2021 International Observatory on Participatory Democracy (IOPD) Conference

Virtual sessions November 29 - December 2

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Munipalism, social movements and feminist approaches

The session was held on 1 December 2021 in the framework of the virtual sessions of the 20th IOPD conference.

On December 1, 2021, UCLG's Committee on Social Inclusion, Participatory Democracy and Human Rights facilitated the session "Municipalism, Social Movements and Feminist Approaches", within the framework of the virtual sessions of the 20th IOPD conference organised by the International Observatory of Participatory Democracy (IOPD) and United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG). This session explored recent local government innovations that have led to political transformation through their interaction with social movements and new mechanisms to better represent the demands of residents and broaden the horizons of local democracy. Many of these innovations have been initiated by the women's movement, which has promoted new approaches to care and social organisation. It was also observed how the women's movement represents a key element for a "better normalcy" after COVID-19 towards a renewed local democracy. 

The session was organised in two panels. The first panel focused on analysing the trends that are redefining municipalism and how they relate to social movements and social demands. It was moderated by Amanda Fléty, coordinator of the CISDPDH and the participants were Gissela Chalá, councilor of Quito, Eva Mieri, councilor of Quilmes, Chloé Le Bret, councilor of Grenoble, Odette N'Zy, councilor of Cocody, Silvana Pissano, councilor of Montevideo B. 

The second panel analysed the importance of the feminist approach in these movements and in the public policies of local authorities. The panel was moderated by Sophia Torres, Head of International Relations of the Global Platform for the Right to the City and included the participation of:  Janet Ågren, councilor of Umeå, Brigitte Tandonnet, President of the Sustainable Development Council of Bordeaux Metropole and gynaecologist, Carolina Contreras, councilor of Quilpué, Gemma Altell, social psychologist and founder of the G360 association and Elisa Naud, Analysts' Coordinator at the OCPM in Montreal. 

Amanda Fléty introduced the session by thanking the coordinator of the IOPD, Adriá Duarte, and by observing that municipalism is an essential reason for the existence of UCLG, an organisation that demands that the voice of cities be heard, but also that cities themselves be considered as entities of their own that propose an analysis of social challenges, responses based on local experience, and that can face global challenges. Municipalism refers to the debate on autonomy and democratic renewal: it is a response to think about a new relationship with citizens but also about how to renew the social contract. In this framework, UCLG has adopted the concept of the right to the city.  Political reflection at the local level has a particular relevance as it leads to rethinking the city as a space for economic and social transformation and to improving the living standards of its inhabitants, focusing on women's rights.  Amanda Fléty pointed out that today cities are taking on the political responsibility to encourage new ways of thinking about local action, -as in the case of Barcelona with the violation of human rights- or to promote international solidarity -as in the case of Guangzhou where the coup in Myanmar was rejected- or to make visible social, feminist and minority struggles from within the mandate of local governments. She concluded by saying that it is important to support civil society initiatives, to increase their impact on local government and to improve the attention paid to women's rights. 

Gissela Chalá, councilor of Quito, highlighted the important role of the State of Ecuador in promoting citizen participation. She explained that the Political Constitution of Ecuador includes citizens' rights and the right to the city, the recognition of indigenous peoples and nationalities and their historical presence. So there is an effort to build a normative framework for the good life. Regulations exist but there is a lack of political will and a need to strengthen the right to the city in concrete public policies. She also stated that "spatial segregation has a heavy weight in gaps and inequalities". 

Cities must respond to the need to strengthen networks of action and work to become inclusive, taking care of rights, strengthening movements, and above all enabling them to participate in politics. "The right to the city must be put into practice, so that citizen participation is no longer a utopia’’. 

