing the three initial SC networks plus the Asian Women and Shelter (AWAS) Network.

3. Another important principle of partnership: partners must have the latitude to define and clarify their vision, strategy and plan from their own standpoint so that joint actions are consensual.

4. Supported by the Habitat “Women in Human Settlements Development Team”.

5. Women who are working with local government and are interested in networking with other women in local government contact Florence Dilsworth, Freetown, Sierra Leone or Ann Michaud, Montreal (514) 271 6995 or (514) 872 7447 (fax).

For more information, please contact:

Catalina Trujillo, Coordinator
Women in Human Settlements Programme
P.O. Box 30030, Nairobi, Kenya.
Tel: (254-2) 623031
Fax: (254-2) 624265

Beijing to Istanbul and Beyond: The Huairou Commission

‘I established the Huairou Commission during the Fourth World Conference on Women and formally launched it in New York in February 1996 during the Third Prepcom of Habitat II. The Commission was initiated to act as a link between the Women’s Conference and Habitat II, and to advise me on how best to ensure the equal participation of women in all the processes leading up to the Habitat II Conference and in the Conference itself. I am proud to acknowledge the significant work of the Commission to ensure the very valuable participation of women before and in Istanbul. This resulted in, among other things, a gender-conscious Habitat Agenda that has reinforced and further developed many of the commitments of the Beijing conference. Based on the highly encouraging results, I am pleased to announce the continuation of the work of the Commission in the post-Istanbul period.

The post-Istanbul work of the Commission will be to monitor compliance with the Habitat Agenda from a gender perspective, and to develop a programme that builds on the results of Habitat II through women’s organizational capacity-building and exchanges. Specifically, the Commission will:

· continue to advise me and UNCHS (Habitat) regarding women in human settlements development issues;

· monitor and evaluate on national and global levels the implementation of the Habitat Agenda from a gender perspective;

· give global visibility and support to the efforts, work and initiatives of grassroots and NGO women’s organisations.

The Huairou Commission brings together for the first time, community-based and non-governmental organisations and women from diverse backgrounds: high profile women; those in city, regional and national governments as well as the United Nations; professional women, researchers and activists specially concerned with ensuring sustainable and equitable human settlements. This partners’ group, which focuses on the priorities of grassroots women,includes many women in a position to positively influence change. Importantly, all hold the conviction that gender equity is an essential component of sustainability.

The challenge now is to make this body truly global in its impact. Its influence must be visible nationally in our various countries, and internationally in partners’ organisations and fora. It is my sincere hope that its members will be included in national committees, and participate in other processes for the implementation of the Habitat Agenda and national plans of action.’

Dr. Wally N’Do
Assistant Secretary-General, UNCHS (Habitat)