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Photo: Yvonne-Aki-Sawyerr

Mayors form network to fight for feminist cities

24 November 2020

by Sarah Wray

The cities of Barcelona, Freetown, Mexico, London, Los Angeles and Tokyo have co-founded a network focused on gender equity, with mayors warning that the Covid-19 pandemic risks widening inequalities.

Through ‘CHANGE’ (City Hub and Network for Gender Equity), the cities will share best practices, policies and innovative new approaches for tackling sexism, misogyny and gender-based injustice.

The first chair of the network will be Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti. Other founding members are Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona; Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Mayor of Freetown; Dr Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, Chief of Government, Mexico City;  and Yuriko Koike, Governor of Tokyo – who are all the first elected female leaders of their cities – and Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London.

During an online launch event for the network yesterday, the leaders highlighted numerous continuing forms of discrimination against women and girls which must be tackled, including access to opportunities, unequal pay, physical and sexual violence, a disproportionate share of unpaid labour and low levels of political representation.

The latest World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report concluded that, based on current trends, the economic gender gap will not close for another 257 years.

Holistic approach

The leaders stressed that gender issues must not be addressed in silos.

“Our government stands as a feminist government,” said Barcelona’s Mayor Colau, noting the city’s  Office for Feminism and LGBTI affairs.

“We believe that it’s not just important to make these matters visible but to teach the message that this is a main axis in our public policies. This means we don’t just make specific feminist policies for ourselves but feminism is one of our main avenues, which must drive all our public policies,” she commented, adding that this includes fiscal and urban planning.

She also called to “end the invisibility of care work – a burden which is mostly borne by women.”

Khan commented: “I want gender equity hardwired into everything we do, not simply childcare, though important it is, but from housing to hiring policy, recruitment and retention, from policing to the environment.”

The founding cities said that now is an important time to launch this network as many of the challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic have disproportionately impacted women.

“There’s no doubt that this pandemic has the potential to undo much of the progress that’s been made globally towards gender equality in recent decades,” said Khan.

study by McKinsey & Company found that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the coronavirus crisis than men’s. Similarly, women make up 39 per cent of global employment but account for 54 per cent of overall job losses.

Covid-19 has also triggered a global spike in domestic violence against women, and research found that women were almost three times as likely as men to say their mental health has worsened amid the pandemic. Women cited concerns around income, food, healthcare and increased caring responsibilities.

Cities as policy labs

“Cities are the laboratories of policy,” and should lead on the issue of gender equity, Garcetti said.

Mayor Sawyerr commented: “This is a fight which has been around for a very long time and one might ask: what difference are we going to make now? Maybe the difference is the fact that there are women like myself and others, who are sitting in city halls for the first time as mayors, who are  able to push through policies – along with male colleagues – which don’t leave this to chance.”

Example policies highlighted by the cities included a requirement for each Los Angeles city department to prepare a Gender Equity Action Plan with quarterly progress reports; the addition of more lighting and panic buttons in public spaces in Mexico City to reduce sexual violence; the launch of market nurseries for the children of Freetown’s traders; and allocating funding from the £300 million (US$400 million) adult education budget in London to help women re-train and upskill for better-paying jobs.

“The work of CHANGE will explicitly acknowledge and seek to respond to intersecting inequalities based on race, religion, ethnic origin, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression,” a statement from the group said.

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