For the first time, the metropolitan council is represented by civil society. The citizens' initiative around political campaigns sometimes diminishes outside of election periods. It is necessary to strengthen the relationship of local governments with social movements and their demands, without clientelistic or paternalistic relationships: civil society is not a figure or a vote, but a necessity, and it must change its relationship with local governments, to promote urban alternatives, to involve the participation of citizens in the co-creation of the city, both in planning and in budgets. It is necessary to reorganise cities from a feminist approach, taking care to guarantee rights. It is necessary to propose the opportunity of the social construction of the habitat, favoring the common good and the good life. "We must strengthen social movements, without being afraid to include citizen participation. Talking about social inclusion is not only about providing services, but also about having a more active city, created with the participation of all’’. 

Eva Mieri, councilor of Quilmes, invited the participants to rethink the role of local governments in the co-construction of cities. "It is essential for local governments to establish recovery strategies in the face of current challenges''. She presented the city of Quilmes, a municipality of 700,000 inhabitants, located in the conurbation of Buenos Aires. Since 2019, the city has the honor of having the first woman elected mayor of a municipality in the history of the country. The local leadership seeks to consolidate a feminist local municipality, based on the transversally of the gender approach in all areas, seeking to depatriarchalise the State and "in pursuit of this local governance, with a gender approach we have created the gender secretariat, transversal to the entire municipal structure". The pandemic has made visible the gender-based violence present in our society. For many women, isolation meant staying with their aggressor inside their house. She explained that the Secretariat has a multidisciplinary team to propose solutions and, above all, to listen to women. "We have a municipal plan for gender equality, which includes 19 measures to strengthen this female approach. We believe in the necessary interaction between feminist and environmental agendas. We are saving the culture of care in order to think about a sustainable society through values such as solidarity’’. Furthermore, in the Deliberative Council, a project was presented from which a public policy was generated to propose sustainable solutions for sanitary protection during menstruation. "Just as we are feminists, we are also ecologists’’. Since Quilmes, "we have not stopped promoting a popular feminist movement. We defend the working woman, we redefine the role of citizenship." The green tide has covered entire cities in order to gain access to voluntary termination of pregnancy, and it has now been a year since the law was passed. "The pandemic has taught us that nobody can save themselves, that it is possible to build a new policy based on solidarity," she concluded. 

Chloé Le Bret, councilor for Equal Rights in the City of Grenoble, presented the context in her team of local elected representatives, which is mainly made up of people from civil society. "We work with the collectives in all our actions". She explained that the distribution of sanitary protection is a necessity that has been carried from the collectives to the town hall. As the link between the municipality and the town hall is strong, it has been possible to adapt the solution to people's demands. Concerning the fight against sexist and sexual violence, the town hall supports an association in Grenoble that takes care of victims and guides them. This makes it possible to maintain the project even if there is a change of administration at the municipal level. ‘’We have planned to train the municipal police to support victims of domestic violence’’. The municipality's link with social and citizens' movements makes it possible to recover specific practices such as self-defense, in particular so that the municipality's agents know how to react when they are attacked.  ‘’We can quickly remain in the bubble of the elected representative, but we must not detach ourselves from the citizen movement. Feminists need to get into the local authorities en masse in order to make things happen’’. 

Odette N'Zy, proudly stated that during the 20th OIDP conference held in Cocody "we witnessed a strong participation of women from civil society, elected representatives, who work in government. We had fruitful exchanges". In the municipality of Cocody, "we have an approach that shows the commitment of the municipal council to involve women in governance and help them to take charge of their lives economically’’. Women are often subject to poverty, being mothers or housewives and have no work. One of the most important axes is to help women to take charge of their lives. She explained that in the commune of Cocody women have been brought together in the Federation of Women of Cocody, bringing together all social strata. Members of the Federation can access funds that enable them to take charge of their lives, receive loans, become aware of their situation and be able to participate fully in local development. "This initiative is working very well", all the women who have received funding have or are implementing projects that are producing results. Also, projects that engage young girls and make them aware of the impact of lifestyles on the environment are being implemented. Women have been trained to sort waste. 

