Return to [previous page]
Kaylin Padovano
on Tue, January 8, 2013 at 03.21 pm

Theme 3: Social Inequality

What are the unique social inequalities that young people are faced with in today's urban world?

Cities are traditionally thought to offer its citizens better opportunities and access to services such as: healthcare, education, sanitation, and employment. Yet although urban populations may live in close proximity to services, a large portion of city-dwellers do not have access to safe and affordable schools, hospitals and medical centers, or even clean water and functional toilets. Discrimination due to socioeconomic status, geographic location, slum dwelling status, gender, race, ethnicity and disability reinforce barriers to accessing vital services in urban areas.

Many children in cities, often those living in informal settlements, are undocumented and therefore rendered invisible decision making: further exacerbating the vast social inequalities between urban populations. Children are exposed to higher rates of violence in marginalized urban areas, and are at an increased risk for mental and physical health complications and disease. Even technology can serve to widen social inequities, as many of the poorest urban children do not have access to this increasingly important asset.   

What have been successful interventions in addressing social inequality in cities? How can we alleviate social barriers to acessing services in urban areas? What are some recommendations for lessening these vast social inequities? 

We want to hear YOUR opinions! Please comment and include your name and/or e-mail, affiliation, and area of expertise. 


Please or to post a comment.
Inequalities Consultation Facilitator from
Mon, January 14, 2013 at 07.45 pm

* Posted on behalf of Prof. Banji Oyeyinka, Discussion co-Moderator and Director, Director, Monitoring & Research Division, UN-HABITAT, Kenya*

The Urban Social Divide - Please see attached file. 

Quick facts:

Hunger in Cities

  • Hunger is endemic in many poor urban areas of the developing world and the food crisis can only compound the situation; children from poor families are often born into hunger, grow up in hunger and die in hunger.
  • The food crisis is often not one of supply, but access Many countries have enough food for all of their residents, but only the richest can access it, while the poorest struggle every day to ensure one meal for their children
  • The doubling of global food prices over the last three years could potentially push 100 million people in low-income countries deeper into poverty.

The Health Divide

  • In urban slums, shelter deprivations and environmental risks combine to hinder people’s ability to escape hunger, and exposure to infectious illnesses creates a vicious cycle where children are constantly malnourished.
  • Indoor air pollution is a “quiet” and overlooked killer, and lack of global awareness is one of the primary obstacles to the widespread implementation of existing, proven responses.

Education: Opportunities and Inequalities

  • The education system perpetuates and reproduces social inequalities
  • In the poor areas of many African cities primary school enrolment is decreasing.
  • Efforts to improve the education of girls in some countries have resulted in significant increases and progress in female enrollments, but male enrollment is regressing.


Policy points:

Hunger in Cities

  • The structural food crises the urban poor experience on an ongoing basis call for fundamental policy remedies, including production, marketing, distribution, handling and control of food for the urban market.
  • The food crisis will be long-term and the worst is yet to come for the most vulnerable unless extraordinary measures are taken to help them.

The Health Divide

  • The fight against childhood ill-health must take in the modern environment of disease, namely, the neighbourhood and the city as a whole.
  • Policymakers can help alleviate health inequalities in poor urban areas with comprehensive primary health care and better access to healthy food.
  • Slum upgrading and the sustainability of health and nutrition programmes are linked and they should be part of integrated slum upgrading initiatives.

Education: Opportunities and Inequalities

  • If school enrollment and achievement are to be improved in poor urban areas, a combination of incentives that stimulates both demand (stipends, conditional cash transfers, scholarships..) and supply is required (build schools, improve quality).
  • Improvements in girls’ enrollment have resulted from various interrelated strategies that may provide some insights into ways to keep boys in school.
  • Most national and international literacy and education programmes so far have focused on reducing the urban/rural gap in education, overlooking the divide between rich and poor prevailing in urban areas.


Excerpt from the 2010/2011 UN-HABITAT State of World Cities Report titled: Bridging the Urban Divide, Earthscan, UK

 - Banji Oyeyinka, Director, UN-HABITAT for post-2015 Agenda debate

Please see attached file. 

Anonymous from
Fri, January 18, 2013 at 03.43 pm

Please find below UCLG local and regional governments' contribution to the debate :

The fundamental purpose of governance is to work towards a healthy, safe, tolerant and creative society, ensuring the universal enjoyment of culture and its components, and protecting and enhancing the rights of citizens.

Given the increasing diversity of their population, and ongoing migrations towards cities, local and regional authorities must commit to the promotion of culture as a vital part of development and as an unavoidable prerequisite for a diverse and peaceful society.

Furthermore, inclusion policies should guarantee universal access to basic services and the safeguard of citizens’ rights; guided by the values of equality, solidarity and respect for differences.

Communities where all citizens are empowered to participate in social, economic and political opportunities are instrumental in the eradication of poverty.

This includes gender equality, and the needs of children and youth, and should be guaranteed through strong and accountable local governments. Only by investing on human capital and ensuring a more equitable distribution of wealth in particular to reduce national disparities, will it be possible to achieve a sustainable eradication of poverty and a territory balance of the development process.

