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.