City leaders recommit to women’s rights

8 March 2023

This International Women’s Day, city leaders from across the Eurocities network are using the occasion to reaffirm their commitment to secure women’s rights and achieve true gender equality.

“After three years of Covid19 we have witnessed a serious backlash in women’s rights,” explains Marina Hanke, Member of the City Council of Vienna, and Deputy Chair of the city’s Committee on European and International Affairs. “We have seen a rise in domestic violence, a rise in women’s risk of falling into poverty, and now the situation is aggravated with higher costs of daily living.”

With this in mind, a new Eurocities statement highlights the numerous actions being undertaken by cities to empower women. This includes working to close the gender pay gap, thereby ensuring women get equal pay for equal work; fostering women’s active participation in the labour market, including through training; and providing better access to services, including childcare facilities, and by promoting better conditions to reconcile family and work-life balance.

A long way still to go

Although the mayors and city leaders freely admit to there still being a lot of work to do, there are many positive initiatives at city level that can help inspire a broader reflection in Europe on policies to promote gender equity (this year’s theme for International Women’s Day).

In Nantes, which Mayor Johanna Rolland describes as wanting to “become the first non-sexist city in France,” a long-term strategy aims to eradicate gender violence and ensure commitment from everyone towards inclusion. “It means acting on individual and collective perceptions and behaviours. It means continuing to act to correct inequalities, to fight against sexism, particularly sexist and sexual violence. But it also means acting upstream, by questioning social representations to change them. It means working on both the short and the long term. Building the non-sexist city therefore implies the commitment of all, of a diversity of players,” she explains.

In addition, the city recognises an urgent need for concrete action to accompany and support women victims of sexist and sexual violence, which was one reason for creating Citad’elles in Nantes in 2019. Open 7 days a week and 24 hours a day, Citad’elles is the first centre ever created in France that protects and welcomes women victims of all types of violence and their children. Since its opening in November 2019, nearly 3,000 women have contacted the centre.

In the city of Stockholm, gender equality is one of the main priorities, according to Emilia Bjuggren, Vice Mayor for Education, Labour Market and Human Resources, who noted that “we work with gender mainstreaming in all of our budget. For example, we are now focusing on the sector of elderly care, where women make up the majority of the staff. A problem we have identified is that this group has insufficient access to their closest manager. It is important that women in this sector have a closer relationship with their manager to be able to address their working situation, and have more influence over it.”

And in Vienna, one of the many gender mainstreaming approaches includes taking note of how young people use city parks. “We see that young girls most often have a different use for the park than young boys,” remarks Hanke. “And if you have this in mind during the design phase, you can create parks that are equally well used by young girls and young boys.”

As illustrated in the example above from Vienna, designing cities that cater to everyone requires considered planning. One tool that enables Vienna to do this is gender budgeting. “We saw, especially in the pandemic, that this is a very useful tool, which means you can look at how measures you take as a city government affect women and men differently,” explains Hanke.

For many cities, like Glasgow, a similar approach means ensuring women are at the heart of the city’s response on the cost of living crisis, and even in the way it deals with the effects of climate change.

Inclusive Cities For All

In a show of international solidarity, the Eurocities statement also shares strong support for Ukrainian women who have had to flee their homes, as well as with women in Iran and Afghanistan.

“This International Women’s Day must draw attention to the many women around the world who face persecution and violence because of their gender,” reads the statement.

It’s a commitment that city’s like Florence are already living up to, by welcoming refugees.

And, as André Sobczak, Secretary General, Eurocities, elucidates “working for women’s empowerment and the promotion of gender equality has always been at the heart of the political agenda of our member cities. For example, via Eurocities’ Inclusive Cities For All campaign, which matches local initiatives to commit to principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights, including principle two on gender equality.”

Barcelona is one of several cities that have previously pledged support for gender equality as part of Eurocities Inclusive Cities For All campaign. Barcelona’s approach includes a commitment to gender mainstreaming across its municipal services. The city council also created a campaign to give visibility and support to information and communication technology projects concerning women.

And not far away, another Spanish city, Bilbao, is currently focusing its International Women’s Day efforts via a photo campaign, ‘Guardians of the Collective Memory,’ celebrating the lives of women over 60 who came to Bilbao in the 1950s from other parts of Spain, such as Castilla y León, Galicia or Extremadura, in search of “a better future” for their families.

“Women have been for decades guardians of memory, and with this project we propose to deploy this memory, overflow the private sphere in which it has been kept and place it in a reflective and public sphere, willing to open new channels of transmission”, explained Mayor Juan Mari Aburto.

These are just some of the very many approaches being taken by cities on gender equality and to mark International Women’s Day. You can find more in the Eurocities statement, and on the Eurocities website.

Main image © Bilbao City Council