Although only two of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) explicitly mention women, it is clear that every goal has a direct impact on the lives of women. Poverty has a female face, as does HIV, child-care and education. Women are consequently key actors for the achievement of these goals.  

In addition, UCLG is promoting the Global Charter-Agenda for Human Rights in the City. It aims to promote and strengthen the human rights of all the inhabitants of all cities in the world.

For further inputs see:

-          UCLG briefing on addressing sustainable urbanisation and women in local decision making http://www.uclg.org/en/issues/mdgs-post-2015

-          UCLG position paper Who Can Address Urban Inequality? The Often Forgotten Roles of Local Government http://www.worldwewant2015.org/node/283475

Anonymous from
Thu, January 17, 2013 at 03.33 pm

My name is TRAN Thi Mai Thoa. I am currently working at the Sectoral Activities Department of ILO (International Labor Office) with a focus on urban economy.

From the perspective of labor as we work on here in ILO, urban poor and especially the young face serious discrimination in terms of access to training and education which serves as barriers to a decent job. A big part of them end up in precarious, low-paid jobs with no basic rights ensured, no social security covered and this is particularly true in informal sector. All of these factors result in a dangerous sprial which reinforces the urban workers' low socioeconomic status as well as their limited access to social services (health care, housing, sanitation, transportation, etc.), keeping urban poor and their families in a deadlock situation of poverty, inequality and marginalization.

A solution to this problem we propose, based on ILO's 'decent work' agenda, is thus to work with governments and private enterprises in creating accessible training opportunities for urban poor, with a priority for the young and women. Another path is to foster the social dialogue and participatory processes between the governments, the employers and the workers as a way to empower the workers in their united quest for equal treatment, labor rights respect and social protection. (We also attack the issue of labor in urban economy from a sectoral and multi-sectoral perspective here in our department).

To sum up, I believe that an important approach to solving vast social inequalities prevailing in urban areas today is to start from the work place, with a focus on youth and women employment, as I have mentioned. 

Anonymous from
Thu, January 17, 2013 at 01.56 pm

Urban inequalities in the post-2015 development agenda –

WaterAid submission to online discussion

WaterAid contact: Timeyin Uwejamomere, Technical Support Manager – Urban

WaterAid's field experiences and research show that the issues of social inequalities in towns and cities are exacerbated by political ineptitudes and sustained by institutional connivance which perpetuates a situation where the rights of all persons to services are denied. 


The increasing flow of people to and internal growth in city population are causing the doubling in the size of cities every 15 years. Add to that cauldron, the fact that for every city there are an estimated 10 small towns, undergoing similar changes both in spatial size and population. In less than a generation, two-thirds of humanity will be living in urban areas. This phenomenon puts huge pressures on basic services such as sanitation and drinking water supply, especially for poor urban communities and slums[1] where 60 – 70% of the urban population resides.


The inadequate provision of sanitation and clean water in rapidly growing, unplanned urban areas has two huge consequences. The first for public health and the economic well being of poor citizens; and the other for cities as economic growth centres for national development.


In South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, people living in poverty spend at least one-third of their incomes on treatment of water-borne and water related diseases. Women are under threat of rape and other forms of abuse in urban slums from using public or communal toilets. The effect of improvements in basic sanitation on the population’s health on the scale of an entire city, as a highly effective health measure, as shown by scientific studies[2], can no longer be ignored.


Although citywide sanitation is the single development intervention that guarantees the greatest public health returns, there is a consistent failure to accord sanitation adequate attention and investment in towns and cities, particularly urban slums and informal communities.[3] WaterAid research show that inadequate understanding of the nature of urban poverty and a political structure that couples land titles with access to urban services result in poorly targeted investments in urban WASH infrastructure[4]. For instance only 6% of World Bank sanitation related investment went to slums while formal urban areas received 65%[5]. These result in decreasing access to drinking water in urban areas since record began in 1990 – 10% of all countries have seen a decline of two percentage point or more in urban drinking water coverage since 1990 while between 1990 and 2008 sanitation coverage for all developing countries increased by 43% in rural areas but only by 5% in urban areas.


Recent development experiences of ‘Asian Tigers’ – Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Taiwan – show that grappling with the health, sanitation and water infrastructure for all residents of urban centres through long-term spatial planning facilitates national development. Absence of water and sanitation infrastructure limits the chances of cities to truly service as engines of economic growth and weakens countries’ development prospects. To improve the chances of cities as centres of growth and national development, long-term spatial plans must address climate change concerns.


Climate change poses flooding threats to more than 136 thriving port cities, each with over one million inhabitants, with huge consequences for cities’ infrastructure and countries’ development. For instance, Lagos is a port city with about 15 million people, 65% of National GDP, 70% of industrial investment, the seat of monetary and capital market, controls 70% of total cargo freight and 45% of national power consumption. Perhaps much more urgent is the potential impact on the lives of about 10 million urban poor who leave in flood prone areas. Without pre-emptive actions plans for small towns and cities, with adequate urban climate change preparedness plans and resilient WASH infrastructure, a global human catastrophe is waiting to happen in the developing world.     


