Gender mainstreaming at local and regional level : a strategy to promote equality between women and men in cities and regions - CG (11) 10 Part II

Britt-Marie LÖVGREN, Sweden
Chamber of Local Authorities
Political Group: NR




The Council of Europe, and notably its Steering Committee for Equality between Women and Men (CDEG), has been very active since 1995 in promoting gender mainstreaming in Europe. The concept originates from the United Nations Third World Conference on Women (Nairobi, 1985). The Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (1995) defined a strategy for gender mainstreaming explicitly endorsed by the Platform for Action adopted on that occasion
. The Council of Europe’s Group of Specialists on gender mainstreaming (1995-1998)1 defined gender mainstreaming as the (re)organisation, improvement, development and evaluation of policy processes, so that a gender equality perspective is incorporated in all policies at all levels and at all stages, by the actors normally involved in policy-making..

Following the adoption of the CDEG report on gender mainstreaming,2 a series of awareness-raising activities and pilot projects were identified and implemented by the Council of Europe, such as the organisation of a conference “Gender Mainstreaming : a step into the 21st century” (Athens, September 1999), the setting-up of an Informal Network of Experts on Gender Mainstreaming, the promotion of gender mainstreaming within the Council of Europe and the organisation of a pilot project with four other steering committees (European Committee for Social Cohesion, European Health Committee, Committee for the Development of Sport and Ad Hoc Committee of Experts on Legal Aspects of Territorial Asylum, Refugees and Stateless Persons) to identify how a gender perspective could be introduced into their work. A joint seminar on gender mainstreaming in social policies was organised by the CDEG and the CDCS at the end of 2002. A Group of specialists is drafting a report on promoting gender mainstreaming in schools and a group of experts met in November 2002 to identify possible Council of Europe activities in the field of gender budgeting.

Based on this important work already carried out by the Council of Europe, the Congress could usefully contribute by examining how gender mainstreaming could be promoted at local and regional levels. Local and regional authorities have the possibility to launch policies, for example in the fields of social cohesion and education, that should also incorporate a gender mainstreaming approach. The policy process should be organised in such a way that people usually involved in policy-making (and not just gender equality experts) take a gender perspective into account from the very beginning of the process in order to build a more balanced society. This concern also derives from the necessity to ensure a best possible use of public funds at local and regional level and increase the efficiency of local and regional public policies through an adequate system of gender budgeting.

Successful experiences have been carried out in some member states at local and/or regional levels to promote gender mainstreaming in a pragmatic way. Sweden for example introduced the “3R” method (Representation, Resources and Realia) at local level2.

Following Mrs Kyller’s (Sweden) suggestion, the Commission of Social Cohesion proposes to launch a study on how local and regional authorities can contribute to the gender mainstreaming approach. This work would help in identifying guidelines for gender mainstreaming projects and provide examples of best practices. It could also lead to the organisation of a joint conference in 2004 with the Steering Committee for Equality between Women and Men, which has often expressed its interest to work together with the Congress on these gender mainstreaming issues.

The Bureau of the Congress instructed the Committee on Social Cohesion to carried out this research in February 2003. The Committee appointed Mrs Lövgren (Sweden) as Rapporteur at its meeting of 14 October 2003 in Roma. The Committee organized on 22 March 2004 a hearing which was attended by Isabel Romao, Representative of the Committee for Equality between Women and Men (CDEG), Françoise Gaspart, expert from the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) and Jana Voldanova, Vice-Chair of the European Network of Training Organisations (ENTO). The Rapporteur would like to thank Diane Bunyan, expert, for her committed contribution to the preparation of this report.

1. Definition

Equality between women and men is a fundamental requirement of human rights and a fundamental criterion for democracy.

Gender mainstreaming is considered as one of the most important strategies to reach the goal of gender equality. It was endorsed by the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing 1995). However there is not always a clear understanding about what is meant by the concept and it is often confused with specific gender equality policies and plans of action to address inequalities between women and men.

In 1996 the Steering Committee for Equality between Women and Men of the Council of Europe established a Group of Specialists on mainstreaming. The aim of this group was to define the concept of mainstreaming and propose a methodology for its implementation. In 1998 this group produced a report setting out a conceptual framework for gender mainstreaming, a methodology for its implementation and some examples of good practices.

