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Global Infrastructure Congress | Focus on Diversity

Girl fetching water in dadaab camp where redr has delivered water, sanitation and hygiene training, credit kate holt crop

The Global Infrastructure Congress later this month will address the need to taylor infrastructure to users’ needs.

Despite great efforts, we still live in a world where 34M girls between the ages of six and 11 are out of school. Where every 10 minutes, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence and over 15,000 children under the age of five lose their lives each day.

We know that a child whose mother can read is 50% more likely to survive past the age of five and that when women earn income, they are likely to reinvest 90% of it into their families. Despite overwhelming evidence that investment in women helps grow economies and lift people out of poverty, we still see too wide a gender gap in development assistance.

It is very clear that we as a global community must ramp up efforts to empower women and girls and achieve gender equality. The Sustainable Development Goals, Goal 5 in particular, reflects this priority.

The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) is contributing to this goal through an infrastructure lens. We have been working with partners including the Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium, led by Oxford University, to better understand the role of infrastructure in delivering the United National Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

 Infrastructure’s role in achieving targets for gender equality is largely linked to creating opportunities for women’s empowerment, by facilitating and modernising the provision of infrastructure services that meet the needs of all people.

Limiting women’s potential

In many parts of the world, particularly in rural areas, girls and women spend much of their time each day collecting drinking water or fuel, limiting their educational or economic potential. The provision of accessible energy, water supply, and information and communication infrastructure, can, however, allow more time for the equitable pursuit of economic, social, and leadership activities, and reduce time spent on unpaid domestic and care work.

Further, electrification may reduce exposure to cooking fumes in homes, while street lighting may decrease the potential for sexual harassment and violence towards women and girls in public spaces. Stronger transportation infrastructure could allow for the provision and administration of much-needed health supplies and services to communities. When designed as gender sensitive it can increase women’s willingness to travel and increase their earning opportunities.

“Gender mainstreaming” – in the context of infrastructure – is an approach that prioritises equality and diversity, among all genders, and factors in issues concerning safety and security, health, access and more.

UNOPS firmly believes that gender mainstreaming should lie at the heart of every infrastructure project — and throughout the lifecycle of a project and not as a one-off event. In order for an infrastructure project to realise the benefits of gender mainstreaming, thoughtful and systematic work is required at each project phase to ensure that the design, delivery, operations and management of the project are fit for purpose. This starts by ensuring that women are better represented in professional engineering and architectural project teams.

When done right, gender mainstreaming maximises distribution of equitable benefits to all of the intended users of the delivered infrastructure. It increases cost-effectiveness, longevity, and community ownership of infrastructure, while reducing waste and inefficiency. These are hallmarks of an infrastructure project that will be truly sustainable long into the future.

Nick O’Regan is director of United Nations Office for Project Services Infrastructure and Project Management Group. He will speaking about infrastructure for sustainable and resilient development at the Global Infrastructure Congress

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