In a 2011 publication: Sanitation and water for poor urban communities – a manifesto: http://www.wateraid.org/documents/urban_manifesto.pdf, WaterAid proposes a set of urgent actions that cities in developing countries and the international community can take to address urban inequalities manifested in their sanitation and water supply maps:




  • The international community must prioritise the urban poor. There is an urgent need to refocus on and reassess the responses to urban needs, prioritising investment in universal water and sanitation plans and use all convening powers and influence to champion the cause of the poor urban communities.
  •  National governments must put safe sanitation and water for poor communities at the centre of integrated city-wide plans for urban basic services.


  • National service providers, regulators and city authorities must


  1.                   i.    direct efforts at unpacking the nature and dimensions of urban poverty in their cities and develop mechanisms for monitoring impacts of targeted actions
  2.                 ii.    put the targeting of sanitation and water services to informal settlements / slums as an explicit policy commitment
  3.                iii.     ensure that slums-dwellers and squatter communities are not denied the right to wash services because of a lack of legal landholding entitlements
  4.                iv.    ensure that the representatives of slum communities participate in the design and implementation of sanitation and water policies.


[1] WaterAid takes the broader view that slum conditions also affect other groups of urban poor –small vendors in market places, pavement dwellers / street children etc - without access to public facilities so the term slum is not restricted to those living in the slums.

[2] Barretto, M. L. et al (2007) Effect of city-wide sanitation programme on reduction in rate of childhood diarrhoea in northeast Brazil: assessment by two cohort studies. Lance Vol 370, Nov 10, 2007

[3] WaterAid (2008): Turning slum around: The case for water and sanitation – A discussion paper

[4] WaterAid (2011): Are World Bank investments benefiting the urban poor? http://www.wateraid.org/documents/plugin_documents/world_bank_report_201...

[5] Kolsky P et al (2005) Sanitation and hygiene at the World Bank: an analysis of current activities, Water Supply Working Notes, p 12, No 6







Michael Drinkwater from
Fri, January 11, 2013 at 09.27 pm

I am a sociologist with a background in urban and rural planning, and on and off I have worked on urban livelihoods and governance issues for the past twenty years. There are many things that are striking about urban social inequalities that many of the above contributions bring out. First, it is a lot more vicious than rural inequalities. It has always surprised me that donors have tended to focus constantly on rural inequality, because average per capita income figures are lower for rural areas. This misses of course two big facts. First, all the elites live in urban areas, and therefore skew such figures, and second, urban living is much more expensive. A more real test is to ask any aid worker where they would rather live for two weeks - in a rural village or an urban slum. There won't be many that choose the urban slum.

As someone with a planning background, I am often struck by how local authorities have lost control of many burgeoning urban environments. It doesn't matter whether it is Rio, Nairobi, Dhaka, Jakarta, or many others that could be named. Any form of urban planning is often hopelessly out of date and inadequate, and anyway, blueprint models of zoning etc, are terribly inappropriate for contemporary circumstances. They are also toothless in the face of politicians and businessmen who pay them no attention anyway. Thus slums and slum populations remain illegal, ever prone to exploitation from landlords, police and officials. 

A problem that cities have is that they need advance planning for infrastructure - roads, public transport, water and sanitation systems, and housing. When this doesn't happen, or is inadequate, the result is not only the growth of slums, but the growth of exploitation. As many of the comments and reports above have shown, the urban vulnerable are characterised by migrants. If they come from another country, like Burmese migrants in Thailand, they may have no rights at all. In China, even as internal migrants, with the hukow system they may be denied access to social services. Women are especially vulnerable, because of the levels of sexual harassment and gender based violence that takes place. CARE International, who I used to work with, has in recent years worked in several Latin American countries, for instance, to help domestic maids form associations, since they are typically totally unrepresented and organised, even by feminist groups in those countries. Sex workers are a second invisible population, with very limited rights and regarded as wholly unequal. Such populations are significant in many Asian cities. And in countries like Bangladesh, where the alternative to being a sex worker is being a garment worker, as the recent major fire has shown, the workers still are relatively un-unionised and totally exploited. In Bangladesh, the politicians are allied to the factory owners in wanting to keep garment factory wages and overheads down, since with the country's very inefficient value chains, this is how they compete internationally.   

So socially inquality, in these large urban environments, is deeply structural in both a social and a physical sense. It is important to have more process approaches to improving urban slum conditions, but at the same time in a city like Dhaka in which the only real public transport is an awful bus system, and which scarcely has a functioning traffic light (anyway, no-one pays them attention if they are there), tackling social inequality requires a 10-20 year horizon, which is way beyond the existing political elite there. Even in Delhi, it is only with the recent Commonwealth Games that real investment was put into expanding the metro system and road system (but not yet the security to allow people to use the former safely in the evening).

