Gender equality is not only a matter of fair pay or of more representation in power roles: it’s a matter of development, peace and a positive future for all. The role of cities and regions when it comes to building a better future for both women and men is a hot topic in 2019: while new studies and reports are being launched, more initiatives are becoming visible and gaining strength, raising the debate about how to include the Sustainable Development Goal 5 into municipal policies.

The city of Barcelona, in Spain, launched a program which supports the creation and growth of women-led businesses

Launched earlier this year, the EU’s Gender Equality Monitor (GEM) is one of the tools that measure women’s disadvantage relative to men in many regions. The early conclusions already point to a clear direction: countries, regions and cities that invest in gender equality are richer and less corrupt than the ones that don’t. The Monitor shows that GDP is higher in regions where women are less disadvantaged and that a government is of a higher quality when more women are involved. A research conducted by the University of Gothenburg, in Sweden, presents evidence that female representation is strongly negatively associated with both grand and petty corruption.

Creating space for women’s voices and needs is then an essential step towards building better cities and regions – governments with more women involved can perform better by investing wisely in minimizing inequality. Be it deconstructing damaging stereotypes, changing budget allocation or supporting female entrepreneurs, there are many ways cities can support gender equality. The new report Gender Equal Cities, published by the EU, highlights innovative initiatives that are simple to replicate and have already been implemented in several European cities.

For example, in Cascais, Portugal, the city council provided training for all public staff in its communications department on how to avoid reproducing traditional, outdated gender stereotypes in their digital and print materials.

Yet, these projects are not only about direct gender discrimination – they plan to include more women in community projects and help them occupy more urban spaces. In Bologna, Italy, the city recruited, trained and empowered young women to act as ambassadors against minorities discrimination, namely Roma, Sinti and Camminanti communities, while in Romania, the city of Râmnicu Sărat took inexpensive measures to include more women into their municipal sports facilities, which were disproportionally used by men: After consulting female citizens, they changed the way they advertise the services and provided women-only sessions to make them feel more welcome.

By its very nature, gender equality is a long-term goal. Rather than offering ready-made solutions, it’s a starting point: a trigger for the right questions to be posed to support all urban policymakers in improving gender equality in Europe.’ says report co-author Sally Kneeshaw.

City leaders

While making up for more than half of the population, women are underrepresented in regional assemblies (28,6%) and municipal councils (36%) in Europe, which only has 15% female mayors. The traditional gender equality issues continue to raise attention: women are paid 16% less than men, perform more unpaid work and experience more gender-related violence. By working with city leaders, the EU has been transforming existing knowledge into clear recommendations that drive the gender-equality agenda with 5 pillars: Representation & Participation, Governance, Economic Equality, Public Services, Planning & Public Space and Migrant Integration.

Regarding Economic Equality, for instance, the city of Barcelona, in Spain, launched Lidera31, a program which supports the creation and growth of women-led businesses, as well as empowers women to reach more senior roles in their professional careers. The initiative has trained over 1000 women in skills development, business support and networking, aiming to close both the entrepreneurship gap and the pay gap.

What can your city do?

The report ends on a provocative note to all policymakers: what can cities do to move forward with the gender equality agenda? The answer lies in exchanging experiences; promoting open dialogues that respect different perspectives; raising awareness, bringing marginalised women’s experiences to the fore and continuing to identify, capture and share why gender equality is important and what actions can drive change.

Gender Equal Cities must continue to be addressed and communicated as a fundamental right, and then makes cities good places for all.

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