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Equality of women and men in local life

Equality - 12.05.2021

For its 15th anniversary, CEMR's Charter is being renewed | Interview with Jaimie Just
The European Charter for Equality between Women and Men in Local Life, initiated in 2006 by the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), will celebrate its 15th anniversary this May. To mark the occasion, we speak to Jaimie Just, CEMR’s Adviser on Equality and Diversity. Spoiler: the Charter is going to be updated and Brussels’ municipalities can participate in the process of developing a revised Charter.

Trait d’Union: Can you tell us the context in which the Charter was developed? And how it was promoted?

Jaimie Just: “It all started with the dream of the members of CEMR’s committee of women elected representatives of local and regional authorities (since renamed Standing Committee on Equality) of an equal society and the need to improve equality between women and men in Europe’s towns and cities in order to achieve it. 

In 2004, the European Commission supported an ambitious project: the design of an ideal city in which all discrimination would be eliminated, a perfect model of equality. This project, “Equality in Europe’s Cities”, brought together local experiences and practices from all over Europe, and resulted in the guide “The Town for Equality”. 

Still supported by the European Commission, CEMR then wanted to extend this project by developing a European Charter for equality between women and men in local life. 

The aim of the Charter is to obtain a public commitment from local and regional elected representatives, through their signatures, to apply the measures included in said Charter in their municipalities.  

This document is the result of a year-long consultation and dialogue between CEMR’s member associations, local political representatives and experts. This preparatory period allowed us to ensure that this tool, designed for local authorities, was a strong policy support documents and contained sufficient requirements for political commitment to equality while taking into account the different areas of a woman’s daily life that are subject to discrimination. 

The “birth date” of the Charter is traditionally placed at its presentation at CEMR’s 23rd general assembly in Innsbruck (Austria) on 12 May 2006. Innsbruck was therefore the first signatory of the Charter. However, the Charter has a link to Brussels as it was actually presented publicly for the first time at a conference in Brussels, on 20-21 February 2006.

At the official launch in May 2006 in Innsbruck, European local and regional leaders were invited to sign the Charter, and to publicly commit themselves to taking concrete steps towards gender equality at all levels of local life in the process. 

Afterwards, the Charter circulated through CEMR’s networks and percolated through local authorities in Europe. It has been widely disseminated and has even been presentated to the European institutions. 

Its success is also due to the fact that its text has been translated into no less than 28 languages over the years. 

Over time, however, it became clear that the signatories of the Charter needed further support and guidance in developing their local equality action plans, and in improving their implementation and monitoring. 

Therefore, CEMR set up the Observatory of the European Charter for equality of women and men in local life in 2013, as an exchange platform to facilitate contact and sharing of good practices between local authorities. 

And in 2015, indicators were developed to help signatories assess the implementation of their action plans.

How many signatories are there today?

Jaimie Just: “The Charter currently brings together more than 1,850 local authorities in 36 European countries.

And more than two thirds of the Brussels municipalities have already signed the Charter: Anderlecht, Auderghem, Berchem-Sainte-Agathe, Brussels, Etterbeek, Evere, Ixelles, Jette, Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, Schaerbeek, Uccle, Woluwe-Saint-Lambert and Woluwe-Saint-Pierre. The first Belgian municipality to sign was Brussels, back in 2008, the most recent being Uccle in 2019. "

Some municipalities signed the Charter two legislatures ago, can we still expect them to be aware of this commitment? In particular, to move from the symbolic commitment to its realization through action plans.

Jaimie Just: “Based on our experience with signatories throughout Europe, it is true that one of the major shortcomings lies in the effective implementation of this Charter following the periodic renewal of elected representatives. There is sometimes a loss of interest and some former signatories are no longer fully aware of the commitment of their municipality.

Here, we therefore have a lot of work to do through our member associations – and this interview is a first step – and our network of coordinators to renew contacts with local authorities and make them aware of their commitment, and perhaps even revive the flame of this commitment. 

On the other hand, with regard to the action plans – which the signatories are supposed to draw up within two years of signing – Brussels and Woluwe-Saint-Lambert, for example, give us an optimistic outlook. The City of Brussels adopted its second action plan in 2020, while Woluwe-Saint-Lambert drew up its first plan in 2018.

However, I am sure that other plans have been drawn up in the five years I have been in this position at CEMR … but that they simply have not reached my desk. I have no doubt that many local authorities are implementing specific policies to promote gender equality, combat gender stereotypes and tackle violence against women and girls. 

It is not easy to follow everything that happens on the ground. I therefore invite all local authorities, municipalities and administrations to send CEMR their action plans and to share their experiences. This sharing is important as it serves as an inspiration to others and helps build a more equal Europe – starting at the local level.

In concrete terms, to start developing an action plan, everyone should assess the specific situation and needs in their community. Then prioritise two or maximum three articles of the Charter to establish a roadmap, and provide adequate human and financial resources to implement it.” 

Can the public social action centres, which are a specifically Belgian institution, join the Charter?

Jaimie Just: “I don’t see at first sight what could prevent them from doing so. We just have to bear in mind that the signature requires a strong political commitment to equality. But it remains a flexible instrument in terms of its adoption. 

