‘Gender equality should be the top priority of cities’

All India Institute of Local Self-Government (AIILSG) in partnership with UCLG-ASPAC organized the 2nd Women Leadership Workshop on March 4, 2020 at the Cidade de Goa, Goa. Eminent personalities working in the field of women empowerment in India and abroad took part in the one-day conference that deliberated on the measures governments across the world need to consider to broaden the opportunities presented to women and thus, promote gender equality

Rekha Sharma, Chairperson, National Commission for Women, was the chief guest of the workshop.  Sharma inaugurated the Workshop along with other dignitaries including Vijaya Rahatkar, Former Chairperson, Maharashtra State Commission for Women; Lakshmi Puri, Former Assistant Secretary General, United Nations. Bernadia Irawati Tjendradewi, Secretary General, UCLG-ASPAC; Sudeema Chandani, President, FSLGA, Sri Lanka; Deepali Naik, Director, Women and Child Development, Panaji, Goa; Sulakashana Pramod Sawant, Expert, Girl Education and Sejal Brahmbhatt, Governing Council Member, AIILSG. Ranjit S Chavan, President, All India Institute of Local Self Government (AIILSG) and Hansa Patel, Executive Director, AIILSG, welcomed the dignitaries and attendees of the workshop. In his welcome address, Chavan emphasised the increasing awareness amongst women of South Asian countries regarding their social and economic backwardness. His addresses set the tone for the workshop.  Patel highlighted the historical role women like Sheikh Hasina, Mother Teresa, etc. and their role in shaping the civilization.

Bernadia Irawati  Tjendradewi delivered the Keynote address for the workshop. She interacted with the women present in the session to gauge the most glaring issues that women face in various walks of life. To this, a majority of women present at the conference concurred that the top three challenges that require immediate attention were job opportunities, education, income disparity for similar work, and political participation. It was also felt by the participants that lack of community participation, gender stereotyping and cultural difference were the top three reasons for limited breakthroughs being faced by women across the world in promoting gender equality.

Vijaya Rahatkar pointed out that times have now changed and women development will soon be replaced by women-led development. Sulakashana Sawant highlighted the advancements that Goa has made in their campaign to promote gender equality in the state government at all levels.

Session 1: Understanding linkages between SDGs and local planning

The session sought to understand the commonalities between the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 5: ‘Gender Equality and Women Empowerment’ and local planning for gender equality. Maizura Ismail, Strategic and Capacity Development Manager, UCLG-ASPAC chaired the session. Priya Lee Lalwani, Senior Policy Advisor, New Taipei City Government; Maria Endarwati, Lecturer, National Institute of Technology Malang East Java Indonesia and Yasmin Sultana, Councillor, Narsingdi Municipality were the speakers for the session.

Maria Endarwati emphasised on how the localisation of SDG 5 for uplifting of women across the world is essential at this stage. She said, “We must take strategic action towards the achievement of SDG 5. Issues like gender discrimination, violence against women need to be eradicated in order to achieve, not only SDG 5, but also all of the SDGs by 2030.

Priya highlighted how New Taipei City is working towards the implementation of SDGs, particularly SDG 5. Lee told that the city authorities have published a voluntary local review to track the measures implemented in the past which will enable the authorities to work smoothly in the future towards the implementation of SDGs. The moves have increased transparency in the operation of governance and enable sustainability in all walks of life, irrespective of gender and age. In order to effectively tackle gender inequality, Lee highlighted that educating children at a young age is essential as it will sensitize them to women issues and make them better citizens for the future.

Yasmin Sultana highlighted issues that are inherently discriminatory towards women and even hamper their participation at governing levels of cities. She said that less power does she experience being given to women in municipalities as in her home country Bangladesh. “Equal pay must be accorded in law,” Sultana said.

