“Cities are a key entry point into addressing wider challenges of fragility,” said Jennifer Salahub, Senior Program Officer at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). As the primary sites of different delivery of services and the engines of economic growth, she says cities provide insights into the drivers of fragility and opportunities to intervene.
According to Ms. Salahub, some of these drivers include inequality in a number of areas: income, social class, religion, gender, and service deliveries, in addition to weak governance.
“I think in any fragile situation there’s a breakdown, and so this is a moment of transition, and as structures are being rebuilt there’s an opportunity to change,” she said. “Rather than rebuilding governance structures or social structures in the model of a previously gender unequal past, there’s an opportunity to change things.
“It’s a huge opportunity for governments to take a leadership role and deliver services that are more equitable, to recast foundational documents like constitutions and enshrine gender equality in those and for women to take on more leadership and more empowered roles themselves.”
Fragile cities have undertaken a number of initiatives to address underlying issues of urban violence, such as the urban upgrading initiative in the Western Cape of South Africa and the Police Pacifying Units in Rio de Janeiro. Ms. Salahub said documenting and analyzing these initiatives and figuring out what can be changed to adapt to local contexts are some of the ways to translate successful programs to other cities.
“There’s huge opportunity for mayors to network among each other and share experiences. It does not all have to happen through ‘northern’ process,” she noted. “There’s a really important role for bodies like the UN and other members of the multilateral system to facilitate that sort of ‘south-south’ dialogue.”
This interview was conducted by Nadia Mughal, Digital Content Producer for the Independent Commission on Multilateralism (ICM), as part of a series of interviews on the margins of the ICM’s fourth retreat, on fragile states and fragile cities, held on May 8-9.
Listen to the interview:
“Fragile cities” is a relatively new concept that has emerged on the security, development, and humanitarian landscape. How important are fragile cities in the multilateral system’s approach to addressing fragility?
I think that some of the things that the research the IDRC and DFID [UK Department for International Development] have been supporting and that have come out in the discussions today really suggest that cities are a key entry point into addressing wider challenges of fragility, whether they be at the city level or at the state level. Cities are the primary sites of numerous different delivery of services—things like sanitation, employment, transportation. Cities are the engines of economic growth and so these provide both insights into the broader drivers of fragility, but also opportunities to intervene and change trajectories towards either increasing fragility or, in worst case scenarios, complete state failure.
What are some of the main drivers of fragilities within cities?
Within cities I think there are lots of them, and we’re still learning about how they interact. The program that I manage, Safe and Inclusive Cities, is trying to understand what the drivers of urban violence are and how they relate to poverty and inequalities, and here I would say that we would use the term “inequalities” to suggest that it’s not just about income inequality, but social inequalities, religious inequalities at times, gender inequalities, and inequalities in service delivery. And so I think that those things together are some of the drivers of fragility.
Obviously weak governance, as well, is a huge problem in many of the cities that can be deemed fragile. And then [in] the broader state context, municipal governments can be weak, but if there is no strong, or at least competent—strong I think can be a difficult word—national government supporting municipal infrastructure and municipal governance structures, then that can lead to a breakdown of services and the lack of the capacity of the state at whatever level to maintain its control of the territory and deliver the services and be the duty bearer that it is meant to be.
You’ve written about the challenges of integrating gender in fragile states, specifically in security sector reform policy and practice. In the discussion earlier you said that in any fragile situation there’s an opportunity to change gender relations and roles for the positive. Can you expand on that?
I think in any fragile situation there’s a breakdown, and so this is a moment of transition and as structures are being rebuilt there’s an opportunity to change. Rather than rebuilding governance structures or social structures in the model of a previously gender-unequal past, there’s an opportunity to change things.
It’s a huge opportunity for governments to take a leadership role and deliver services that are more equitable, to recast foundational documents like constitutions and enshrine gender equality in those and for women to take on more leadership and more empowered roles themselves, for women to organize. And obviously the focus is on women largely because they have been disadvantaged, but I think it’s also an opportunity to deconstruct and reconstruct masculinities about what it means to be man, and what it means to be a woman, and how society describes what responsibilities are those of a man and those of a woman change.
Could you tell us a little more about some of the approaches that fragile cities have undertaken to address underlying issues of urban violence, poverty, and inequality?
The program that I’m managing, there are several projects within it that are specifically evaluating interventions that cities have taken on. Some of them would include the violence prevention through urban upgrading initiative in the Western Cape of South Africa, the UPP, which is the Police Pacifying Units in Rio de Janeiro. We have other projects that are exploring inclusive urban planning processes and another on slum upgrading programs in South Asia.
It’s different approaches, so some of them are dealing with the environment in creating more safe public spaces with the hope that it will translate into broader safety across the board, but at the same time, these are revealing that while there is quite a bit of public violence that is contributing to fragility, a lot of violence in fragile cities is actually domestic, and so we need multiple different strategies and I don’t think we have them all yet.
In what ways can cities dealing with fragility learn from these experiences?
The first, and as a researcher I think this is appropriate, is research. So documenting and analyzing what has been implemented, what are the key pieces of those programs that are essential to success, and then figuring out what can be changed to adapt to local contexts in other places, so that the program implementation is not simply cookie cutter from one place to another, but really responds to the local needs of the local people.
The other thing that I would say is sharing experiences through south-south networks. This is one of the really great things of our program is contributing to, creating space for a network of southern-based researchers to share information and work together to address problems that they and their compatriots are facing. But there’s huge opportunity for mayors to network among each other and share experiences. It does not all have to happen through northern process, and there’s a really important role for bodies like the UN and other members of the multilateral system to facilitate that sort of south-south dialogue and maybe even bring it into a south-north dialogue.
Thank you so much.