Let cities be liveable for women, girls in slums

Wednesday March 18 2020

Increasing numbers of people are moving, within national borders and internationally, leading to rapid growth in cities capable of supporting and integrating migrants. The key reasons include to improve well-being and life circumstances, to seek employment and to form or maintain a family.

For the first time, in 2008 more than half of the world’s population lived in cities, according to the “World Urbanisation Prospects”. The global urban population is growing at an annual average rate of 1.7 per cent; Africa’s numbers are estimated to grow by 900 million by 2050, ushering in unprecedented opportunities and challenges that require new and visionary solutions and responses.

According to the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat), at the end of 2012, some 816 million persons lived in slums.

Urbanisation is meant to be a great opportunity for all, especially young people, as it is meant to increase chances of escape from patriarchy, harmful traditional practices, while heralding new freedoms particularly in the areas of education, economic growth, increase access to social opportunities and services. The trajectory of access and delivery of healthcare information and services is also to improve tremendously.

While these possibilities exist, women and girls in urban informal settlements are most vulnerable. For instance, the burden of disease due to sexual and reproductive health rights especially sexual and gender-based violence (GBV), are more prevalent in urban slums than among the general population.

Lack of security and safety also continue to undermine their health and well-being amid increasing poverty, economic challenges and inadequate urban management policies, legislations, infrastructure and social services.


Africa has the most countries with the highest prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM), adolescent pregnancies, maternal mortality, HIV/Aids and others. South Africa and Egypt are among the top-five countries with the worst incidences of sexual and GBV.

Inadequate information on sexual and reproductive health perpetuates myths around these issues, resulting in the deepening of patriarchy and harmful practices.

Whilst women in developing countries have only 1:3,800 lifetime risk of dying from maternity-related causes, in Sub-Saharan Africa it is 1:39, according to World Health Organisation (WHO). This is worse for women in slums, where virtually no health system exists or, at best, is very fragile.

These are the issues that the ongoing 9th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights (ACSHR), in Nairobi, under the theme “Advancing the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of Women and Girls in Urban Informal Settlements”, seeks to deliberate on. The February 10-14 event aims at finding practical solutions to the inequalities of women and girls in Africa’s informal settlements.

We cannot afford to leave behind our women and girls who, unfortunately, live in the urban informal settlements. We must collectively act to make our cities liveable for all if we must guarantee this global consensus desire. We are not equal until everyone is equal.

Dr Uwemedimo is the convener of the 9th ACSHR. [email protected] @actionhealthinc