Learning from Cities to Advance Gender Equality

The new EU Gender Action Plan
Photo: Charlotte Hallqvist, Cities Alliance


Following last week's presentation of its Gender Equality Strategy, in 2020 the EU will adopt a new Gender Action Plan for its foreign action. It could be a tremendous opportunity to recognize the key role that cities are playing in achieving gender equality. 


Despite Considerable Achievements, Gender Equality Remains Wishful Thinking

We have come a long way since Hilary Clinton in 1995 declared that “[...]human rights are women's rights.... And women's rights are human rights[...]”: Considerable efforts in domestic law revisions have laid the ground for women and girls to fight for equal rights to men and to be protected against gender-based violence. More women and girls than at any previous point in time serve in political offices. With Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thunberg, Carola Rackete, #MeToo, and the Women’s March or the Sudanese Revolution, one might think that nowadays you have to be a young woman if you want to change the world. 


And still, we are far from having a gender-equal world. It is estimated that 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, without counting sexual harassment. Women and girls together account for 72% of the victims of human trafficking. They are more often targeted by cyber-harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace, in politics, in schools and universities. Women spend more time doing unpaid work, and a gender-gap remains in all the labour markets worldwide. Waves of right-wing and traditionalist politics are further adding to the problem by destroying already made efforts.  


Gender Mainstreaming in EU’s external Action

The European Union (EU) is committed to promoting gender equality in its external activities and has made considerable advances over the years. In the New European Consensus on Development (2017), the EU and its Member States reconfirm their commitment to gender equality, defined “vital for achieving the SDGs and cuts across the whole 2030 Agenda”. The next step is ensuring implementation and translation of policies and political will into practice.


The current EU Gender Action Plan is soon coming to an end. A new Gender Action Plan (III) will be adopted in 2020  and it will constitute an unmissable opportunity to translate gender mainstreaming into meaningful action.


Key Role of Cities in Promoting Women’s Empowerment

Cities are already taking concrete actions to promote gender equality:


  1. Cities are developing comprehensive gender strategies encompassing different policy sectors. For example, in Penang, Malaysia, the mayor led processes of gender-responsive planning, integrating gender perspectives into the governance process as a means of mainstreaming gender into budgetary and development policy and planning. 
  2. Cities are promoting safe and free public spaces for women. For instance, in New Delhi women are sharing their feelings of insecurity at particular public spaces through a mobile app, SafetiPin. This data is shared with other users and with key urban stakeholders such as planning departments and the police to provide inputs into improving safety conditions in the city.
  3. Cities are engaging women in local governance and decision making. The City of Elbasan in Albania, invested in consultation processes, encouraging the active participation of women. They did so by establishing a local commission to follow the decision-making and ensure that women’s priorities were taken through the whole process and not lost. A local NGO played an important role in raising awareness among the villagers to participate in the meetings.
  4. Cities are adopting gender-sensitive budgets. The small town of Bogovinje, in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYRM), is applying gender-responsive budgeting, strengthening capacities of municipal administration in delivering gender-related commitments, and improving its collection of gender-disaggregated data.
  5. Cities foster equal access to economic opportunities. In Thailand, the city of Chiang Rai spearheaded an initiative that has increased the recognition and the integration of informal marginalised workers, especially women, in economic development. The city engaged with women vendors on the current vending policies, welcoming their feedback and suggestions. 


Lessons from the cities for the next EU Gender Action Plan

These experiences can inspire actions for developing and implementing the next Gender Action Plan (GAP III):  

  1. The focus should be on the impact for women and girls on the ground. All the future programmes that the EU funds should be based on mapping existing initiatives, the in-depth analysis of the current situation of women and girls, and the identification of priority areas of intervention in consultation with local authorities and women’s rights organisations. 
  2. Scaling-Up local innovations: The EU programmes should enable the scaling-up and institutionalisation of gender-equality initiatives.
  3. Dialogue with cities and local actors:  The EU should set up inclusive mechanisms to ensure that gender-champion cities, civil society organisations and women’s organisations are systematically involved in the development of the GAP III. A space of dialogue between the EU and local actors is needed in order to share experiences, knowledge, and tools. Cities networks like UCLG or C40 can offer the right platforms for that.
  4. Empower Delegations on gender mainstreaming: EU delegations should strengthen their role as coordinators of various stakeholders and partners to increase the impact of the new GAP on the ground. 
  5. Pursue an EU gender-responsive budget. The European Commission should adopt and effectively implement gender budgeting methods to the EU budget and all decisions taken based on the overall budget. This should include the development of a long-term action plan on gender budgeting as a tool for gender mainstreaming. 
  6. Adopt a gender lens across all policies’ areas. The EU should strengthen gender-sensitive impact assessment of legislative and policy measures, as well as through cross-sectoral cooperation and accountability mechanisms for monitoring gender mainstreaming in all its operations. 


Authors: Giulia Maci, Lead of the Cities for Women Global Programme ,Cities Alliance and Maria Isabelle Wieser, Directrice romande, Foraus Think Tank