The report gives the following definition of gender mainstreaming:

Gender mainstreaming is the (re)organisation, improvement, development and evaluation of policy processes, so that a gender equality perspective is incorporated in all policies at all levels and at all stages, by the actors normally involved in policy-making.”3

This means that the needs, interests, competence and skills of both women and men should be taken into account at all stages and at all levels of policy development and implementation. It also means that any policy must be evaluated from the point of view of gender equality in order to find out the possible impact on women and men and that policies should be monitored to discover the real impact they have on women and men. However most of all it requires action to change the policies, strategies, allocation of resources and the way services are run to make them equally effective for women and men and we should not underestimate the change that this will need in the traditional ways of doing things for many local and regional authorities.

In 1998 The Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe4 recommended to governments of member states to disseminate the CDEG report widely and encourage its use as a tool for implementing gender mainstreaming and also encourages decision makers to take inspiration from the report in order to create an enabling environment and facilitate conditions for the implementation of gender mainstreaming in the public sector.

Since then there have been various conferences and seminars which have shared information and generally supported the concept. The policy has been adopted by the European Union both by starting a process of gender mainstreaming within the European Commission and by adopting it as a principle for the distribution of the structural funds.

The CDEG survey 5 shows that many countries have adopted a policy of gender mainstreaming although Mieke Verloo in her report for the CDEG Expert Group6 sounds a note of caution “ Although this positive attitude is of course a blessing, it also comes with a number of problems, notably a tendency for window dressing, for misunderstanding the concept and for a reduction in the attention and budget for specific or targeted equality policies”, in other words that things have not really changed.

The Social Cohesion Committee of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe wanted to look at the issue of gender mainstreaming as part of its interest in promoting democracy and good decision making and in equality between women and men. It proposed to the CDEG that there should be a joint seminar in March 2004 to share good practices in gender mainstreaming at local and regional level and a meeting of the Expert group on Gender mainstreaming in September 2003 took this as its subject and heard several examples of the policy operating at local level where there have been changes in policies and practices as a result of adopting gender mainstreaming.

The Summary of the Final Report of the Expert Group on Gender Mainstreaming7 gives five reasons why it is important;

This recommendation tries to set out some specific actions which could be taken by local and regional authorities to implement gender mainstreaming.

2. Pre - requisites for Gender Mainstreaming

Political will

The most important pre requisite for gender mainstreaming is political will. There is general agreement that the highest authority has to make a clear statement that there is an intention to mainstream gender equality as a means of reaching gender equality.

Some actions at local level have flowed from such a commitment being made at national level. For example in Sweden the Government adopted gender mainstreaming in the middle 90’s8 and the Swedish Association of Local Authorities has been carrying out specific actions and supporting member authorities to integrate equality perspectives into their work.9

In Belgium the commitment has come from the regional government10 level.

In Vienna there has been a statement of commitment to gender equality and gender mainstreaming from the Mayor.11 However wherever this commitment is made it is vital to convince all the actors that this is an important policy initiative which must have time and resources devoted to it.

For Politicians it is necessary not just to make a commitment to equality but to support the means by which this can be delivered. It is important to convince citizens that this is a way of delivering better decisions. As the Flemish document on Local Gender Impact Assessment states : “ In the year 2000 local authorities aspire after a policy “ tailored to the citizen”. To this purpose, it is quintessential to maximally meet the needs of the people or within certain target groups among the population. However policies are far from successful in achieving this goal. This is because a particular measure is often developed with a “model citizen” in mind, who doesn’t exist in reality.”12

Participation of Women in Decision Making

The second pre requisite is the presence of women in decision making bodies. The example of the Nordic Countries shows that a high representation of women puts the issue of equality onto the agenda and also ensures that it is progressed13, the same effect can be seen in the work on gender mainstreaming done by both the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly both organisations have a high level of women members. It is suggested that the ‘critical mass’ necessary is that there needs to be at least 30% of women in decision making bodies before there is a positive change.

It is therefore very important that local and regional authorities adopt methods to encourage the balanced participation of women and men in political and public decision making.14

Openness and Transparency in Decision Making

The need for openness and transparency in decision making has been raised as a pre requisite for gender mainstreaming. Gender impact assessments will be improved by wide discussion and information on the effects of different policies on women and men need to be shared and debated as part of the democratic process.

Gender Equality Policies and Structures

Gender mainstreaming needs to be set within the context of a gender equality policy. Specific measures aimed at promoting gender equality will still need to be taken e.g. legislation to prevent discrimination on the grounds of gender, gender mainstreaming can help to identify where specific measures are most needed and therefore make such measures more effective.

