Gender equality lessons from cities

Women have been at the forefront of combating the pandemic. And now, two and a half years later, they are still struggling with the economic impact, given that women are more likely to be in temporary, part-time and precarious employment.

But the need to combat inequality was already on municipalities’ agendas before 2020. Many cities signed the European Charter for Equality of Women and Men in Local Life within the last decade and set up gender equality action plans. This know-how should inform the recovery plans at the EU and national levels.

Eurocities new report on mapping cities’ existing policy measures that align with the European Pillar of Social Rights principles, includes a focus on gender equality.

The report outlines city competencies on gender equality, trends and current challenges at the local level, good practices of city measures, obstacles cities still face and policy recommendations.

Out of 20 cities from 12 European member states that participated in a survey to compile the basis of the report, Barcelona, Gothenburg, Malmo, and Stockholm reported having complete competence in tackling gender equality.

The local path toward gender equality

The mapping report found that two in three cities mainstream gender equality in their policies via a dedicated strategy or action plan. Barcelona adopted the ‘Strategy against the feminisation of poverty and deprivation 2016–2024’ to reduce poverty among women and include a cross-sectoral approach to gender equality in all local measures.

The city has a municipal law to promote women’s complete integration and participation in society and fight against gender discrimination. Cities in Sweden are responsible for local policies on gender equality in line with the Swedish Discrimination Act.

Lille Metropole adopted a ‘Gender equality strategy for 2016-2020’ to include a gender-based approach in all its policies, and Vienna introduced gender budgeting in all programmes.

Additionally, many cities partner with local employers and NGOs to promote gender equality by using gender clauses in public procurement.

Consistent support

Cities are setting up centres to support victims of gender-based violence. For example, Nantes invested €1 million to open such a centre in autumn 2019.

Other municipalities set up anti-discrimination offices in cooperation with equality bodies. Leipzig established an ‘Advisory Board for Gender Equality’ while Vienna has a women’s service centre for help and advice.

The Austrian capital also finances shelters for those fleeing from domestic abuse, gives financial support to women’s NGOs, runs a 24-hour emergency hotline to help victims of gender-based violence, offers legal counselling free of cost, and organises conferences to raise awareness of gender issues.

But women also suffer from concrete difficulties during motherhood. Cities invest in affordable childcare services where families live with flexible (opening times) to meet the working parents’ needs.

Warsaw runs a programme ‘Mother, Work and Me’ to support the labour market activation of women combining training with support for childcare and matchmaking with job offers from local employers.

Many other cities deliver targeted measures to empower women from the most vulnerable groups, such as single mothers and women from migrant or ethnic groups.

For example, Amsterdam has a tailored approach to empowering refugee women in their access to the labour market. The ‘Language and Parenting Commitment’ programme gathers mothers together to learn Dutch.

Prevention as a first step

But almost more importantly, cities are investing in capacity building and raising public awareness. To tackle gender-based stereotypes in the labour market and society, Vienna produced a toolkit for educators to work with young children in early childhood education and care based on a gender-sensitive pedagogy.

Vienna also runs ‘girl empowerment workshops’ where city staff work directly with young women to raise awareness about women’s rights, gender stereotypes and media portrayal.

Addressing the gender data gap is also crucial. Berlin publishes an annual ‘Gender Data Report’ on inequalities that can be used as a base to implement policies and programmes.

This local commitment across Europe is also brought to life through the Eurocities political campaign, Inclusive Cities For all, where cities pledge to make clear actions in support of the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights. Regards gender equality, this has so far involved pledges from eight cities: Vienna, Barcelona, Bologna, Gijon, Ljubljana, Nantes, Lyon and Madrid.

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Marta Buces Eurocities Writer
Michaela Lednova Senior Policy Advisor
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