Silvana Pissano, Mayor of Municipality B of Montevideo expressed her honour to be able to share ideas and initiatives with women.  She supported Choé Lebret's idea that "we need to form an alliance of feminist municipalism". She explained that their municipality is the historical centre of Montevideo, which is the gateway to the capital of Uruguay.  "We are one year into the feminist management of the municipality. We have built the development plan in a participatory way with all kinds of collectives and associations, with territorial round tables linked to the neighborhoods and neighborhood dialogues. We have respected the voice of women as political actors in the city, and we have expressed problems but also many proposals, commitments and desires for the transformation of the city’’.  She presented the initiatives focused on feminism, including My Feminist Balcony, an initiative that represents the voice of women, of their neighbors, of their neighborhood, of their street. Balconies have been built collectively with the women's union in the 8 neighbourhoods of the municipality. "We crossed borders because we received the feminist balcony from a municipality in Rome". 

She presented the 7 axes of the development plan, a plan focused on care, respecting the anti-racist, feminist and ecological agendas. The municipal care plan has an ecofeminist conceptual basis in the relationship of social interdependence between care and nature. "We always build public spaces related to care. We respect the voice of women as political actors in the city’’.

Carolina Contreras, took up with consideration the ideas presented by Silvana Pissano which emphasised care, not only for women but also for ecosystems. She explained that in Chile there has been a social explosion: ‘’we must therefore be attentive to the new presidential elections so that they do not take a regressive direction, as has happened in other contexts where social movements have been spread by a retreat or a response from antagonistic forces’’.

The first panel concluded with remarks by Odette N'Zy who stressed the importance of feminist joint work to develop a common agenda based on cooperation between peers and between local authorities. ‘’Political organising at national and international levels is important" she concluded. 

Amanda Fléty closed the first panel and handed over to Sophia Torres who opened and moderated the second panel. She thanked the Commission and the IOPD and stressed that the panel was an opportunity to reflect on municipalism and the right to the city through which "we can move towards a more horizontal democracy, cities in solidarity and co-creation". She noted that this approach puts the rights agenda in concrete terms, also in areas such as water and housing. Ways of doing and acting are also proposed and the focus is on residents and resident leadership. Feminism brings renewal: new people take up public positions, there is a broadening of the debate and generational renewal.

Janet Ågren, Umeå City Councillor said that "the women's movement is crucial to bring gender equality to the forefront of local agendas and to transform public administration", the women's organisation has helped to make this issue a priority for the city council. It has stressed the importance of challenging existing norms and power structures. "As a result, we have strengthened coordination between departments. We use gender-disaggregated data’’. She also emphasised the importance of heterogeneity of experience among leaders. "For a long time we had an equal number of men and women in the city council and in the city commissions’’. This influences the work of the city council and in this context we tried to secure long-term contracts during the pandemic rather than short-term contracts for the job segments that are clearly more feminised. She added that "understanding power, gender and diversity of living conditions is crucial to creating a city for all. In order to better reach all types of social groups and women, we are developing different types of dialogues and participation tools that allow us to address key issues, especially with young women’'. 

Brigitte Tandonnet, as president of the Bordeaux Metropole sustainable development council, explained how this council works, a consultative citizens' assembly that issues recommendations and opinions that are passed on to elected representatives. She said that in France, although parity is achieved in local assemblies, this is not the case in the National Assembly and the Senate. In the citizens' assembly such as the one in Bordeaux, a woman has been appointed president since 2008; parity has existed since 2011 and has progressed in recent years. The assembly is formed by young women with families. "During our actions, we make sure to organise forums where there are as many women as men speaking so that our male colleagues do not monopolise the floor. Our debates are about how men and women use public space differently’’. She concluded by explaining that the work they are doing has contributed to the urban planning efforts of the Metropolis of Bordeaux.

Carolina Contreras, councillor of Quilpué, explained that within the Quilpué city council, territorial round tables were organised with environmental organisations. The aim was for the organisations to have a real influence on how the territory should be inhabited. "We have modified the ordinance on citizen participation’’. There is a political will from the new administration to strengthen the mechanisms through which the community can express itself politically. She explained that the Right to the City framework generates tensions and resistance against power groups and economic actors threatening the natural areas of the territory that are necessary for sustainability. "We seek to strengthen the effective participation of indigenous peoples. It is necessary to undertake an intercultural approach that makes diversity and collaboration between social causes visible". 