In short, there is a vast underwave of an almost invisible urban poor and migrant class, with minimal rights, voice and exposure, and the issues required to address their situations are long term. In the absence of adequate concepts and systems of urban planning, politicians rely on economic market forces to clean out central urban slums and shift the poor outwards. Unfortunately any short term policy responses tend to be negative, placing more restrictions on people. Any really enabling strategies will need to be much longer term in nature. A critical requirement is recognition of the fact that large proportions of developing world urban populations are regarded as being illegal, unequal and undeserving. Yet changing these perceptions will take a long time, because they are fuelled by feelings of inadequacy by elites - they have no real clue how to deal with these issues, and therefore would prefer to continue to ignore or pay lipservice to them.

Therefore, some very different and much more innovative socially based approaches are needed, where efforts to advance the rights and empowerment of specific social groups are allied to much more significant investment in enabling forms of economic and infrastructural investment. People need rights to a stake in the urban environment. Bangladesh garment factory workers need not just safer factory conditions but residential and health access rights, just as Burmese migrants in Thailand need not just rights to visas and work permits. Providing people with real stakes in urban systems, needs to be seen as investing in urban futures that will yield significant returns over a decade and more. It requires more courageous acknowledgement of the abysmal lack of rights many groups have, a much more creative imagining of the future, and longer term perspectives and political will. it is a large agenda.  


Kaylin Padovano from
Mon, January 14, 2013 at 04.56 pm

Thank you for your post, Michael. The link you have highlight between sex work and the garment industry is vital--not just in Bangledesh but in many other countries (Camodia, Vietnam and more). So many approaches have been taken to address the issue of urban sex work, but strengthening worker's rights in a parallel sector is not often one of them. 

Your suggestions have been included in our ‘solutions’ section.Please follow the link to add any additional comments and recommendations: http://www.worldwewant2015.org/node/300328.   

Thoa TRAN from
Thu, January 10, 2013 at 10.10 am

My name is TRAN Thi Mai Thoa. I am currently working at the Sectoral Activities Department of ILO (International Labor Office) with a focus on urban economy.

From the perspective of labor as we work on here in ILO, urban poor and especially the young face serious discrimination in terms of access to training and education which serves as barriers to a decent job. A big part of them end up in precarious, low-paid jobs with no basic rights ensured, no social security covered and this is particularly true in informal sector. All of these factors result in a dangerous sprial which reinforces the urban workers' low socioeconomic status as well as their limited access to social services (health care, housing, sanitation, transportation, etc.), keeping urban poor and their families in a deadlock situation of poverty, inequality and marginalization. 

A solution to this problem we propose, based on ILO's 'decent work' agenda, is thus to work with governments and private enterprises in creating accessible training opportunities for urban poor, with a priority for the young and women. Another path is to foster the social dialogue and participatory processes between the governments, the employers and the workers as a way to empower the workers in their united quest for equal treatment, labor rights respect and social protection. (We also attack the issue of labor in urban economy from a sectoral and multi-sectoral perspective here in our department). 

To sum up, I believe that an important approach to solving vast social inequalities prevailing in urban areas today is to start from the work place, with a focus on youth and women employment, as I have mentioned. 

Kaylin Padovano from
Mon, January 14, 2013 at 04.57 pm

Your suggestions have been included in our ‘solutions’ section.Please follow the link to add any additional comments and recommendations:http://www.worldwewant2015.org/node/300328.   

Kaylin Padovano from
Thu, January 10, 2013 at 03.57 pm

Thank you so much for your reply. Access to job training and education is something that is often left out of the dialogue surrounding urban poverty. In your experience, what are the type of jobs that create the best opportunities for young people? Are they government created, or private sector? Are there certain industries that you believe provide better opportunities to foster equality than others? I look forward to your reply. 

Anonymous from
Thu, January 10, 2013 at 05.21 am

Palestinian Children and youth are facing multiple inaqualities in oPt rising from the political status of being under occupation, oPt is divided into different zones and each is suffering from different effects, systemaized within the occupier laws and measures, please refer to www.ochaopt.org to find out more about it.in addition Palestinian children and youth in refugee camps for over three genertaions in surrounding countries are also faced with multiple challemges as UNRWA data and reports reveals. different interventions are done but the root cause is affecting negatively the results.

Kaylin Padovano from
Fri, January 11, 2013 at 08.54 pm

Thank you so much for your comment, Randa. According to the ochaopt.org, a 'mixture of bureaucratic, physical and political constraints' have severely hindered efforrts at providing humanitarian aid to children and their families. I'd be interested to know, in your opinion have there been any successful interventions? If so, what are they--whether it be providing access to basic services, organizing, etc.? Any recommendations you could provide would be helpful. 

Anonymous from
Thu, January 10, 2013 at 03.45 am

The last few decades have seen a dramatic increase in women migrating to urban areas in search of work and a better life, but can often only find work in the informal sector where they have few if any rights and are in danger of exploitation and abuse.

In addition, the sexual division of labour that dominates across the world sees women bearing most of the burden of unpaid household and care work, with women in poverty bearing the biggest workload due to limited access to resources, services and facilities.

