Terrassa City Council is the Capital of Inclusion and Diversity 2023. The European Commission awarded the city under the category of local authorities above 50,000 inhabitants for its “strong intersectional and cross-cutting strategy around inclusion and diversity.” Brussels Capital Region and the city of Helsinki scooped silver and bronze awards, respectively.
“The feeling of local belonging has great potential in building more inclusive, stronger and more resilient cities,” says Lluïsa Melgares, Deputy Mayor of Terrassa City Council. “Citizens, through entities, agents and the neighbourhood, should feel part of this challenge; for this reason, dissemination and awareness policies with a community vision are essential.”
EU #DiversityCapitals Awards recognise towns, cities & regions across the 🇪🇺 for their work on promoting diversity & inclusion
— EU Justice (@EU_Justice) April 28, 2023
What does inclusion mean for the European Capitals of Inclusion and Diversity 2023? How do Terrassa, Helsinki and Brussels Capital Region ensure inclusion in their local policies?
Eurocities has spoken with representatives of the winning cities to discover their integration strategies.
What does inclusion mean for local administrations?
In Terrassa City Council, they know equality policies are typically limited to women’s rights. Without excluding those, the municipality is committed to a broader concept of equality that includes the different axes of inequality, explains Melgares. That is, gender, sexual and affective diversity, origin and racialisation, functional diversity, social class and age. To gather all these axes, the title of the awarded local strategy contains the word ‘equalities’ rather than ‘equality’ in singular.
🏆 The winner of the EU #DiversityCapitals gold award in the category of local authorities above 50,000 inhabitants is:
🇪🇸 Terrassa City Council
for its strong intersectional and cross cutting strategy around inclusion and diversity 🌈 pic.twitter.com/id5eSP6DGA
— EU Justice (@EU_Justice) April 27, 2023
The Brussels-Capital Region defines inclusion as “the motor and the fruit of an evolution of values and practices, even of a change of social paradigm,” and the “process that allows thinking of a society where everyone has a place and access to the same resources,” explains Esther Beck, Spokesperson at Equal.brussels.
Equal.brussels supports and facilitates regional public services’ involvement and helps them develop their own expertise in collaboration with experts from the academic and professional world and associations/fields.
Brussels Capital Region works for society’s goods and services to be accessible to all equitably, “even if this implies adaptations and differentiated treatment,” explains Beck. That commitment implies transforming and raising societal awareness, removing barriers to accessibility to mainstream housing, employment, transport and leisure facilities, and integrating the diverse needs of all populations. Brussels Capital Region’s work starts at the design stage of policy programmes to build decisive actions rather than correcting potentially discriminating situations.
Tuija Mustajärvi, Advisor at Helsinki City Executive Office on equality and non-discrimination in services, notes that for Helsinki, inclusion at the local level means “a city where all people, regardless of their background or personal characteristics, can feel welcome, are accepted, seen, and heard as themselves, and can live and participate as equals without direct or indirect discrimination.”
For example, to mitigate norms and structures that may lead to discriminatory outcomes, Helsinki tailors municipal services to meet the diverse needs of citizens. Helsinki also allocates resources to civil society organisations representing minorities and fosters positive encounters between different population groups.
How can municipalities preserve their population’s diversity?
Melgares states there is no such thing as ‘population’, as “people are diverse, not only in terms of interests and preferences but also in situations and starting points.” This, which enriches and adds value to society, is a problem when differences are the reason for inequality.
For this reason, protecting diversity among citizens means, for Terrassa, protecting people’s rights and working so that these factors are not grounds for discrimination, but also, raising awareness about the importance of inclusion and diversity is essential in favour of more cohesive cities.
Michaël Segers, director of Equal.brussels, also mentions a “predefined normality“. The principle of inclusion means a different view of each person in Brussels society and not modifying people with differences to fit a certain predefined normality. “We defend a capital where everyone has a place, a city for all citizens and accessible to all,“ Segers remarks.
Brussels adds the importance of (re)organisation, improvement, evolution and evaluation of policies, programmes and projects to identify possible inequalities between people and social groups and reduce or eliminate them structurally and preventively.
In Helsinki, the core message Mustajärvi conveys is that there is no one way to be a Helsinki resident, that Helsinki is everyone’s city, and that the diversity of the population is a strength. According to the municipality’s strategy, Helsinki is a city where everyone can feel safe and live their life in a way that suits them best, as long as this does not infringe on the same right of others.
“Our ethical principles include, for example, a commitment to respecting cultural rights of different population groups and a condemnation of racism and inappropriate treatment,” explains Mustajärvi. “In practice, protection of diversity means concrete actions such as recruitment policies, disaggregated data-gathering, norm-sensitive communications as well as capacity-building and awareness-raising on topics of inclusion and non-discrimination.”
Recognising local inclusion efforts
The European Capitals of Inclusion and Diversity Award recognises the outstanding work done by cities, towns, or regions in Europe to promote inclusion and create discrimination-free societies.
“By building inclusive communities – at town, city and regional levels– we can build a true Union of Equality in Europe,” said the EU Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli.
The three cities agree that this award is a driving force and recognition for all their work towards a more inclusive and equal city and values the city officials’ efforts. Segers adds that “it means their work is meaningful, and we must continue to take ambitious and impactful actions.”
The award reinforces and encourages the local authorities to continue working and also serves as a reference to other cities and administrations that are working in the same line, “with whom we can share and learn to become stronger and move forward to more inclusive and equal cities for all,” says Melgares.
Helsinki hopes their success will inspire other cities in Finland (and beyond) to participate and share their good practices. “Still, it also urges us in the City of Helsinki to continue improving in this field,” adds Mustajärvi.
In Brussels, public authorities support hundreds of projects of associations every year. Their impact and specialisations meet the needs and aspirations of a diverse population to overcome and reduce discrimination at work in society. “The capital of Europe must also be the capital of diversity and inclusion,” states Beck.