We must strengthen the role of women in local democracies: Lakshmi Puri

UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri spoke at the Fourth Congress and World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders organized by the United Cities and Local Government in Rabat, Morocco, on 1 October, 2013.


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Thank you Ms. Anne Hidalgo, First Deputy Mayor of Paris and President of the United Cities and Local Government (UCLG) Standing Committee on Gender Equality, for the invitation to participate in the UCLG’s Fourth Congress and World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders, and specifically for organizing this panel on Women and Democracy. It is a pleasure to be with you once again.

I would also like to thank the Ministry of Interior of Morocco, with whom UN Women has developed a very close partnership, and particularly Ms. Governor Najat Zarrouk, whose remarkable work on gender equality has just been rewarded with the 2013 United Nations Public Service Award. 

UN Women and UCLG have a history of close collaboration. We signed an agreement detailing our common areas of work earlier this year.  

UN Women places great importance on women’s participation in local governance, and the key role of local authorities and actors, including civil society, in fostering strong and sustainable democracies. Local authorities are increasingly being recognized as key actors in the sustainable development agenda. This is something we at UN Women fully promote and support!

Local governance is critical in addressing the challenge of poverty and exclusion. Local governments are key actors in tackling the issues that matter most to citizens’ lives. They have a direct impact on the provision of services that can improve women’s lives in tangible ways, such as health, education, water, safety, nutrition, community participation, etc.

Across the world, UN Women supports local authorities in designing and implementing gender responsive policies that aim to improve access, availability and quality of public services for women and girls - key levers for development and the fulfilment of women’s human rights. Positioning gender equality and social justice at the center of local governance is critical to achieving good governance. 

UN Women, with UN Habitat, is developing a new programme that will nurture strong partnerships with UCLG and women’s grassroots organizations, such as the Huairou Commission, to further develop its work on gender equality and women’s empowerment at the local level. 

Women’s contributions are essential to strong and sustainable local democracies. Women can and should be part of the institutions of local government – they should be represented as mayors, in councils, committees and administrative services. 

Women’s participation in local authorities has positive effects on resource allocation; ensuring key services have sufficient funds to meet their needs. Women in local authorities can work to ensure policy positions and service priorities meet the needs of the constituents, including women and girls, and are delivered in ways that are fair and accessible to all.

Of course, the presence of women in local governance does not necessarily mean that women’s issues are addressed. By the same token, achieving equality between women and men is not just the responsibility of women, but requires also male leaders who advocate loud and clearly for equality.

Research has shown that the presence of women leaders at the local level can have a positive effect on the aspirations of young women and girls. For example, the increase in the number of women representatives, brought about partly through the legislated quotas in India’s Panchayat Raj system, led to a substantial increase in the number of young women remaining in school, showcasing how patriarchal attitudes can be transformed through positive examples. 

Local democracy is also closely linked with organizations and activities of civil society. UN Women works with a variety of actors to foster civic engagement, including through local women’s organizations, committees and associations. These two tiers of local government must work together – local elected women and members of women’s organizations must collaborate and communicate in order to successfully meet the needs of women and girls.

Here in Morocco, UN Women worked with the Ministry of Interior to create the first network of elected women in the region of Guelmim Es Smara in April 2012. The Forum, as it is known, works to strengthen the capacities of women to advocate for access to decision-making bodies in municipal and regional councils. 

In Senegal, women from the Louga municipality wanted to address the high rate of girls dropping out of secondary school through the Gender Equitable Local Development Programme (GELD), which works to improve women’s access to resources and services at the local level through gender-responsive planning, programming and budgeting. As part of the response, they advocated to prioritize the construction of separate toilets for boys and girls in the municipal high school. Their call was included in the local development plan, creating strong incentives for parents to support their daughters’ continued education. 

Today, you will be discussing the post-2015 development agenda. The elaboration of this agenda is an opportunity to address the structural issues that hinder development. Gender-based discrimination and inequalities is one of them. 

This is why UN Women is advocating for a stand-alone goal to achieve gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment. A stand-alone goal is essential to concentrate policy commitment and funding, and to provide a rallying point for gender advocates to hold decision-makers accountable.  

UN Women shares the vision of the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, that any new framework must have a local geographic approach. This can be done by disaggregating data by sex and by place, and by giving local authorities a bigger role in setting the priorities, executing plans, monitoring results and engaging with local companies and communities. Women must be part of these local authorities, and gender considerations should be mainstreamed to respond to the needs of women and girls.

Our proposed gender goal has three components:

  • Freedom from violence
  • Capabilities and resources
  • Voice, leadership and participation

All three of these components have implications for local democracies. 

Ending violence against women and girls is the first priority. Local authorities have a critical role in ensuring that prevention initiatives and service delivery to survivors of violence are prioritized, budgeted for, correctly delivered and executed. 

Capabilities and resources is the second priority. Women and men need equal opportunities – equal access to land and credit, natural resources, education, health services, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, decent work and equal pay. Policies, such as child care and parental leave, including for men, are needed to promote equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men in care-giving and domestic work. Local authorities are key allies in ensuring equal opportunities are accessible to all. 

Thirdly, women and girls’ voices must be heard. Women and girls are entitled to participate equally in decision making in the household, the private sector and institutions of governance. For democracy to be meaningful and inclusive, women and girls’ voices and leadership must be amplified in all public and private spaces, including in local level institutions and in civil society.

We must all make concerted efforts to leverage the political will and resources to effect change:  leveling inequalities and creating a future in which girls and boys, women and men can fully realize their potential.

Thank you.