Urban women living in poverty tend to hold a lower social status in their communities, their families and their relationships. They face a higher risk of gender-based violence, sexual abuse, unintended pregnancies and contracting sexually transmissible infections, and in addition face numerous challenges to accessing sexual and reproductive health services. Improving access for women in poverty has generally not been high on government agendas or in urban planning.

To alleviate the barriers faced by women entering the workforce and having access to resources, services and facilities it is crucial that the voices and opinions of women living in poverty are heard in any urban planning measures. Through a participatory approach urban planners can pinpoint the barriers that need to be addressed. Investment in sexual and reproductive rights ensures women have control over their own body and sexual and reproductive health, which in turn gives them greater control over their life – their ability to gain an education, gain employment in the formal sector and enjoy financial independence.

Kaylin Padovano from
Mon, January 14, 2013 at 04.58 pm

Your suggestions have been included in our ‘solutions’ section.Please follow the link to add any additional comments and recommendations:http://www.worldwewant2015.org/node/300328.   

Kaylin Padovano from
Thu, January 10, 2013 at 04.05 pm

Wonderful post, thank you. I am interested to learn more about exisiting initiatives advocating for women's rights in the informal sector. Are there any current strategies and inverventions for organizing  that you could share? 

Kaylin Padovano from
Thu, January 10, 2013 at 04.35 pm

Mental Health and Rural to Urban Migration: Helping Young People Stay Afloat

Thousands of young people are following the massive flow into cities each day, leaving behind their lives in rural areas and funnelling into the worlds’ massive urban centres to seek a better quality of life.  However, many find that the stress and isolation of rural-urban migration makes it hard to stay afloat in the vast urban sea. With over 3.3 billion of us residing in cities, how does our increasingly urban experience affect our mental health? Urban dwellers, especially young people, are at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, and even substance abuse than their rural counterparts: and low income populations are most at risk. Many migrate to cities to leave behind poverty, but they also trade the benefits of welcoming and close-knit neighbourhoods for huge and often impersonal cities.  

With higher rates of violence and crime, urban youth must bear the mental burden of being in a constant state of hypervigilance that is often most pronounced when individuals first migrate to the city. AgeOfZinc.com, a website that chronicles the lives of urban slum dwellers, quotes one urban citizen in Kenya as saying. “I had lived in the bush at a younger age and then I was frightened by snakes, wild animals and hunger. Here [in the city] I am afraid of crooks, thieves, warlords, shack bosses…and hunger.” While hunger drives many people to migrate to cities in search of a way out of poverty, increasing urban food security crises prove that the fear of hunger continues to exist. What’s worse, that fear is now compounded by added threats such as violence and eviction. Not surprisingly, studies show that young people who have to worry about their safety as well as where their next meal will come from are more stressed and less able to cope with those who live in secure environments. Furthermore, what are the mental health implications of moving to a city where you optimistically believe you’ll have a better life, only to find yourself battling the effects of depression and isolation?

Migration is a particularly vulnerable time, when many new urban dwellers report feeling like they have nowhere to belong. Many say they don’t feel welcome in their rural hometowns and villages now that they’ve made the decision to move to the city, but are also seen as primitive outcasts in their new urban environments. Countless urban young people report feeling socially isolated. What’s more, many come from rural backgrounds where poverty may be an issue, but everyone is more or less equal. These young people arrive in urban settings where opulence stands in plain view of their own impoverished surroundings. Poverty and economic insecurity have been shown to pose significant threats to young people’s development, especially when they can see these inequalities every day.

Another huge change for those who migrate from rural to urban areas is the fragmenting of their support systems. In a rural village one can simply knock on a neighbour’s door for help or to have a conversation. In cities, though densely populated, one can spend an entire day without speaking to anyone. Social isolation and lack of community and familial support has been linked to increased depression, anxiety, and even suicide in urban young people. Many of the world’s cities are not designed to facilitate human interaction. It is only in slums or informal urban settlements, where more of the traditional community structure is mirrored, where young people report feeling more comfortable. Yet, these areas remain isolated from the social and cultural benefits that wealthier urban enclaves enjoy.

How can we improve our cities in a way that eases the difficulty of this rural-urban transition that so many young people bravely embark on year after year? Cities can be planned to encourage, not discourage, human interaction by becoming more pedestrian friendly and borrowing from traditional, more organic ‘village’ models rather than existing urban archetypes. Linkages with rural hometowns can also be encouraged, both physical and metaphorical. Increased transportation options as well as new communication technologies can be utilized to reduce isolation and provide the vital link between young people living in the city and their rural roots.  Lastly, more awareness must be brought to the issue of mental health in order to assure increased services for migrant or migrating young people in urban areas. Training local service providers on the unique mental health challenges for migrants can help cities provide safe, supportive spaces for those making this often difficult transition. For example, UNICEF China's Life Skills Program for Migrant Youth provides a holistic approach to giving children and their families the psychosocial skills they need to adapt to their new urban environments. The rapid and frenzied flow of migration into cities makes it easy for young people to be swept away in the turmoil, but both involving them in planning decisions and reaching out to provide support can help them to stay afloat.

