Gender Equality Week: What can cities do?

28 October 2020

Cities have long been at the forefront of working towards gender equal societies. This can be done by working to address gender stereotypes and structural discrimination of women in the local labour market, ensuring equal opportunities for participation in public and political life, and improving conditions for reconciliation of work and family life. Urban development can reflect and reinforce gender inequalities, which can become visible in any sector, and is why many cities take political and policy actions to promote gender equality.

Eurocities is currently running a political campaign ‘Inclusive Cities for all: Social Rights in My city’. We engage city mayors to pledge on delivering concrete measures in line with the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights. In doing so, we seek to build inclusive cities for all people including equal opportunities for women.

So far, seven cities – Vienna, Bologna, Gijon, Ljubljana, Lyon, Madrid and Nantes – have committed to promote gender equality by investing in specific policy actions at local level, such as:

  • Vienna Business Agency supports career development of women in traditionally male-dominated sectors by granting bonuses for women in top jobs
  • Bologna’s comprehensive system for reception, counselling and support to victims of gender violence
  • Gijon’s Integral Care Centre for Women Victims of Gender Violence and the Advice Centre for Women
  • Ljubljana’s Gender Equality Group composed of representatives from services across the city administration and an appointed coordinator to mainstream gender equality in all municipal policies and services
  • Lyon’s training courses on raising awareness of gender equality among the staff of the metropolitan administration
  • Madrid’s Network of 17 Gender Equality Spaces to prevent, detect and raise awareness about violence against women
  • Nantes’ Gender Equality Council

Many cities are placing gender equality at the core of municipal strategies and action plans.

For example, Lille Metropole adopted a ‘Gender equality strategy for 2016-2020’ to include a gender-based approach in all its policies, while Ljubljana has an action plan for gender equality, both approaches include a gender-based approach across all relevant municipal policies.

To focus on one example, that of Vienna, the city has adopted a two-fold approach to gender equality: on the one hand, mainstreaming gender equality in the municipal strategy, all relevant policies and the budgets, and on the other hand, ensuring targeted support for women to address the barriers they face.

Gender mainstreaming: the gender perspective is an integral part of urban planning and housing, of health services, in fighting gender specific violence and sexual harassment, in labour market policies, in sports as well as in education. There are different gender experts for equality in all relevant departments of the city administration which detect inequality and discrimination and work out solutions. Vienna follows 5 principles: 1) gender-inclusive language; 2) gender-specific data collection and analysis; 3) equal access to services for men and women, 4) equal participation of women and men in decision-making processes, 5) integration of gender equality in management control tools.

Gender budgeting: this is required by law in Austria (one of the 3 countries in the world). It requires all ministries to target equality between women and men in their budgets by integrating gender objectives, measures and indicators in their policy plans. This is a way to recognise that how a budget is spent impacts men and women’s lives.

Targeted approach: Vienna has a women’s department for the promotion and coordination of women’s affairs, offering support and information for girls and women. The department finances women’s shelters for women who flee from domestic abuse, give financial support to women NGOs, run a 24-hour emergency hotline to help victims of gender-based violence, offer legal counselling free of cost, organise conferences to raise awareness of gender issues, and runs girl empowerment workshops for girls. It also provides an education box for teachers with gender sensitive teaching materials such as literature, games and empowerment tools for girls and boys in pre-primary and primary.

In March 2020, the European Commission launched the first-ever European Gender Equality Strategy for 2020-2025, which builds on the ‘Strategic engagement for gender equality 2016-2019’ and on the Gender Pay Gap Action Plan. The strategy covers a wide range of areas for gender equality:

  • Tackling gender-based violence and stereotypes
  • Thriving in a gender-equal economy: closing gender gaps in the labour market, gender pay gap and pension gap, achieving equal participation in higher education, closing the gender care gap
  • Leading equally throughout society: achieving gender balance in decision-making and politics
  • Gender mainstreaming and an intersectional perspective in EU policies
  • Funding actions to make progress in gender equality in the EU
  • Addressing gender equality and women’s empowerment across the world

While the EU Gender Equality Strategy is a good first step in the right direction, it fails to recognise, or even mention, the role of cities as key actors in gender equality measures. Only by working with cities and local authorities, can the EU achieve its goal of becoming a ‘Union of equality’ through concrete actions on the ground to improve the lives of girls and women.

You can find further examples of what cities are doing to promote gender equality here.

And you can find some information on the impact of COVID-19 here.


Katharina Bamberg Head of migration