Strengthening local democracy through gender mainstreaming

“There were some failures occurring in relation to the gender equality work – we weren’t really on the same page,” says Zorica Grubor, project coordination for Robertsfors Municipality. “A lot of it was unintentional… but when we began discussing the subject, it became apparent that the problem’s roots were deeper than we had thought.”

The seriousness of the situation was acknowledged and discussed, and a project application drawn up.
“We visited each other twice and discussed the theme, the starting point was a discussion regarding our different contexts. We discovered that we had a lot of common denominators and both parties got really involved. We adapted and adjusted the project in line with our local requirements, and then we worked together on formulating and drafting a joint application,” says Zorica.

The global gender equality goal, goal #5, was most relevant to the project concept, and the three-year project, Actions for Gender Equality, was approved by ICLD.
“It’s a well formulated application that addresses an incredibly important topic, and it will be exciting to follow their gender equality work. No society can develop if half the population is being marginalised,” says Felicia Wede, a project officer at ICLD’s Municipal Partnership programme.

The long-term goal is to improve Robertsfors’ and Machakos’ policy implementation and governance to reached gender equality. The first project meeting will be held in June, and will see representatives from Machakos visiting Robertsfors.

Zorica, what are your expectations of the Actions for Gender Equality?
“I expect us to reach our goal – or at least that our project will be a starting point for further progressing these issues. And not just gender equality issues, but issues relating to how we can implement gender equality work tools in our local communities.”

And despite the geographical distance between them, Robertsfors and Machakos have found that they face many of the same challenges.
“We are attempting to identify tools and methods for working with issues that would seem to be universal. We want to take a somewhat bigger picture approach than simply drawing up checklists. We want to develop clear, practical action plans,” says Zorica.

What is Robertsfors currently doing to ensure a fair distribution of power, influence and resources for both men and women?
“We have a Gender Equality Manager and have allocated a certain percentage of the budget to addressing these issues. We’ve agreed the methods, but haven’t yet been able to implement them fully. I believe the Actions for Gender Equality project can be of huge benefit to us and that we need more people to start taking a norm-critical approach. Our Deputy Mayor and Municipal Chief Executive both regard these issues as being of the utmost importance, so there’s a real sense of backing and support.”
“In three years’ time, once the project has hopefully put down roots in the municipality, I’m hoping that we will see a real improvement in our gender equality work,” says Zorica.

Agenda 2030’s fifth sustainable global development goal, addresses gender equality. For Zorica, the fifth goal is absolutely critical. “I see it as a prerequisite for progress. If we are going to achieve sustainable development, the focus on gender equality has to be across the board.”

In which aspect of the municipal operations do you see Actions for Gender Equality having the biggest impact?
“It’s a little early to say. We’re taking an overall approach and are aiming to shine a light on every single nook and cranny. One of our project goals is a gender equality council that will ensure that policies are broken down and adapted locally. The council will, I believe, be able to ensure that our work spreads throughout the municipality’s operations.”

Robertsfors’ gender equality council may be a key to success. The council is made up of politicians and administrators who are tasked with furthering the work within their own sphere of operations. Another of the keys to the project’s success is, according to Zorica, building personal responsibility.
“The project has two cornerstones – a project group that carries out the various tasks and a steering group that formulates the goals to be implemented. This model will, I believe, create truly accountable responsibility.”

Do you think gender equality work is a hotter subject today than it was a few years ago?
“I think we’ve made real progress in taking a different approach to the analysis and critical examination of these issues. But it has to be an ongoing and active process: you can never say, ‘That’s it. We’re done.’ Knowledge sharing is probably one important reason why so many good things are actually happening now.”
“I think the #MeToo movement was an eye-opener on a personal level for many people, and when we can get this know-how and insights to the decision makers, that’s when things can really start happening.”