There are many spheres of decision making that women are yet to conquer. Of all these, local government is possibly one of the most important, yet ignored areas in the gender, governance and development debate in the Pacific.
In response, the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF) Pacific and the International Women's Development Agency (IWDA) have been working together since 2008 to integrate gender equality commitments into local government and enhance the visibility, value and level of support for women employed, elected and involved in local government and help add to their numbers. This work aims to:
- encourage the participation of women in leadership roles in local government
- encourage councils to engender workplace policies, practices and service delivery
- establish women in local government networks and coalitions with women's civil society organisations
Background on Women in Local Government in the Pacific
There has been considerable government commitment and activity led by women’s agencies in the last ten years designed to promote the participation of women in leadership and decision making roles in the Pacific. Yet, it is evident that very little attention has been given to progressing women’s representation and participation in local government despite the opportunities it presents as the level of government closest to the community and therefore potentially most accessible to women.
In most Pacific island countries, local government are significant employers at the community level and have responsibility for basic service delivery including public infrastructure, transportation, local economic development, physical planning, water and sanitation. Local governments are therefore well placed to raise awareness on gender issues, provide spaces for women to be heard in the formal decision making processes concerning their basic living conditions, and opportunities for women’s knowledge and skills to be acknowledged and utilized in local governance.
The participation of women in local government will become even more critical as the sector faces challenges of economic recovery, critical skills shortages, an ageing workforce and early retirement of the sector’s managerial level. Without women, the sector simply does not have the depth of talent and capacity to survive.
And that’s before we get to the gender equality issue.
Women’s representation and participation in Pacific governments at all levels is an essential step to progressing gender equality and genuine democracy in the Pacific. As signatories to the Convention on the elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), all but three Pacific island countries have committed to eliminating discrimination against women in national political and public life. Despite these commitments, women’s representation in Pacific parliaments is currently the lowest in the world at 4.2%. Global trends indicate that whilst women are still underrepresented at all levels of government, women’s political representation at the local level is gradually increasing and in most cases is higher than at national level.
- Strengthening Women’s Participation in Municipal Governance (SWPMG) Program : 2009 to 2010
- Funding Leadership and Opportunities for Women (FLOW) Program : 2012 – 2015