She concluded by saying that social movements seek to strengthen the guarantee of social rights. "We share the approach of the city of solidarity, which makes visible the violence that takes place in public spaces and protects natural spaces. We want the territories to be able to define how they want to live in their cities and to prevent the national government from imposing its projects, especially in the field of infrastructures that affect the environment’’.

Gemma Altell, social psychologist and founder of the G360 association, presented the G360 organisation, explaining their work on gender mainstreaming in government. For the first time, the regional government includes a ministry of equality. A participatory process has been developed for this process and also to combat gender-based violence. She emphasised the importance of linking participation and gender: "it is necessary to recognise inequalities and the form they take; it is necessary to recognise the intersectional approach, not all women are in the same place, so we do not participate in the same way". In participation, there is sometimes a mirage of equality. Often women's equal voices are not heard, so the issue of equal time management needs to be addressed. She also explained that a guide has been developed to integrate a gender perspective in participatory processes but also a project to strengthen the participation of women victims of violence.

Elisa Naud, Analysts Coordinator at the OCPM in Montreal, explained that since 2016 there has been an awareness that participation is imbalanced between men and women.  She observed that women tend to participate less in public or in large groups. They tend to engage in care activities more often, which affects their ability to participate. An initiative was therefore put in place to achieve equal participation. Several measures were adopted such as alternating between men and women, childcare for parents, organising activities in small groups and promoting creative events. Reporting after the scheme has shown its success. Women tended to participate more in the small groups. "If our aim as OCPM is to identify the challenges and limitations of participation, we need to promote this exercise to better understand and address the inequality of participation," she concluded. 

Sophia Torres highlighted the importance of occupying public space. "The feminist gaze opens up this possibility: from physical space in the space of the city to power and representation or debate. The feminist perspective also shows us how occupying these spaces from other points of view leads to new ways of doing things such as listening, cooperation: values that we need to promote’’.

Brigitte Tandonnet intervened by saying that when we occupy the space of cities as women, we realise that women are constantly on the move whereas men tend to settle down more. "Education and changing values are then very important to fight against this form of inequality," she concluded. 

In concluding the debate, Amanda Fléty proposed to reflect on the emerging issues by stressing the need to articulate concrete programmes. "It takes political courage to undertake this agenda. Making these issues visible is a political risk, but it also allows us to explore concrete responses. Many of the programmes promoted by local governments do not include strictly local competences, but local actions and leadership can have a concrete impact on the lives of citizens’’. 

A final round table of concluding reflections took place among the participants. 

Eva Mieri said: "Feminism saves women and dissent in the world of politics from cruelty. Every member of local government has an impact on people's lives. The feminist struggle should not be limited by geography’’.

Silvana Pissano observed that there is a common concern. "There is a need for courage and bravery for feminists to be in governments and places of power, to transform everything. We need to think about doing other politics, local politics, municipalism to build other forms of government, to transform and expand democracy’’

Chloe Lebret stressed the importance of the role of collective action and solidarity between local governments in achieving SDG 5 and in addressing issues crucial to the women's rights agenda, from local challenges to the transformation of municipal governance.

Janet Ågren noted the importance of using data and established permanent mechanisms to advance gender equality and achieve structural change in administration. 

Brigitte Tandonnet noted the role of women's associations and movements that are familiar with the priorities of local people. "They can inspire many politicians and help to design another world," she said.

Elisa Naud expressed her pleasure after seeing and hearing that the feminist wave is helping to bring about so many changes and new faces in local communities. 

Gemma Altell concluded by affirming the existence of feminist political engagement.
"Hand in hand with the feminist movement, it is important to co-produce policies, to diversify this movement and to take into account all the voices in an equal way. 

Adrià Duarte, coordinator of the IOPD, closed the session by assuring the persistence of the OIDP's commitment to understanding feminism as a "transversal axis of the Observatory's work, necessary to talk about the renewal of democracy, which includes half the population". 

 Highlights of the session on Twitter

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