Session 2: South Asian Perspectives and opportunities of gender equality

The second session of the workshop explored the various challenges faced by South Asian women and how local governments of the region can address these challenges with better urban planning and provisions. Lakshmi Puri chaired the session. Rekha Sharma; Hemanthi Goonasekara, CEO, Federation of Sri Lanka Local Government Authorities; Nazira Akter Shopna, Councilor, Thakurgaon Municipality and Yagya Kumari, Deputy Mayor, Chaubise Municipality, Nepal were the speakers for the session. Puri emphasised that South Asian countries, in particular, are plagued by traditional practices, which are inherently discriminatory towards women. “Eradicating such practices at a national level must be prioritised and effective strategies must be developed,” she said. Rekha Sharma said that by promoting women’s equality across the board, we do not only progress on SDG 5, but a holistic growth is ensured. “Gender equality is not only a basic human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful and sustainable world,” Sharma said.

Hemanthi Goonasekara said that women representation in politics is a big challenge for Sri Lanka. She said that quantity matters, but quality is key when it comes to women participation in governance.

 Nazira Akter Shopna provided an insight into the challenges and opportunities for gender equality and women’s empowerment in Bangladesh. The Councilor highlighted how women in her country do not get equal opportunity even in the local government’s as many times their male counterparts bound them to their decision because of the majority.

Yagya Kumari, in her address, told the audience that Nepal has ensured over 40 per cent women representation in local government and 33 per cent in political parties.

SESSION 3: Methodologies and Strategies to Promote Gender Mainstreaming

The third session of the conference discussed methodologies and strategies to promote “Gender Mainstreaming” for the current times.  The session was chaired by Ravi Ranjan Guru and the speakers were Agnes Bickart, Senior Manager, Metropolis; Iti Rawat, Founder and Managing Director, Think Hall Academy; Dr. SnehaPalnitkar, CEO, WMRC, AIILSG and Dr. Nikhil Raj, Program Head,Girl Power and Incubation centre, AIILSG.

“Data can be the oil for the women empowerment engine,” Agnes said in her address. She also emphasised that gender equality cannot be achieved without adequate stakeholder association; best practice exchange and setting global benchmarks in urban gender policy. Women security should be prioritised as it is the greatest challenge in metropolises. 

Rawa elaborated that she faced various issues in setting up her business and based on her experiences deduced that support is essential. She said that innovative ideologies could help shape a better and a more sustainable future for women. 

Sneha Palnitkar highlighted AIILSG’s role in promoting good, transparent local governance in India while promoting women workmanship across the nation. She also presented the case of Maharashtra where women took charge in local government’s in Maharashtra. Dr Nikhil Raj highlighted the salient features of Girl Power, a recent project undertaken by AIILSG for empowering women in Jharkhand. “The Girl Power Project is all about its building and harnessing interlinkages, bringing the top –down and bottom- up approaches in harmony with each other & ensuring that women realize the inherent value or “stickiness” of the skills and sustain the changes in their lives,” Raj said.

Session 4: Gender Budgeting

The fourth session of the conference was dedicated to the deliberation on gender budgeting. The session was chaired by Abhishek Pandey, Editor, Urban Update and Dr. Ashok Kumar Lahiri, Economist and Member of the 15th Finance Commissioner, Govt. of India; Haziqah Nazirah ZolBahari, Penang Women’s Development Corporation, Malaysia and Amita Pitre, Lead Specialist, Gender Justice, OXFAM India, participated as speakers. The key outcome that arose during the discussion was that budgeting is an essential part of lessening the gender disparity in any developing country. All the speakers agreed that it is essential to involve as many as possible private public stakeholders when allocating the gender budget to ensure optimal utilisation of funds. Dr Lahiri, presented the gender budgeting statement of the Union Government. “In recent times, the gender budgeting has increased 10-folds, but the question still arises: Has it brought any change?,” the economist contemplated. He urged everyone not to only look at the numbers, but also check how the money has been spent. Further, he called for developing 100 per cent women specific budget allocation for the future to actually see the targeted benefit and grow from
the investment.

Haziqah Nazirah Zol Bahari, presented a case study of Penang, Malaysia, and gave examples of how Gender Responsive and Participatory Budgeting (GRPB) helped the city in developing gender inclusive budget. Amita Pitre advocated the concept of progressive taxation in her speech. “Social evils like alcohol end up in various crimes against women and hence more taxes should be applied on them,” she said. She also said public spaces should be planned in such a way that they are safer
for women.

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