Post by Kaylin Padovano, Sustainable Urbanization Intern at UNICEF Urban. ‘Mental Health and Rural to Urban Migration: Helping Young People Stay Afloat’ is the first in a series of blogs about mental health and young people in cities. 

Stuart Cameron from
Fri, January 11, 2013 at 04.42 pm

Two recent papers for UNICEF's Office of Research on education and urban poverty are relevant to this part of the discussion.

For the first, I interviewed children (aged 11-16) living in informal settlements and in middle-class areas about their experiences in school, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. One of the most surprising findings was the high levels of violence experienced in and around school by both groups of students. Even some middle-class students had gotten mixed up in gang violence outside the school, and others had been affected by a bomb placed in a nearby political office. Both groups of students were also faced with de-facto privatized education systems, at least at the secondary level. But whereas the middle-class students could move to different schools (even if it meant travelling further), hire private tutors, and have guardians escort them to school, for students from poorer households these conditions of urban life and urban service provision meant that their places in school were very precarious; they could drop out at any time.

For the second, I analysed larger scale household survey data from Dhaka and (separately) from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, Vietnam. I focused on rural-urban migration as a factor explaining urban children's school attendance and how much their parents spent on their education. In Dhaka I found (among a sample living in informal settlements) that rural-urban migrants, and especially recent arrivals, had lower levels of adult education, fewer assets, and lived in worse housing conditions, than non-migrants. Even with statistical controls in place for these differences, children of migrant households had worse educational outcomes than those from those from native households. In Vietnam the focus was on the hokhau system under which households are officially registered as living in a particular area, with consequences for their rights to service provision. Migrant households who had not managed to obtain local registration in the city were worse off than others, and the gap was bigger among the poorest households.

These papers are part of a slowly growing body of evidence on how urban education systems fail to keep up with the growth of urban populations, and the poorest, those living in informal settlements, and recent migrants in particular are denied the rights to education that other urban children enjoy. Even within these groups there are large inequalities. These marginalized urban groups are often ignored in household surveys used to form policy, neglected by local and central government, and NGOs and development agencies are in most cases still struggling to form appropriate programmes to fill the gaps.

Kaylin Padovano from
Mon, January 14, 2013 at 04.59 pm

Your suggestions have been included in our ‘solutions’ section.Please follow the link to add any additional comments and recommendations:http://www.worldwewant2015.org/node/300328.   

Anonymous from
Wed, January 9, 2013 at 07.35 pm

- Rapidly growing smaller cities - local governments need support in meeting the challenges of rapid urbanisation -

With increasing decentralisation in many countries, local governments are bearing a greater responsibility for planning and delivery of services. This devolution of responsibility provides opportunities for greater local participation in planning, and should allow greater flexibility. However, many city governments are not yet able to take advantage of this autonomy. Much of the global urbanisation and development agenda has focused on large urban agglomerations, 'mega-cities', yet the greatest population growth, particularly in Asia, is expected in regional and metropolitan centres of fewer than one million people. These smaller city governments may not have the capacity, nor be equipped with the necessary information and resources to adequately respond.

To date, little attention has been paid to health systems in smaller cities, the extent to which city administrations are experiencing the impact of urbanisation, and where key challenges lie. We have recently described the experiences and challenges of local governments in reaching the urban poor with maternal, neonatal and child health (MNCH) services in two rapidly urbanising cities in the Philippines.

Inequity and lack of access to health services by the urban poor are widely recognised among city health planners and providers. Local officials perceive an increasing reliance on local government assistance among their population, which is considered to be stretching resources. Cities describe new and different challenges with which they have had little experience, for example mental health issues, alcohol and drug dependence, and young children living alone on the street. With space becoming more limited, cities report informal settlements developing in hazardous areas. This has implications for public health and for the cities’ capacity to manage disasters. Constrained by limited capacity and resources, cities are unsure how to respond effectively. Local governments expressed concern that efforts to build a prosperous, sustainable city are being eroded by the rapidly growing population and increasing informal settlements. Officials consider migration to be a key contributor to the urban development challenges they face. 

Rapidly growing smaller cities need support to work towards reducing inequities and to harness the potential of the urban environment. Smaller city governments should be included in the urbanisation and development agenda before the scale of the challenge escalates. Investment in smaller cities and their planning presents opportunities to improve MNCH among the urban poor, and to develop strong, responsive and sustainable urban health systems. 

Urban poverty and maternal, neonatal and child health service delivery: http://www.worldwewant2015.org/node/298554

Kaylin Padovano from
Mon, January 14, 2013 at 05.02 pm

Your suggestions have been included in our ‘solutions’ section.Please follow the link to add any additional comments and recommendations:http://www.worldwewant2015.org/node/300328.   

Kaylin Padovano from
Mon, January 14, 2013 at 05.02 pm

Thank you so much for this interesting post. Do you think there may be an opportunity here for north-south collaboration? For example, "twinning" a developing city that may not have the capactiy to provide respond to the health needs of the urban poor, with a 'northern' smaller-city that is doing it well in order to provide reccomendations and compare best practice? What other types of interventions would you suggest? I look forward to your repsonse. 

