18th Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe

      Speech by Rapporteur: Britt-Marie LÖVGREN, Sweden (L, ILDG), presenting the report on Achieving sustainable gender equality in local and regional political life

      Strasbourg (France), 19 March 2010

      It gives me great pleasure to be presenting the resolution and recommendation on achieving sustainable gender equality in local and regional life.

      Our expert, Ms Diane Bunyan, very much contributed to this work and I would like to congratulate her for a very well performed task.

      Ladies and Gentlemen,

      Progress has been made since we discussed this topic in 2004 but as we know legal rights for equality of women and men do not guarantee these rights in reality and we are still far from achieving the equality that we know is the mark of a truly democratic society.

      So: Why do women even want to get elected at local level?

      It is not unusual when pointing out the lack of women in decision-making to get the answer – they do not want to.

      However, the United Kingdom Councillors’ Commission found the following reasons for people wanting to stand for election with little difference between women and men: serving the community, improving the local area, strong feelings about a particular issue, support for a political party, etc.

      Bearing these facts in mind it is very sad to find out that this ‘bad’ example of the detrimental role played by the media has happened recently in the UK. The deputy leader of the Labour Party Harriet Harman was the lead government member while the Prime Minister was on holiday. She made several comments about the need to improve the prosecution rates in rape cases, the need to educate children about how domestic violence is unacceptable and that she believes that senior posts in government would benefit from a requirement for parity. This has been reported in very derogatory terms by some parts of the British media where she has been branded a ‘harridan’ and described as ‘mad’. This kind of coverage might very well prevent women from coming forward to stand for elected office.

      Bearing in mind that we are all responsible for a democratic society where we are represented by both women and men – let me return to our texts:

      The resolution in front of you proposes that the Congress sets an example by building on the achievement of 30% of women full and substitute members by agreeing to set a minimum of 30% of full members and 30% of substitute members to be women to ensure that women can play their full role in the delegations to Congress.

      The resolution also suggests that delegations should aim for the 40% levels recommended by the Committee of Ministers in 2003 to achieve the balanced participation of women and men in decision making.

      This, Ladies and Gentlemen, is certainly an important step forward! Women are supposed to be full members not just substitute members. And at the same time men are welcome to become substitute members.

      The resolution also proposes some practical measures which have been shown to be effective in Council of Europe member states. These include;

      · Encouraging women to stand as candidates and making sure that no one is out of pocket because they have to campaign for or if they hold office
      · Making sure that the services which are delivered by local and regional authorities meet the needs of women and men, girls and boys from all sections of the community
      · Using their public communications to combat gender stereotypes and making it clear that behaviours and attitudes including those of elected members which discriminate or reinforce stereotypes are not acceptable

      Let me tell you about the Swedish system regarding my first point, the financial issue: The Swedish law states not only that you are allowed to leave your job for the number of hours your political assignment demands but also that the local community or the region has to compensate for the deductions from your salary – further to the retainer that comes with the mandate. I am sure that such a system makes it easier for both women and men to take on a political task.

      The resolution further recognises the important role that political parties play in the selection and election of candidates and proposes a new approach that includes selecting candidates for their ability to represent the concerns and experiences of their communities and taking positive action to increase the number of women selected.

      Again, a Swedish example: Sweden does not have any legislative quota system but many parties draw up electoral lists where every second person is a woman – the rest are men.

      Eventually, there is also some homework to be done, not least by the practical arrangements and working methods set up by local and regional authority which should be empowering through:

      – meeting times ensuring that women and men having other responsibilities can attend;

      – support for childcare, etc …

      – training for newly elected members;

      – support by the administration to newly elected members, non-acceptance of discriminatory attitudes, including towards women elected members;

      – publicity or information including positive images of both women and men elected members.

      In order to support this work the resolution proposes that local and regional authorities sign the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) Charter for Equality of Women and Men in Local Life (which already has over 900 signatories), produce action plans and monitor progress in accordance with agreed indicators in order to demonstrate improvements across Europe.

      Coming to the draft recommendation, it welcomes the recent Committee of Ministers declaration “Making gender equality a reality” and recommends that member states help local and regional authorities to make progress in carrying out gender-based policies by:

      · Requiring the authorities to take the gender dimension into account in their activities and supporting this including with financial resources.

      To conclude, we welcome the work of the Steering Committee for equality between women and men and invite ministers who will meet in Baku in May to take account of the local and regional sphere in their discussions.

      Thank you delegates. I’m sure you will join me in welcoming this resolution and this recommendation and see them as a recognition of progress already made and progress yet to be made to achieve sustainable gender equality in politics and in society as a whole in the interest of all our citizens.



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