Sustainability goals have a long way to go before they reach municipal politicians

Professor Annika Björkdahl from the University of Lund is leading a comparative study of three local authority areas in Bosnia-Hercegovina, based on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5). The study aims to map the role of local stakeholders and the way in which they are working to promote equality.

“We were initially a little surprised to realise that the local politicians weren’t working particularly deliberately to achieve SDG 5. They are working with equality issues from a wider perspective, but they haven’t, for example, made as much progress as Swedish municipal politicians when it comes to formalising their work,” says Professor Björkdahl.

There are local strategies in place, albeit not linked to the global sustainable development goal and much of the equality work has been pushed by international stakeholders such as the UN, SIDA, the “Kvinna till Kvinna” organisation, and other aid providers.

The Bosnian work is placed in a global context, because it is based on the UN resolution 1325 from the year 2000.
“Municipal action plans for resolution 1325 have been developed on the basis of national action plans, which is a good instrument for achieving these goals. The fact that they’re not using the sustainable development goals has, in my opinion, to do with the fact that there are so many political levels in the country,” says Professor Björkdahl. “The whole structure, with the state at the top, under which there are two federations, cantons, municipalities, and what we’d call sub-municipal committees, mean that measures have a long way to go before reaching municipal politicians.”

The field work involved three rounds of interviews in three municipalities, one with a majority Croatian population, one with a Bosnian majority, and the third with a Serbian majority.
“The municipality with a Bosnian majority has a female mayor who acts as a strong role model and who has paved the way for women in important political positions. It’s interesting to see what they elect to stress here. In many cases, the people working with equality issues are women, and it’s very much a women’s issue,” says Professor Björkdahl.

What challenges have you encountered?
“The fact that the issue is the remit of the Bosnian state, where there is a governmental equality authority, and that there are two gender centres at the entity level – one in the Federation and one in Republika Srpska. There’s no awareness at municipal level that these issues are within their remit so there’s a lack of political will at local level. What is good, however, is seeing how they’re working with UN resolution 1325 in municipal action plans, and how they’re talking about, amongst other things, introducing a more gender-neutral political language.”

What is needed for gender issues to have an impact at local level?
“More and better educated women with self-confidence to enter politics. The opportunities for education for women have improved, resulting in increased self-confidence and respect from other politicians. The fact that both men and women are working with equality issues is an important prerequisite if the work is to achieve tangible results.” Professor Björkdahl also mentions ownership as an important factor.