Transition tales #7: We can do it
Women changing Europe - the rise of female mayors
Paris – the capital of fashion is currently re-labelling itself as one of the most feminine cities in Europe. Paris is recently undergoing transformations in its political sector. With the election of Anne Hidalgo as the new Mayor of Paris and Célia Blauel as Deputy Mayor, the French capital is setting a new line of changes in the decision-making process.
The story of women’s participation in decision-making began more than fifty years ago, when Sirimavo Bandaranaike was elected as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, becoming the first female head of government the world had ever known. Her victory was so unexpected, it started a whole debate at that time on what to call her.
‘Presumably, we shall have to call her a stateswoman’ – Evening News (London)
Presumably, it should have marked a change on the extent women can contribute to politics, still the transformations in the male-dominated sector materialised at a slower pace. In its most recent report on the Global Gender Gap, the World Economic Forum showed that only 28% of leadership positions worldwide are held by women, out of which 5% represent mayor roles. Although these percentages do account for the general trend worldwide, we are witnessing a change of perspectives in Europe. Cities such as Paris, Barcelona, Warsaw, Bucharest and Rome have now women mayors in the office for the first time. This new wave of female mayors is transforming old assumptions on what is of importance in city developments.
In a recent article, The Guardian poses the idea of feminist cities, going behind-the-scenes of what it means to be a female mayor in the current society. What is interesting about the article is that it poses a storytelling perspective, which points out to a series of recurring themes women in power are faced with, no matter which continent they are on. One of the most frequent story accounts for women mayors being often underestimated, even if the city they represent has been very vocal on gender equality and women empowerment. This subtle irony, together with the very vocal implication women mayors have with regards to problems affecting their cities, proves the complex situation women in power are faced with. Read more here.
“We can’t exclude half of humanity from political decision-making.” Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris
In 2014, Anne Hidalgo was appointed the Mayor of the city, making her the first woman to hold office. That same year, Célia Blauel was elected as the Deputy Mayor in charge of the Environment, Sustainable Development, the Climate Plan for Energy and Hydric resources of the city of Paris. Together they have been working on reducing the presence of cars in the French capital and advocate the importance of improving the air quality. The Parisian mayor also worked together with Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau on a manifesto aimed at the recent European refugee crisis, calling all cities to welcome and be more open towards the incoming population.
There are two particularly interesting aspects that take shape when one looks into the rise of European female mayors. The first one, coming from the French example, brings up this idea of ‘togetherness’. Maybe as a result of the low number of women representatives, maybe due to the easier mode of communication and lack of discrimination, female leaders seem more oriented on collaborating in order to produce change. The second element that comes up is the strong advocacy women mayors have when it comes to solving city problems. Take the example of Ada Colau, Barcelona’s newly appointed mayor, who was part of the grassroots group La PAH and a supporter of the Los Indignados movement against tenants eviction and mortgage repossession following the financial crisis.
‘Becoming Barcelona’s first female mayor carried an immediate and very political significance. Many women in my city attached huge importance to it‘ – Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona
In Athens, Amalia Zepou, the Vice Mayor for Civil Society and Municipality Decentralisation, was one of the first people to advocate ‘guerrilla gardening’ – a movement aiming to revitalise neglected urban spaces. Their advocacy for change in cities was present even before their election, or without it being a part of a political agenda.
The rise of female mayors gives way to new discussions addressing the role of women in the 21st century society. Following the first-ever meeting of the Global Parliament of Mayors in the Hague, women’s participation in leadership and decision-making was also an important a topic at the UN’s global summit Habitat III. The New Urban Agenda that resulted from the event aims to steer change in local governments by achieving ‘gender equality and empower all women and girls, ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal rights in all fields and in leadership at all levels of decision-making’.
Coming from this new feminine perspective to politics, Paris organised together with Barnard College a Global Symposium on Women Changing Europe. Deputy Mayor Célia Blauel talked about some of the obstacles she encountered as a woman in politics and why this rise of female participation is important in showing a younger generation what is possible.
Watch the inspirational video below.
The stories we present reside at the intersection of planning, culture, politics and economics. We introduce a series of weekly uploads from a number of sources (conferences, interviews, summits), that offer a better image on the way cities are changing and what are the ideas behind this transitioning.