It is also necessary to have a structure to deliver both equality policies and gender mainstreaming. Such structures may take different forms depending on the circumstances from a high level policy committee to an informal network of individuals in different departments but there must be a recognised support system to help those involved in policy development and service delivery to understand and implement gender mainstreaming and a way in which progress is monitored and those carrying it out are held to account.

Gender Disaggregated Statistics

It is necessary to know what impact different policies have on women and men. This is needed to establish a base line so that any change can be tracked. However they are not in themselves the way to deliver equality for example information on pay rates for men and women has been available for many years but the gap between women and men’s pay remains. This is a difficult area as the simple data on numbers of women and men may not be enough to measure impact and some more sophisticated techniques may need to be developed.

However it is vital to start with having simple data broken down by gender. For example the number of visitors to cultural events or the children who use a play facility can give information on whether these are meeting the needs of men and women, boys and girls or if there is an in balance.

Such statistics are also vital to convince elected representatives, employees of local and regional authorities and citizens that gender mainstreaming is both necessary and an effective way of delivering gender equality.

3. Tools for gender mainstreaming

Awareness Raising

It is necessary for people who are setting policies and delivering services for local and regional authorities to understand the differential impact on men and women that these policies and services may have. It is not a matter of allocating blame but of understanding how assumptions and practices which have been around for a long time effect the decisions that are made. Here gender disaggregated statistics can be very useful in showing concretely how decisions and actions have a differential effect.

The example from Denmark on Employment15 is a good example of how staff engaged in trying to find work for people were allowing “Traditional “assumptions about skills of men and women to stop them offering certain job opportunities to both men and women. Awareness raising and a thorough examination of the processes that were being used has led to an increase in employment for both sexes in non traditional areas.

The UK has adopted in the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 200016 the concept of “Institutional Racism” which draws attention to the fact that structures and systems either overtly or covertly act to discriminate against people on the ground of race and places a legal duty on public bodies to promote good race relations and to examine all their policies for the impact they have on race relations.

Building Ownership

Commitment from the top is a vital pre requisite of gender mainstreaming but the need for everyone in the organisation to understand that this is a policy that must be implemented in the same way as any other procedure such as budgeting or annual reporting as Prof Teresa Rees said it needs to become… “a natural part of ‘the way we do things round here’.”17

This can be done through the setting of targets or as part of a performance management system where managers are required to deliver such policies as part of their normal work programme and be held to account for this.

Where local and regional authorities are purchasing or commissioning services from private providers it is important that the principles of equalities and gender mainstreaming are embedded in contracts so that they can be applied in the same way as in the internal processes and services.

Participation and Consultation

Women are les likely to be elected as representatives on local and regional authorities and to be represented at decision making levels within the organisations.18 Therefore because their voices are less likely to be heard it is necessary to have robust and effective mechanisms for finding out what women want from the services that local and regional authorities provide.

Such consultation needs to be wide ranging and take into account the differences between women and between men such as age, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, religious belief and disability. It may need to take a variety of different forms in order to reach those whose voices are not often heard.

It is also vital that consultation is seen to be responded to otherwise it runs the danger of creating even more disaffection and cynicism about the political process.

The information from such consultations forms the basis of information for those looking at the effectiveness of existing policies and services.

It is also useful to compare the results of consultation with women separately from more general consultation. For example the city of Heildleburg
runs a separate consultation exercise with women on physical planning issues.19They feel that as women are more familiar with their urban environment and see the community differently from men they should have the opportunity to express their suggestions and concerns in a women-only environment.

Useful information about the effectiveness of policies can be gained from discussing these on a regular basis with service users. This gives an opportunity to discuss with the people who are most directly affected and to here from those who have little power or influence otherwise. There are also examples where users are part of the decision making process and directly involved in establishing policy, and where public agencies have to report back on how they have delivered on the priorities identified.20

Gender Proofing / Gender Assessments

Gender mainstreaming requires an examination of existing policies for their gender impact and an assessment of new policies to see how they will impact on women and men. This process is at the heart of gender mainstreaming and there are several examples of methods for doing this.

The Swedish Association of Local Authorities project “JAMKOM”21 has developed an analytical tool the 3R method to help people examine current practice. It presents questions under three headings: representation: how many women how many men? , resources: how are resources in the form of money, space and time are allocated between women and men? and realia: What are the reasons for the existing breakdown by men and women and the existing allocation of resources between men and women? The questions and particularly the answers to the last are then used to analyse if there need to be any changes to policies or practices and if so what those should be.

