In the modern world, gender equality is the key to economic and social success. And not only at the European or national level, but also at the level of the region, city, and community

Svitlana Khodakova

Chairman of the Board of the NGO “Open Society”, gender expert,

Charter is a practical tool for implementation of the gender equality policy at the local level

Gender equality is one of the main rights of the citizens and is the fundamental value of any democratic state. In order to achieve this, the mentioned right shall be not only legally recognized, but be effectively implemented in all aspects of life: political, economic, social and cultural.

Is this right recognized and complied with in modern Ukrainian society? Yes, it is recognized, both in Ukrainian legislation and in the ratified international documents. But this is, most likely, formal recognition, as actual equality of women and men in everyday life has not been achieved yet. Women and men, different social groups of women and men do not have equal rights.

In 2017, Vinnytsia, PLEDDG Project partner city, became the first city in Ukraine to sign the European Charter of Equality of Women and Men in Local Life, which was developed by the Council of European Municipalities and Regions. This is an important document in the area of gender equality, which calls on European local and regional self-governance bodies to undertake the commitment to use all available resources for achieving equality among their citizens.

The idea to sign the Charter was put forth in the course of discussions during the meetings of the Section for Ensuring Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men of the Association of Ukrainian Cities (AUC), the activity of which is supported by PLEDDG Project. Apart from that, PLEDDG Project, in the framework of the gender initiatives competition of PLEDDG Project and AUC, supported Vinnytsia’s initiative on the development of a policy document aimed at the implementation of the commitments under the European Charter for the Equality of Women and Men (the author of the initiative is Vinnytsia’s NGO“Open Society”).

By signing the Charter, local governments can publicly demonstrate their commitment to the principles of gender equality and obligations to implement them in their constituencies. For that, each partner city has to develop an action plan for achieving the equality, in which they shall define the priorities, activities and resources for their implementation.

The problem of inequality of opportunities of different social groups of women and men is characteristic of each sphere of public life, you should just focus your attention on this issue, detect these inequalities and start working in the direction of creation of the equitable society.

At the moment, the main platform for implementation of the quality changes is the local level, in particular in the context of decentralization of authorities. The primary challenge for the local governments is taking into account gender peculiarities in the process of planning. As local governments have considerable opportunities for the analysis of the needs of women and men and the authorities to plan the community development.

In 2004 the Council of European Municipalities and Regions approved the decision on the need in the document, which would standardize the activities of the local governments with regards to the policy of equal rights and opportunities in the local community. And such document was developed – it was the European Charter for Equality of Women and Men in Local Life. The Charter “calling for European local and regional self-governance bodies to take the commitments on using local authorities and partnerships for achieving greater equality for their citizens”.

Having voluntarily signed the Charter and this way having joined the community of its signatories, local governments publicly declare their intention to support the policy of equality in the community. And this is extremely important.

This is the decision of the local authorities, its political will. Without political will it is not possible to take practical actions related to the creation of the equal opportunities and achieving of equal results for each social group: youth, women, men, internally displaced persons, disabled people.

The managers of the local self-governance bodies at the local level often strive for improvement of the quality of life in the community, and the same often they do not know where to start. In such a situation joining the Charter can help a lot, as the Charter is not only the political but also the practical tool for implementation of the gender policy at the local level.

In 30 articles the Charter describes the situations, typical problems and possible actions for their solving in different aspects of the community life, in particular, such as housing, security, public transport, labor and health care spheres.

Local governments can use the list of possible activities, provided in the Charter, but can also define priority problems and possible ways to solve them in accordance with the situation in a specific community and “take into account analytical data on the local situation and take into consideration the local experience of women and men at the level of their everyday life, including their living and working conditions.

Voluntariness, flexibility and practicality are the main characteristics of the Charter.

In Europe there are over 1,700 local governments – signatories to the Charter, and this indicator is growing every day. In Ukraine this movement is just starting: relevant decisions were approved by Vinnytsia (2017), Zhytomyr (2018) and Irpin (Kyiv oblast) (2018). As of today already over 40 cities are in the process of joining the Charter, and they are actively supported by AUC in this process. So now, we can already say that the process reached a no return point.

They often ask me: “What are the benefits for Vinnytsia in signing the Charter? Did the situation change in the community?”. Yes, it changed. The first significant change is the change of attitude to the gender policy: from complete opposition to preparation and voting for the Program developed in line with the Charter. When the concept of the Program is edited by all main departments and sections, when financial department allocates the funds for the Program implementation – this is the proof of the change of attitude (the example of Vinnytsia). When prior to the development of the Program the local council approves the decision to expand the authorities in the area of the gender policy for the officials who will plan and implement it, when these changes are lobbied by the deputies of local councils (the examples of Kharkiv, Odessa, Bilhorod-DnistrovsKyi), this is also the evidence of the change of attitude.

Change of attitude is the change in the way of thinking, which, as a rule are, not so rapid as we would like. But as soon as these changes take place, they immediately lead to the changes in the activities, management, focus, visions of a person, his/her problems and needs.

Having analyzed the activities of local authorities in European cities and observing positive changes there, we see that yet there is not a single city with the ideal picture of the complete equality of the citizens. But we also see that the human centered policy effectively and persistently works for improvement of the quality of life of the people. And unfortunately our cities lack this. Ukraine has significant potential. It is very interesting to observe how the change of attitude of the officials, responsible for implementation of the policy at the local level, changes them, and see their enthusiasm when they see different sense in their activity and believe that they will be proud of the results of such work.

Joining the Charter will help to recognize the presence of unfairness in a certain community and to take into consideration as much as possible the gender dimension in the policy, in organization of the work and the activities overall.

In the modern world the real equality of women and men is the key to our economic and social success. And not only at the European or national level, but also at the level of the region, city and community.

Quotations from the text of European Charter for Equality of Women and Men in Local Life