Gender justice is justice for all: UN event highlights the importance of local and regional action and cooperation

16 March 2023

At the 67th edition of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), four local government representative networks came together to organise the parallel event “Cities forging the path to gender justice | Tools for equality in local life”.

The event provided an opportunity for local and regional representatives from the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), PLATFORMA, United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLG Africa) and the Standing Committee for the Euro Mediterranean Partnership of Local and Regional Authorities (COPPEM) to share their experiences and insights on how regional charters can be used to promote gender equality on the ground. It also explored ways in which local and regional governments can work with civil society and other stakeholders to achieve the ambitious targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG5) by 2030.

Among the first speakers was Claudia Schöning-Kalender, the Chairwoman of the SPD in Mannheim-Wallstadt in Germany, and also the Chair of CEMR Standing Committee for Equality. She acclaimed the 40th anniversary of CEMR’s Equality Committee-which began as a caucus of local elected women and pointed towards the importance of signing the Charter: “By signing it, local governments obligate themselves to pursue the objective of gender justice in all fields of their responsibility.” She also stressed how significant the cooperation with organisations and stakeholders in each community is.

In the light of recent events, such as the war in Ukraine or the earthquake in Turkey and Syria, or protests in Iran, the Chairwoman reminded everyone that now, more than ever, is the right time to talk about gender equality.  “Women are the victims of crisis, catastrophe and war. They are the minority in decision-making, they are almost not represented in crisis management, peace negotiations and planning. They are also the ones who keep things moving and deal with the consequences. This needs to be changed.”

After 17 years of success in bringing equality closer to home with the European Charter for Equality of Women and Men in Local Life, CEMR recently adopted an expanded and updated version.  Now, Schöning-Kalender sees fresh opportunities to open discussions between local and regional representatives and NGOs on the common goal of making the rights of girls and women a reality in daily life. Cooperation, both among cities and regions and with their partners, is crucial on the path to gender justice, she thinks. “We have to get together, especially with NGOs and women in politics, in order to really get things moving with the global north.”

Different cities, similar challenges

During the first panel about implementing regional charters, the discussion focused on the different situations, challenges and tools the mayors face while implementing gender equality charters. Hon. Rohey Malick Lowe, the Mayor of Banjul in the Gambia and President of REFELA (the Network of Local Elected Women in Africa), lamented the fact that too many women in Africa still don’t get equal opportunities: “Many women are excluded from any form of economic empowerment.”

Hon. Fatimetou Abdel Malick, President of the Nouakchott Region in Mauritania, President of UCLG Africa and President of the UCLG Gender Equality Committee, followed up by underlining that the exclusion and discrimination that many women face across Africa starts with education, both at home and in the formal system. She underlined that “Women themselves often contribute to inequalities by telling girls they cannot play football or do this, or that. It is up to us women to raise consciousness about these harmful stereotypes and attitudes.” In terms of formal education, she contrasted the desire of girls to continue secondary education, which can be located outside of her village, with the willingness of her family to move to accompany her. “The family does not want to move, she cannot go alone — her formal schooling ends there. Situations like this are at the origin of the problems we are tackling.”

City Councillor of Legnago in Italy and co-Chair of CEMR Standing Committee for Equality, Silvia Baraldi, agreed and praised the Charter for generating momentum for change: “It can help us defend our shared values of gender equality.”

Clare Hart, Municipal Councillor for International Relations in Montpellier, France, and representative of COPPEM, pointed out that to achieve real change, we’ve got to “get the men on board. They are still a majority in decision-making, so they need to support the idea and get engaged.”

When it comes to the challenges in Montpellier, Hart pointed out several of them: “The first one is that we are still up against glass ceilings.” So while women have oftentimes great results in school and overall better and higher levels of education, when it comes to interviewing for a job, the employers statistically prefer men. “The second factor is the gender pay gap,” explains Hart and adds that many women around the world still make less than men for the same job. The third point concerns gender-occupational factors. As she says: “We have this segregation in terms of occupation.” In some professions, such as the tech industry, mathematics or science, men are taking the main jobs, especially in the high-tech or the start-up sector.

Gender justice is justice for all

During the exchange, Schöning-Kalender pointed out the importance on engaging young people in politics as they are the means for a change and for creating intergenerational solidarity in the fight for equal rights. “There are different ways and tools to do so,” insists the chairwoman. “First, space – for women to come together and for exchange of practices, ideas. Second, comes money and resources. And third, the absence of violence.”

This opinion was supported by Regional Councillor of Östergötland Region in Sweden, Emil Broberg. He calls for including men in the pursuit of gender equality and recalls the need to redistribute power and resources. “Men are threatened, but they don’t need to be. The goal is equality, less violence, more security,” he explains. “The only way to go forward is that everyone gets the same opportunities,” adds Broberg.

To achieve that, Schöning-Kalender stressed the importance of quotas for women and men on a local and regional level. Because, as she reminds, gender justice is justice for all. And in the end, if the goal is making the world a better and safer space, we need women – in leading positions, in conflict resolution, everywhere, added Hart.

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