The Female

Elisabeth Gateau
explains that increasing the number of women in local decision-making holds the key to environmental sustainability

There are many key factors for achieving environmental sustainability, but the effective management of cities is crucial. World Environment Day on Green Cities will highlight the crucial role played by mayors and local councillors, men and women – but the role of women in local decision making is particularly important for long-term success.

The members of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) – the world local government organisation – are committed to supporting initiatives for more women in local government to achieve both gender equality and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Incrcreasing the number of elected women makes a tangible difference to the decisions taken by local authorities and can foster the changes in culture and perception needed to push issues like environmental sustainability and gender equality up the agenda. Systematically integrating women augments the democratic basis, as well as the efficiency and quality, of local government activities.

The link between women’s participation in governance, gender advancement and achieving the MDGs has long been underestimated. Leadership shown by women in the world’s poorest communities is a vital tool for achieving the goals, and increasing their number in local decision-making is therefore important not only for women but for men, children and all humanity.

UCLG also supports partnerships between elected and grassroots women. The work of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Wangari Maathai, shows the impact of grassroots women in Kenya. Initiatives to establish regular dialogue between grassroots women’s groups and women mayors and councillors have proven to be an effective global tool in getting more women into politics and advancing gender-sensitive policies. Networks of elected women, such as in Latin America and Europe, ahve facilitated national, regional and global exchange on safer cities programmes – and better planning to address women’s concerns. UCLG research estimates that 20 per cent of the world’s councillors are female. Europe still has the highest participation of women in decision making, but the gap is closing with other regions like Latin America. Indeed, some African countries, such as Namibia and Uganda, now rival the most advanced nations in Europe with over 40 per cent women’s participation at local level.

Gender equality
There is a long way to go to reach the levels of gender equality necessary for sustainable development, but there is a clear opportunity to take decisive action. That is why the UN Millennium Project Task Force recommends that women’s participation in local political bodies should be an indicator in measuring progress in achieving the MDGs.

Mayors and councillors will go to the UN Millennium Summit in September to request support and recognition as leaders for global change. Local governments are uniquely placed to implement the MDGs and this must be recognised if they are to be achieved by 2015.

Success in achieving environmental sustainability and meeting the MDGs does not just benefit from the increased participation of women in local politics – it depends on it. Every day elected women are making a real and tangible difference to the quality of local, national and global governance. Women mayors and councillors in cities and communities are leading the way to a more sustainable, equitable and just world

Elisabeth Gateau is Secretary General of United Cities and Local Government.

PHOTOGRAPH: Joerg Boethling/ Still Pictures

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Challenges and Opportunity | Bridging the Water Gap | Golden Gateway to Green Cities | The Spirit of “Mottai Nai” | Cities without Slums | People | Rapid Progress | At a glance: Greening Cities | Charging into the Future | Star profile: Tokiko Kato | The Female Factor | Unlocking People Energy | Think Local | High Achievements | Life at the Top | Books and products | Focus On Your World | Black Sea, Green City?

Complementary issues:
Issue on Women, Health and the Environment 2004