The Association of Flemish Cities and Towns has developed an instrument for assessing the effects of local policies on the equal opportunities for men and women. The LGIA22 gives a step by step guide to auditing policy plans and how to adjust them to deliver a policy which meets the needs of all inhabitants in the area.

Ireland has adopted at national level Gender Impact Assessment Guidelines for the analysis of the National Development Plan for economic and social development and has produced a handbook23 for those undertaking these assessments. These include a five step gender proofing process Step 1: What are the different experiences and roles of men and women which might have an effect on how they benefit from/get involved in ( Objective/action)

Step 2: What are the implications of the differences for this objective? Step 3: Given these implications, what do we need to do when pursuing this objective to ensure equality of outcome for men and women? Step 4: Who will assume responsibility for ensuring these actions are carried out? Step 5 How will we measure success in this area? (indicators, targets)

All the examples require gender disaggregated statistics and a willingness and ability to recognise the ways in which current systems and structures, policies and procedures, have the effect of discriminating however unintentionally. For example the assumption that only those who work long hours are committed to their careers counts against women who more often have caring responsibilities that prevent them from working long hours.

They also need agreement on actions following the assessment and a procedure for making sure that the changes agreed are carried forward. Such changes will not necessarily require additional funding, maybe only the redistribution or reallocation of existing resources.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Having done the gender impact assessment it is necessary to monitor the effect of the agreed actions and to see if they have had the desired effect. Again here statistical information and consultation will be necessary to give the evidence of change.

It is also vital if there is to be an effective application of the policy. For example gender mainstreaming is required in the application of the structural funds of the EU however there seems to be little enforcement of this policy and there is now concern that this requirement will be lost.24


All these tools require that all actors are trained in their use. Training in equal opportunities has often concentrated on information about the law and how to avoid breaking it rather than on the consequences for people of policy decisions and processes. Therefore for gender mainstreaming to work, training in its use needs to be seen in the context of changing the culture of an organisation. It will need to be different for the different roles that people are going to have to take e.g. for politicians to understand the process and to look at the principles involved, for those undertaking consultation to make sure that such consultation is representative, for those collating statistics technical training will be required.

The Danish example25 shows the necessity of changing procedures and processes as well as policies and that it was the challenge of trainers sitting next to people as they were doing the job that changed the practice and overcame institutionalised assumptions.

Because assumptions about the roles of women and men are so ingrained it is necessary to continue to provide training and challenge to ensure that practice doesn’t revert.26

It is important that training in gender mainstreaming is not seen as optional or only for those who are interested but in imbedded in the culture of the local and regional authority and is seen as the way to deliver better services for all citizens.

4. Sharing information

It is important that everyone sees the benefits of gender mainstreaming therefore it is vital that changes in policies and practices are demonstrated in visible changes in outcomes. For example an analysis of who pays bills established that most domestic bills are paid by women in households and the local authority therefore changed the opening hours of its office to allow women who are working and have caring responsibilities to be able to pay bills at times convenient to them.27

It may be the case that a gender impact assessment identifies that resources are directed differentially, for example that more money is spent on providing sports facilities for young men than for young women it may be that this is an acceptable policy if the sports facilities are a way of preventing vandalism or anti social behaviour in an area, the important factor is that this decision is taken deliberately and with the information being available not just because this is the way in which it has always been done.

Citizens want to be involved in discussions about the way in which the scarce resources of local and regional authorities are spent and politicians want to shoe that these resources are used in the most effective way. Gender mainstreaming provides a tool to do this.

The City of Vienna is running a project where regeneration of a part of the city is being done with the specific input of women in deciding the physical layout and design the aim is to have an example of how this will differ from other areas which are designed in the traditional way. This project will be useful in demonstrating how even decisions on the physical environment have a gender dimension which should be considered.28

In England local authorities are graded according to the services they deliver and the way in which the council is run. Part of that grading is based on their responsiveness to equality interests. The local government Employer’s Organisation with the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Disability Rights Commission and the Local Government Association has produced an “Equality Standard” which can be met at 5 different levels.29 This is a useful way in which a council can demonstrate to citizen’s its ability to serve all members of the community.

In Sweden Statistics Sweden produces a gender equality index of all municipalities with a number of indicators e.g. number of women and men elected to the council, labour market segregation, women and men’s levels of education, unemployment, uptake of parental leave etc.30

Good Practices

There are now a number of local and regional authorities that are changing the way they do things by implementing gender mainstreaming. It is very important that this information is shared so that all can learn. The immediacy of the impact at local level of such policies will also help to support action at international and national level.