CEMR does not prescribe a “right” way to adhere. The Charter is an instrument designed for a European level and must therefore be flexible enough to take into account the diversity of governance structures in each country, depending on the distribution of competences and capacities of the authorities. It is ultimately up to each authority to decide how to join. Most often, a municipal council debates and votes on membership, which is formalised by a signature from the mayor. 

Among our signatories, there are even several national associations of cities and municipalities or regional unions. The more numerous we are, the more we will go towards equality!”
 
Can municipalities that have not yet signed up still do so?
 
Jaimie Just: “Yes, we continue to encourage all municipalities to join. They are probably already carrying out actions to promote gender equality … and in this case, why not take advantage of the opportunity to give these actions a framework and greater visibility? It is then a question of formalising this choice, which has actually already been made, to work for more equality in their community, but also to connect with other municipalities and to join a European network.”
 
What celebrations is CEMR planning around the 15th anniversary of the Charter? How can municipalities take part in the celebrations or seize the theme of equality?
 
Jaimie Just: “The commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the Charter is built around 4 key words:
 
- Recognising the achievements and progress in local equality that have been made possible by the European Charter for Equality.
- Reflecting on the Charter as a living document; determine how to keep it modern and relevant to citizens today and for many years to come; identify methods to better communicate its operation; link it to wider national and international policy frameworks.
- Celebrating the people and organizations that have made the Charter a reality and a success on the ground.
- Modernising the Charter and its tools based on the results of the second stage; deliver results in 2022-2023.
 
On 12 May, a launch webinar was organised to recognise the achievements of the Charter and to highlight its impact on local and regional equality work in Europe. We also announced the actions and events that will take place throughout the year.  
 
Reflection workshops will be organised between June and November 2021, structured around groups of articles of the Charter. For example, a workshop could be dedicated to gender-based violence (articles 21,22,23) and open with a dynamic and stimulating intervention by an activist or academic, followed by a collaborative work in small groups to discuss each article individually through the analysis of its strengths and weaknesses and end with a proposal for the modernisation of the text.
 
These workshops will lead to a final report with recommendations for action to potentially revise the Charter and its tools in 2022-2023.
 
Before that, the celebration ceremony, scheduled for early December in Brussels, will already offer the opportunity to share the results of the previous months’ workshops and to announce future projects. We sincerely hope that the situation will have evolved to allow us to gather a large number of signatories, representatives of local and regional government associations, EU institutional actors and other supporters of the Charter for an evening celebration.”


One of the limitations of municipalities to deploy their action plan is sometimes their need for guidance…

Jaimie Just: “Yes, and as much as CEMR provides the framework (the Charter) and tools on the website, we cannot provide personnalised help to each applicant. However, we regularly share information about equality policies in the EU and in Europe (Council of Europe, etc…) and opportunities and resources from civil society and feminist organisations. 

But it is also the interest of a network to be able to help each other. Other avenues are undoubtedly to be found via the possible financial aid that local authorities may receive from other levels of government in terms of equal opportunities.”

Apart from the anniversary of the Charter, what are CEMR’s main lines of work on equal opportunities for 2021?

Jaimie Just: “This year, CEMR’s citizenship team is looking to better integrate human rights in its work with national associations and to provide political and solidarity support to those who may face challenges in their home countries or backlash against equality policies. Thus, we will seek to strengthen our support to Polish communities and promote the Charter there. 

In terms of advocacy with the European institutions, the most important issue of the year will be violence against women. A draft legislation should be ready in November. CEMR is therefore contributing to the consultations to ensure that the essential role of local and regional government is well recognized in the legislation, and to advocate for better cooperation and coordination between the different levels of government to effectively combat violence against women and girls. 

Internationally, CEMR will use PLATFORMA (the partnership for decentralised development cooperation) to promote the Charter in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. In this context, CEMR organised a workshop in May for the 70 Ukrainian towns that have already signed up to the Charter.”

Can you present the project of the Local Authorities Charter for Gender Equality in Africa?

Jaimie Just: “This is a cooperation between United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLG Africa) and its Network of the Locally Elected Women in Africa (REFELA), the Council of European Municipalities and Regions and Platforma (CEMR/PLATFORMA) and finally United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) to move forward on issues of equality between women and men in local life in Africa.

The European, African and global local and regional government associations mentioned commit themselves to contribute to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda and the 5th Sustainable Development Goal (dedicated to gender equality) notably by drafting the Local Government Charter for Gender Equality in Africa, which will build on the principles contained in the New Urban Agenda, aiming at strengthening local governments and providing inclusive basic services and leading to sustainable societies. 

The African Charter will draw on CEMR’s experience and the European Charter for Equality between Women and Men in Local Life.”

How can the Charter fit into the renewal of feminists demands that have emerged in recent years?

Jaimie Just: “The core values and principles of the Charter are well aligned with many feminist demands, and the actions and policy initiatives (including gender mainstreaming) suggested in the 30 articles offer solutions and responses to the real and pressing need to ensure safety and an equal accessibility in the public space, to ensure that all women of all ages and background have an equal voice in decision-making and access to public resources and services. 

Perhaps the way we communicate and engage with the younger generation of citizens, including feminist activists, will require a new way of presenting and talking about the timeless themes and principles enshrined in the Charter text.”

 
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