Gender Equality in focus during Local Democracy Talks

The work for increased gender equality must include all activities in cities and regions. That was one of the messages when ICLD had the first live streamed panel discussion in the series “Local Democracy Talks” the 2 March.

Under the leadership of ICLD’s Secretary General Johan Lilja, a five-headed panel discussed the topic “If gender champions rule our cities: Key policies to create a more equal world from below”.

The Swedish Embassy in Kenya was a co-organizer. In her introductory speech, Ambassador Caroline Vicini emphasized that the deep cooperation between the countries is not primarily about building roads and bridges:
– We cooperate more on human rights, gender equality and good governance.

It’s basically about justice!

Across the African continent, work is now underway to increase gender equality, through among others UCLG Africa (United Cities and Local Governments), which also wa a co-organizer of the panel discussion. Jacqueline Mustache Belle, the incoming Director of the Gender and Youth Department, highlighted the three most important initiatives:

– We must reduce the number of street children, introduce zero tolerance against domestic violence and we must increase the economic empowerment of women.

These initiatives are close to ICLD’s own priorities in the area, including the ongoing “Gender mainstreaming” program involving the province of Makueni in southeastern Kenya. The province’s Deputy Governor Adelina Mwau Ndeto has for many years, in various roles, worked for greater equality:

– Gender equality is not about women, it is about both men and women. It’s basically about justice!

Gender mainstreaming means that in every area, on every political issue, the effect of decisions on gender equality must be examined. Adelina Mwau Ndeto chose to highlight two important areas in her initial panel comment:
– We must reduce the distances that families have to water facilities. And to health care. In both cases, women would benefit. Since 2013, we have reduced the average distance to a health centers from ten to five kilometers.

The panelists stated that gender equality – goal five of the UN Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development – is an enormously broad area. The legislator Nereah Amondi Oketch from Homa Bay, on the eastern shores of Lake Victoria, began by highlighting teenage pregnancies:
– I know how it feels, it happened to me too. You fall behind in your education, you get locked into your home. I myself managed to get out, but it’s difficult!

Today, Nereah is a role model, a kind of “gender champion”, as a prominent female politician at the regional level. She visit women in their homes and at their workplaces and show them that a woman can be elected, that a woman can make a difference. – Our politicians are often far away from the citizens, I do not want to be such a politician, says Nereah Amondi Oketch.

Several of the panelists, including the two participants from Sweden, raised the issue of violence against women. Amelie Tarschys (L) is a Councilor and Chair of the Education committee in Lidingö municipality:
– The situation for women has worsened during the pandemic, we must do more to reduce the extent of this violence. And we need to provide more safe homes for women, says Amelie.

On the question of what further needs to be done to increase gender equality, she agreed that more women must be attracted into politics. But she also pointed out the importance of having well functioning childcare, schools and elderly care since women are more affected than men when these institutions are weak.
– We must improve public transportation, since there are more women than men who use these means of transportation, says Amelie Tarschys.

The only male in the panel, Eskilstuna’s councilor Jimmy Jansson (S), emphasized the importance of de-escalating the issue of gender equality, which tends to be a polarizing one:

– In the discussion, people sometimes stop listening to each other. If we start seeing gender equlity not as a separate issue, but as a an issue influencing all areas of society, then I believe the debate would become less polarized, says Jimmy.

To the paneltalk

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