Kaylin Padovano from
Wed, January 9, 2013 at 06.14 pm

How can we make our cities safer for women, especially in informal settlelements? How does gender and socioeconomic status influence the way city dwellers are treated by law inforcement? The following article by Athena Kolbe and Robert Muggah examines the ongoing rape and sexual assault crisis in Haiti. 



Haiti’s Silenced Victims

Damon Winter/The New York Times

A tent city in Port-au-Prince in July. After the 2010 earthquake, residents of the capital’s tent cities were 20 times more likely to report a sexual assault than other Haitians.


A TEXT MESSAGE was the first sign that something was wrong. In the week after Hurricane Sandy hit Haiti, our research team was assessing post-disaster crime, food security and service provision. The message came from a Haitian researcher in our group, an enthusiastic and talented graduate student whom we’ll call Wendy. She had been walking alone a few blocks from our hotel when she was forced into a house and brutally raped.

We quickly located a doctor but he refused to examine Wendy, saying she needed to be seen by the authorities first. We then contacted the police, and after a grueling interview in which one officer repeatedly asked Wendy, “What did you do to make him violate you?” the police said she was free to be examined. The doctor, however, couldn’t be found.

Although Haiti routinely suffers from political and natural disasters, rape is an especially insidious crisis. Haiti’s brutal dictatorships used rape as a political tool to undermine the opposition. A 2006 study reported that some 35,000 women and girls in Port-au-Prince were sexually assaulted in a single year. In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, residents of the capital’s tent cities were 20 times more likely to report a sexual assault than other Haitians.

Haitian prosecutors are reluctant to pursue charges against rapists unless a victim is examined by a doctor within the first 72 hours to “certify” the assault, but few victims are able to satisfy this requirement. The police referred Wendy to a state-run clinic in the nearest large town, a three-hour drive over washed-out roads. When Wendy arrived she was told the doctor was out. A nurse mentioned that he could be found at a private clinic nearby.

It had been more than 16 hours since the attack. Wendy hadn’t slept or bathed. Her clothes were ripped and dirty. Dried blood matted her hair where the rapist had slammed her head against a wall. The doctor wanted verification from the police that a sexual assault complaint had been filed before he conducted an examination to retrieve fluids left by the perpetrator. The police were called but they claimed a “fee” was required before they would release a copy of the sexual assault complaint.

A women’s rights organization in the capital suggested we pay a bribe and complain to the policeman’s superiors later. Our colleague drove several hours back to the town where the assault had taken place, paid a $25 bribe, and waited while the officer wrote up a report that merely stated that Wendy had lodged a complaint against a particular man but not that she had been raped by him. After some argument, the officer agreed to include the allegation of sexual assault.

It took more than 24 hours before Wendy finally saw a doctor who admitted he’d never been trained to examine a rape victim. She cried the entire time. Random individuals wandered freely in and out of the room during the exam, including patients, nurses and a man visiting his sick wife in an adjacent bed.

In North America, rape victims are often given medication to fight possible exposure to sexually transmitted disease as well as the morning-after pill. Wendy was terrified of pregnancy. She declared that although she didn’t believe in abortion, she would rather “die” than have “that man put a baby inside of me.” Wendy knew about the morning-after pill but wasn’t aware if it was available or legal in Haiti. The doctor falsely told her that after 24 hours it was too late to use it.

After Wendy’s exam, the police refused to pick up the medical report or fluid samples collected by the doctor. Instead, she was told to take them to a state-run medical clinic for sexual assault victims in the capital, a 15-hour drive away. The doctor then demanded an exorbitant fee for the medical report. The final document stated simply that Wendy had complained of being raped and was found to have evidence of sexual activity. No record was made of the bruises covering her thighs or the many lacerations on her body.

BEFORE Wendy could shower, she had to return to the small town where the assault occurred for yet another interrogation by the police. Our colleague, meanwhile, was scouring pharmacies for the morning-after pill. He finally tracked down a pharmacist who knew what it was. But the medication, like most pharmaceuticals in Haiti, was imported. The instructions were in Arabic and Portuguese, neither of which the pharmacist could read. He didn’t know which package contained the morning-after pill and which contained hormones taken by post-menopausal women. Nor did our colleague, who closed his eyes and picked a box, which by chance happened to be the right one. After taking the pill, Wendy slept for the entire ride to Port-au-Prince, helped into oblivion by the glass of homemade gin the doctor had prescribed.

We had no intention of sweeping this incident under the rug. We contacted the police, women’s rights organizations and various government ministries. We spoke with the police chief from the area where the assault had taken place. He said he had questioned the perpetrator, who claimed that Wendy had had sex with him willingly. Because the medical report made no mention of violent assault, the police officer in charge, who had seen her bruises and cuts himself, said there was nothing he could do.

Calls to the women’s rights organizations and other civil society groups confirmed that there was little to be done. “You could pay something, give them a gift so they arrest the guy,” one human rights worker suggested. “But he’ll probably just pay another bribe and get out.”

