Tuesday, 8 Mar 2022  |  Reading time:  11 mins  | Read online

International Women's Day 2022

This week’s edition of Global Local celebrates International Women's Day, turning a critical eye to both the role of women in local government and local government's role in improving the lives of women and girls in communities.

This year's IWD theme: #BreakTheBias

Within local government, biases can hold back both women's participation and progression – for example, LGIU research from 2017 found that in UK councils, women were outnumbered six to one in finance or economic development roles, with those roles being more prestigiously recognised and likely to lead to promotions.

To address this issue, today's featured briefing looks at two initiatives aimed at improving women's confidence and participation in politics, while our policy section also contains a report and a toolkit on overcoming barriers.

Looking outwards at gender equality in wider communities, local government's role cannot be understated. The pandemic has created adverse socioeconomic impacts for women and girls globally, with the World Economic Forum raising the time to reach gender equality by 36 years as a result – to sit at 135 years. Plans for recovery from the pandemic will need to seriously consider how to impactfully support women's recovery, while other urgent issues within local government scope such as poverty, food and housing insecurity, and climate change impacts also disproportionately affect women. 

Localised, targeted interventions can have a huge positive impact in addressing gender inequality across the multitude of issues it overlaps with, but it can be difficult to know what to prioritise and how to achieve the most impact.

This edition of Global Local provides practical examples of gender equality initiatives, ways to improve participation, and information on why more exhaustive policy and organisational culture overhauls, such as gender mainstreaming as in the featured Nordic and Austrian examples, might be the way forward at a time like this.

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This week's featured briefing

Local Government: By Women, For Women

Only 24% of local councillors in Ireland are women. In Scotland and Australia the figures are slightly better at 29% and 32% respectively, and in England, it is 36% (2021).

The need to remove barriers preventing women getting involved in government and specifically local government is well acknowledged across these countries, but this isn’t reflected so much in solutions or progress.

This briefing looks to councils from opposite sides of the world – two successful local government programmes both led by councillors.

An initiative from Meath County Council, Ireland, looks at increasing engaging women in politics – encouraging political participation and influencing perceptions of female politicians. The other, from Georges River Council, Australia, aims to provide young women with tools to support confidence, resilience and leadership in all aspects of their lives.

LGIU Global Local Highlights

 

Visible people – tackling gender mainstreaming in the Nordic states

This short briefing explores how Sweden, Finland and Denmark have successfully worked to take a gender mainstreaming approach to policymaking and the transformative nature of these strategies at a national and local level. 
Read this briefing here.

How can we make urban planning work for women?

Urban governance requires gender sensitivity if it is to be sustainable, equitable, and effective. ‘Mainstreaming’ gender considerations into planning processes takes urban planning beyond the realm of efficiency into solving issues of social, economic and political equity – promoting civic engagement among women and minorities in the process. 
Read this briefing here.

Population density and workplace gender equality

Using recent research from Australia, SGS Economics and Planning's Gerard Lind explores why inner cities have a much more integrated workforce compared to suburbs, where workforce gender segregation is greater. 
Read this briefing here.

Online Training: Equality and Inclusive Leadership in Local Government – March 11

Two online workshops relevant for senior managers and officers who want to develop their inclusive leadership practice and or work in the area of equalities, as well as elected members who want to re-examine equality and diversity policies within their local authority. 
Sign up here.

Case study: Building a gender-equal city
Vienna, Austria

Low visibility of women’s experiences in planning has shaped our environments to fit male norms, but it doesn't have to be this way. Vienna has become role model for their application of a gender lens to planning. Find the excerpt below, or Click here for the full article.

Vienna’s reputation for gender-sensitive planning precedes it, having been one of the first cities to actively look to consider social gender roles across multiple areas of policy and urban planning – issues that most people wouldn’t associate with any gendered difference. This process is called ‘gender mainstreaming’, and for Vienna, it kicked off in the 1990s after city planners organised a photography exhibit depicting women’s everyday lives and travel patterns around the city. The photos drew attention from politicians and the public to women’s concerns over safety and travel.

In the 1990s, Vienna began to identify the gaps in data relating to how gender might affect public space usage, including studying how different groups were using space and transport differently. For example, officials noticed that after age 9, girls had almost entirely disappeared from parks. Rather than assuming that girls were not interested in sport, detailed surveys discovered that it was the presence of only one large space in parks that was driving them out – a space dominated by boys playing football, leaving the girls feeling like they couldn’t compete for space.

When paths were used to break up the space, and alternative activities added, park usage by girls shot up to almost parity with boys. Shifting away from prescriptive problem solving and towards exploring the lived experience of the people in the area – especially marginalised groups – was key for achieving inclusivity.

Another data gap closed after Viennese officials asked citizens to complete a questionnaire on how they used public transport. Most of the men finished the questionnaire almost immediately, while women “couldn’t stop writing”. While men reported travelling twice a day to commute to and from work, women used a greater variety of transport methods and made long strings of trips in a web centred around home – combining paid work, care work, shopping and other errands. Public transport and fare structures at the time were not geared toward this style of travel, so women’s time, money, and productivity suffered.

This is a familiar problem across the world, where the disproportionate time costs of care and running errands (disproportionately falling on women) led to women’s reduced participation in the labour market, be that working part-time or turning down better-paid work due to infeasible commute lengths – perpetuating gendered income inequality.

Crucially, this realised difference was deemed important, resulting in action to re-evaluate the city’s long-term approach to urban planning and shifting the focus to improving accessibility, safety and ease of movement.

So, how was transport inequality addressed?

Policy & Resources

Report: Does local government work for women? Final report of the local government commission
This report by the Fawcett Society in collaboration with LGIU uses extensive survey data from England to analyse barriers to women's participation in local government before making recommendations on how to overcome them.

Policy: Safe and Strong: A Victorian Gender Equality Strategy
The Victoria State Government in Australia has received recognition for achieving almost 44% female councillors – significantly higher than other Australian municipalities. Their comprehensive published strategy outlines practical policies to tackle gender inequality across multiple realms.

Best Practice: Gender mainstreaming in local authorities best practices
This UN handbook disseminates the experiences from local government initiatives around the world contributing to local gender equality, focusing on the role of local government in mainstreaming gender considerations across policy areas. Despite a publication date of 2008, it extracts lessons on what works well and identifies common challenges that remain relevant today.

Toolkit: Twenty-first century councils: enabling and supporting women, parents and carers to stand and serve in local government 
This toolkit by the UK Local Government Association aims to help councils create underlying policies, procedures, ethos and environment that will help encourage women and carers to take on positions in local government. 

More from Global Local

Local government and the Ukraine invasion

Our collection of LGIU and other resources to support local government with dealing with the impact of war on areas from cost of living, defending truth and council data to defending local democracy. 
View our resources here.

Thanks for reading!

Next week, we're focusing on fuel poverty, energy, and tackling the cost of living crisis. Later in the month, we'll look at how local governments can use social procurement to benefit their communities.

If you would like to share your story, you can fill in this simple form or drop me a line at ingrid.koehler@lgiu.org. Please forward this free newsletter to a colleague or share it on social media to help us reach even more people who value local government globally. We tweet from @GlobalLocalLGIU.

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