Meeting of the presidency of the network of locally elected women of Africa (REFELA) at VNG International in The Hague

During the first week of November 2016, the UCLG network of locally elected women of Africa (REFELA), held a network presidency meeting in the Hague. The visit was organised by VNG International, the International Cooperation Agency of the Association of Netherlands Municipalities.  This was the first presidency meeting since the election of Mayor of Bangangté, Cameroon, Célestine Ketcha Courtes, as president. The delegation consisted of REFELA representatives from the five regions of UCLG-Africa.

VNG International organised this visit because it sees gender as a cross-cutting issue in its programmes. Peter Knip, Director of VNG International, welcomed the delegation at the offices of VNG, underlining his support for the network and the important role it plays in the fields of good governance and poverty eradication in Africa.

The overriding purpose of the visit was to facilitate the exchange of experiences on challenges faced by female elected local government leaders to strengthen the network’s approach. The outcome was a clearly formulated strategic plan that will help REFELA to achieve sustainable results in light of its vision of strengthening female leadership at the local level for the development of Africa.

In parallel to the strategic planning sessions there were meetings with Dutch female local government leaders. During the meeting with the Director of VNG, Jantine Kriens, many similarities in the challenges related to gender equality and female participation in local government between Africa and the Netherlands were found. Lack of support among women amongst was mentioned as one of the biggest challenges by Nonceba Molwele, Councilor of Johannesburg and Vice-President of REFELA, a view that was shared by the other participants.

REFELA members also paid a visit to the Dutch Senate, where they met Senator Annemarie Jorritsma, former mayor of Almere. Jorritsma stressed that there is a need for action in the Netherlands to increase female participation in local government, as only 4 out of 31 municipalities with populations over 100,000 have a female mayor. Another important point was highlighted by Nadine van Dijk of the Women's Rights & Gender Equality Taskforce of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who emphasized the role of men in breaking down gender inequality.

The visit once again revealed that gender equality in local governments is still an issue worldwide and both women and men should step up and work together to increase female participation at local level. 

Local data essential to gender equality

The UCLG Standing Committee on Gender Equality teams up with UN Women to call on Member States to gather data on women in local government.

It might come as a surprise but there is currently no standardized system gathering data on the number of locally elected women across the world. The main reasons for this lack of data are the vast number of local governments and the complexity of their structures worldwide.

National associations of local governments have been gathering data on women’s representation in local institutions over recent decades, but this is done irregularly and without the standard methodology that would be required to feed into a valid development indicator. 

The representation of women in leadership positions in local government is not doing as well as one might think based on the exceptional cases that reach us through the media. Fewer than 6% of mayors are women and the percentage of female elected representatives worldwide is around 23%. Assessing the real situation and reporting regularly will be essential to implement policies to drive equality and motive more women to participate in politics. 

Over the past two decades, UCLG and UN Women have been advocating for this challenge to be tackled globally in order to provide a full and accurate picture of the state of women’s equality in local democracy.

The newly adopted SDG5 on gender equality, in particular indicator 5.1.1, is an opportunity to take this step and to foster the political and technical commitment to gather this information on a regular basis worldwide. 

At an expert meeting in New York 3-4 November, UCLG Deputy Secretary General, Emilia Saiz, transmitted to UN Women the willingness of the Chair of the UCLG Standing Committee on Gender Equality, Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, to raise awareness of the need for disaggregated data on the representation of women in local and regional government.

UCLG is keen to further develop its alliance with UN Women and sister networks within the Global Taskforce to rally the political and financial support needed to ensure the development of indicator 5.1.1.

The UCLG Standing Committee on Gender Equality will actively participate in the Commission on the Advancement of Women taking place in New York in March 2017.