The transformation that needs to be brought about in order to achieve the global commitments of development can only be achieved if local governing bodies are responsive to the dreams and expectations of the communities that members of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) represent. This was reiterated on the second day of the UCLG Congress. Transformation at regional and national levels first needs to occur at local level, a sentiment that was shared by the UCLG stakeholders from across the world.
The 2019 UCLG World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders Political Declaration states: “Communities, in relation to their territories, need to be at the centre of the decision-making [in order] to localise meaningful achievement in the global agendas and ensure a sustainable future.”
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were set out in 2015 by the United Nations should be achieved by the year 2030. As ambitious and beneficial as these goals are, they cannot be achieved without the active participation of local governments. Panel discussions included Culture Driven Public Policies (with Culture 21, the UCLG Culture Committee, and UCLG Africa representatives as participants) and Safe Public Spaces (informed by representatives from eThekwini Municipality, the Africa Forum For Urban Safety and the Forum of Regions), which tackled some of the issues concerning local participation in achieving global agendas.
Gender-based violence and the role of local government
There are many challenges presented by the presence of gender-based violence across the globe. Various local and international organisations engaged the congress on the challenges of tackling gender-based violence. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and the Association of the Netherlands Municipalities representatives entered into a discussion that was extended to an hour-long session on Wednesday afternoon on UCLG’s Gender Strategy in Practice — how gender equality will be advanced at local levels.
The importance of institutionalising the conversations around gender as an effort to mainstream gender practices within the local sphere was also highlighted. The Lobatse Town Council from Botswana presented its methods and results in dealing with gender-based violence and female advancement during the panel discussion session entitled: Local Authorities as Centres of Excellence in Gender Mainstreaming and Ending Gender-Based Violence.
The Lobatse Town Council discussed its first Gender Action Plan, which was developed following the declaration of the SDGs in 2015. The plan includes capacitating and encouraging women in leadership positions in terms of the political gender representation and equipping them with the necessary tools to work with their male counterparts. This plan addresses several issues, including the reality that women often stay in abusive environments because of the lack of financial empowerment and independence. The council is striving to create empowerment tools and rehabilitation resources for women who have experienced gender-based violence. Examples include supporting informal recycling communities and changing the perspective that “men are polluters and women are the cleaners”.
Men also experience abuse. Usually the abuse of men by women is emotional as opposed to being physical. Communities must be sensitised to gender-based violence, which includes dismantling cultural norms that are the root cause of gender-based violence.
Local government has a role in protecting and providing for the reproductive rights of women. The Lobatse community must acknowledge the needs of people living with disabilities, and people living with disabilities need to be at the forefront of their own advocacy, as they know their own needs best.
The UN Women’s South African Multi-country Office shared the same sentiments of the Lobatse Town Council in that one vital aspect of dealing with gender-based violence is the financial empowerment of women through skills training, rehabilitation tools and enabling victims to tell their own stories. This support for women can be extended to human resource empowerment and supply chain management in traditionally male-dominated spaces, and capacitating women to successfully compete with their male counterparts in these spaces.
Local government’s role in addressing climate change
Alongside the gender mainstreaming agenda, the challenges and opportunities presented by urban areas and urban migration was debated. These conversations on urban migration and urban challenges emphasised that the development of the urban agenda also necessitates the development of a rural development agenda, since migration not only happens between cities but also occurs between rural areas.
Lessons from Catalonia’s Urban Planning Division highlight the need to develop a cohesive local development agenda; this brought into discussion the possible necessity of developing a rural agenda to encourage a cohesive local development policy. This discussion highlighted that the Global South can learn many lessons about the development policies of the Global North, but there are just as many lessons the Global North can learn from the Global South. For this to occur, there needs to be an institutionalisation of data and policies that enables this exchange of learning.
Embedded in the conversations of differences and similarities of development policies in the Global South and the Global North is the issue of climate change, which affects and will continue to affect everyone. Questions were raised about how the Global South can tackle issues of climate change and meet SDG agendas, given the challenges of resources, financing, and access to information. Creative collaboration between various stakeholders is required to address these challenges.
A demonstration of how the Global South can share lessons with high-income regions was the presentation of the Climate Action Plan by eThekwini Municipality. Durban is one of 12 cities — and the first in Africa — to create an action plan for climate change. The plan details the development process and the implementation strategy for the climate action plan, as well as key collaborations with local and international stakeholders in the climate change conversation.