For decades, Haitian victims were blamed for inviting rape, and seldom spoke out. Politicians and the media perpetuated these stigmas. So did the law: a woman’s testimony that she didn’t consent to sex was insufficient for conviction, and monetary restitution or marriage to the rapist was considered a solution. A 2005 law made rape a punishable offense after intense lobbying from survivors and the Haitian Ministry of Women’s Affairs. In 2010, the law was updated after chilling reports of rapes committed against the elderly and children.

But old habits die hard. In Haiti, attitudes toward rape are similar to those that were common in the United States before the 1970s and ’80s. Haitian officials often claim that residents of slums and displaced person camps are promiscuous. Despite new laws, few women will ever report the event because of the prevailing social norms that blame victims for their own assault. Even fewer survivors will be in a position to navigate the complicated procedures to bring charges against a rapist.

Having an education, money and connections doesn’t necessarily help. By the time Wendy returned to Port-au-Prince she wanted only to return to her family. Her mother thanked us for getting her medical attention and asked that we never mention the rape to Wendy again. Wendy said she just wanted to forget about it.

She blamed herself for walking alone, for wearing borrowed pants that were too tight, for smiling and saying hello when the man first approached her, for freezing up and not screaming when he attacked her. Despite her education, resilience and dedication to fighting violence against women, Wendy could not bring herself to face the grueling road of rape prosecution in Haiti.

So she dropped it and asked us to do the same. When we told the women’s rights group she didn’t want to pursue a case, they weren’t surprised. “It happens all the time,” said a member of the staff. “We get dozens of cases each month, and out of those sometimes not even one woman will put herself through this process.” It is hard to blame them.

Athena Kolbe is a researcher from the University of Michigan School of Social Work and co-director of a social work institute in Pétionville, Haiti. Robert Muggah is the research director of Brazil’s Igarapé Institute and a professor of International Relations at the Catholic University in Rio de Janeiro.

Diana Mitlin from
Thu, January 10, 2013 at 12.01 am

Thanks for this post.  

Readers may be interested to know about the report which Amnesty International brought out on sanitation in Nairobi and the problems faced by women. I am not sure if it is still possible to download the report but you can find more about it here. http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/report/kenya-fear-attack-leaves-women-prisoners-their-homes-2010-07-07

Anonymous from
Tue, January 8, 2013 at 08.23 pm


A percepção sobre a realidade em que vive as crianças e adolescentes latinoamericanas nos centros urbanos de nossa região ainda é muito fragmentada, generalista e superficial. É preciso empregar uma visão mais holística de desenvolvimento que entenda o fenômeno crescente da urbanização dos países latinos. Estamos no Brasil, na terceira geração de famílias de rua, nem as políticas públicas foram capazes de alcançar essa população vulnerável. Na Bolívia as crianças morrem nas cidades por enfermidades que são enfrentadas nos países africanos. Em El Salvador os jovens não tem sonhos, não possuem perspectiva de futuro, porque a juventude está sendo morta pelas "pandillas" e "maras". É preciso olhar para esse fenômeno, pois crianças e jovens já representam a maioria da população de nosso continente, porém essa mesma população não está sendo escutada/considerada no processo de pensar e definir as políticas sociais.


The perception of the reality of the children and adolescents in Latin America in urban settings is still very fragmented, general and superficial. We need to develop an approach with more holistic perception of development, in order to understand the growing phenomenon of urbanization of Latin countries. We're in Brazil, in the third generation of street families, nor public policies were able to reach this vulnerable population. In Bolivia, children are dying in cities by diseases that we can see in African countries. In El Salvador the young do not have dreams, they do not have prospects for the future, because youth are being killed by "pandillas" and "maras". We need to look at this phenomenon, because children and young people already represent the majority of our continent, but this same population is not being heard / seen in the thinking process and define public policies.


La percepción de la realidad de los niños/as y adolescentes en Latinoamérica que viven en los entornos urbanos todavía sigue muy fragmentadas, general y superficial. Tenemos que desarrollar un enfoque más integral con la percepción del desarrollo, a fin de comprender el fenómeno creciente de la urbanización de los países latinos. Estamos en Brasil, en la tercera generación de familias de la calle, ni las políticas públicas fueron capaces de llegar a esta población vulnerable. En Bolivia, los niños/as están muriendo en las ciudades por las enfermedades que se pueden observar en los países africanos. En El Salvador, los jóvenes no tienen sueños, no tienen perspectivas para el futuro, porque los jóvenes están siendo asesinados por las "pandillas" y "maras". Tenemos que mirar este fenómeno, ya que los niños/as y jóvenes que ya representan la mayoría de nuestro continente, pero esta misma población no está siendo escuchado / visto en el proceso de pensar y definir las políticas públicas.

Kaylin Padovano from
Fri, January 11, 2013 at 09.11 pm

Excellent post, thank you. What do you think causes this phenomenon of poverty and disparity in cities---where the majority of countries resources are pooled? So many believe that because populations are in close proximity to services they are receiving all the help they need, which is obviously not the case. 

Would you be able to reccomend any solutions as to how to address the problems you brought up? I look forward to hearing your response. 

Please or to post a comment.