This work is very important in peace building in former conflict zones and the work that the Gender taskforce in the Stability Pact countries have undertaken in getting women involved in the delivery of local services and in participating in democratic processes and decision making has very good lessons for everyone.

It is suggested that the Congress should set up a directory of good practices in gender mainstreaming at local and regional level with practical examples for all to share.

Working with other Partners

The Women’s Committee of the CEMR is undertaking some work on good practices in the participation of women in decision making and it is recommended that the Congress works closely with them and other agencies engaged in this work.

NGO’s have been active in this area for some time and at local and regional level it is useful to work with NGO’s particularly in relation to consultation processes where they often have access to people whose views are not heard in more formal structures.

There is a considerable body of academic work in this area and local and regional authorities should be able to draw on this in defining their own strategies for gender mainstreaming.

External expertise on training and structures and processes can also be useful and external challenge at the monitoring and evaluation stage can also help to make the process effective.

5. Conclusion

Equality between men and women is a fundamental requirement for democracy, and local and regional authorities are the sphere of governance closest to the people, therefore they have a particular responsibility to make sure that their policies and practices do not intentionally or unintentionally discriminate. Within the structure of a general Equality Policy gender mainstreaming is a vital tool in delivering equality between women and men and gives local and regional authorities a method of analysing and altering their existing policies to make sure that they are fair. By making sure that resources, human, physical and financial are allocated fairly local and regional authorities can show that they are responding to their citizens and strengthen democracy.

1 The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities was associated with the work of this Group of Specialists and contributed to the preparation of a Recommendation to Council of Europe member states on gender mainstreaming in October 1998.

2 See also Document EG-S-MS (98) 2 rev “Gender Mainstreaming: conceptual framework, methodology and presentation of good practices” (May 1998), p. 65. See also Document EG (99)13 “Gender Mainstreaming : practice and prospects” (December 1999), prepared by Ms Mieke Verloo, Consultant.

3 Gender mainstreaming: Conceptual Framework, methodology and presentation of good practices” ( Strasbourg, May 1998)

4 Recommendation No R (98) 14

5 Council of Europe study on national machinery, action plans and gender mainstreaming (EG (99) 12)

6 Gender Mainstreaming: Practices and Prospects Report prepared by Mieke Verloo (EG (99) 13)

7 Gender Mainstreaming Conceptual framework, methodology and presentation of good practices. (EG (99)3)

8 Swedish Government introduced law “Sharing Power, sharing responsibility “ in 1994

9 Gender Mainstreaming in Sweden. Fact Sheet from Ministry of Industry, Employment and Social Affairs

10 Local Gender Impact Assessment Association of Flemish Cities and Towns August 2003

11 Department of the Mayor, City of Vienna

12 Local gender Impact Assessment, Association of Flemish Cities and Towns August 2003

13 Predicting the Impact of Policy: Gender Auditing as a means of assessing the probable impact of policy initiatives on women. Country Report : Sweden. Minna Gillberg. University of Liverpool: Feminist legal Research Unit, 1999.

14 Balanced Participation of women and men in political and public decision making Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers Rec (2003) 3

15 Ministry of Employment in Denmark presentation to meeting of CDEG Working Group on gender mainstreaming, October 2003

16 Race Relations (Ammendment ) Act 2000. HMSO. UK

17 Professor Teresa Rees in her speech Tinkering,tailoring,transforming Principles and tools of gender mainstreaming to the Conference “Gender mainstreaming : a step into the 21st Century” held in Athens 16-18th September Proceedings EG/ATH(99)9

18 Balanced participation of Men and Women in Political and Public Decision Making Rec (2003) 3

19 “Zukunftswerkstatten” Consultation on City District Plan, Heildelburg. Paper presented at the International Conference of the PLUS research project in Heildelburg October 2002

20 Bristol Women Say Consultation. Bristol City Council

21 Swedish Association of Local Authorities project JAMKOM 1997

22 LGIA Association of Flemish Cities and Towns

23 Gender Proofing Handbook by Marie Crawley and Louise O’Meara An initiative of Six County Development Boards

24 Communication from the Commission on the Implementation of gender mainstreaming in the Structural Funds programming documents 2000-2006 COM(2002) 748 final

25 Ibid

26 City of Gothenborg Gender mainstreaming in Social Services

27 3R’s analysis Ibid

28 City of Vienna presentation to meeting of the CDEG Working Group on Gender Mainstreaming October 2003

29 “The Equality Standard for Local Government” The Local Government Employers Organisation, UK

30 Jamindex, Statistics Sweden