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Mainstreaming Gender in Urban Policy at the Cities Summit of the Americas

In April 2023, CHANGE hosted a panel discussion at the first ever Cities Summit of the Americas, in Denver, Colorado, USA. During our concurrent session, we invited municipal leaders, policy experts and researchers to share insights on how to redesign city services and infrastructure to address the needs of women, girls, and people with non-binary gender identities. In a series of four fire-side chats, the panel explored i) the importance of including women in decision-making roles, ii) gender-based violence prevention, iii) using gender disaggregated data to inform policymaking, and iv) supporting caregivers.

The event was moderated by Diana Alarcón González, Chief Advisor & International Affairs Coordinator of Mexico City’s Government under Claudia Sheinbaum.

Women in Decision-Making Roles

The session kicked off with Carolina Cosse, Mayor of Montevideo and 2023 President of UCLG, and Alejandra Mora Mora Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission of Women at the Organization of American States–the principal forum for formulating policy on gender equality in the Americas. Previously, Mora Mora was Minister for the Status of Women in Costa Rica.

Carolina cosse & alejandra mora mora join the change panel at csoa

As a leader in the global feminist municipal movement, Mayor Cosse explained why it was important to have women in decision making roles. For Cosse, it’s just as much about the process, as it is about the outcome. Plurality in deliberation makes for more robust democracies, she argued. “The ends alone don’t justify the means. The way we get to a result is also part of the outcome, and this is very important,” Mayor Cosse said. Bringing more people to the decision making table will not only ensure that policies and programs reflect the reality of more people, but it will also strengthen trust in political systems – which are being questioned and threatened the world over.

“Democracies are imperfect when women are not involved,” Alejandra Mora Mora added, “women’s leadership has a transformative power.” For example, the feminist norms around care are emerging in policy making as more women join in- not just in terms of care for people, but care for the planet and welfare. Secretary Mora Mora is an advocate for parity-democracy, but it isn’t just about representation alone, she explains. It is about the ways in which women’s participation leads to better laws and legal instruments for all.

In a particularly poignant moment, Cosse situated this debate in the larger feminist legacy. “We have to inspire younger women too. We want them to know they can do it all. But they cannot do it alone,” she noted, “no one can.” Policies need to be in place, there needs to be an enabling environment. And so, she called on women who hold power now to remember those who came before them, who gave their lives and anguish, so that they could be here now. “We have an enormous responsibility to ensure that we help the younger generation surpass us, and make this a better world.”

Resist and keep moving forward. This is what I want to say to other women. You are not alone.

carolina cosse

Oakland’s Innovative Approach to Tackling Violence

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a pervasive, global issue that affects women and girls of all backgrounds. While by no means limited to urban contexts, mayors and municipalities have many levers at their disposal to help address this issue. We heard from Sara Serin-Christ, Gender-Based Violence program planner at the Department of Violence Prevention in Oakland, and Rachel Locke, co-Facilitator of the Peace in Our Cities network and Director of the Violence, Inequality and Power (VIP) Lab at the Kroc Institute at the University of San Diego. Together they helped introduce key trends in urban violence, how it relates to gender, and how cities can respond.

To start off the discussion, Rachel shared some important and sobering statistics:

The City of Oakland has had an innovative approach to addressing these trends and issues, working in three ways: 

  1. Funding Community Based Organizations to do on the ground work to support women, girls, and people with non-binary gender identities experiencing violence. They do this using three tracks: crisis response, housing support, and wrap around care.

  2. Employing GBV experts, with lived experience, to respond to every single shooting and homicide with a gender lens in order to offer support at the scenes of the incident.

  3. Piloting a program in high schools which sees violence intervention and prevention teams work with high schoolers. These teams include a violence interrupter, a life coach, and a GBV specialist. The GBV specialist is there to support students who have experienced gendered violence, but also to raise awareness and educate youth on the issue.

Oakland’s major innovation is the way they finance this work. Local constituents voted to pass a  partial tax, and a commercial parking lot surcharge, to help fund the work of the Violence Prevention Department. That is $9m of extra funding a year, for ten years. Oakland also went through a “reimagining public safety” process, through which the public decided to reallocate funds from the Oakland Police Department towards the Violence Prevention Department.

What Oakland is doing is unique and powerful. To include individuals who know how to respond to group or gang violence, and GBV specialists as well, is truly unique.

Rachel Locke

Rachel noted that there is often a connection between lethal, or serious, violence in the street, with what is happening in our homes. But because the private sphere is often seen as distinct from the public realm, we’re often deploying separate responses to domestic and street violence. “But these crimes are usually linked by the same trauma,” Rachel explains, “and this result in cycles of violence. Hurt people, hurt people,” she says. What she means is: people who have witnessed or experienced violence, are much more likely to inflict violence too. But working in silos means these cycles aren’t addressed, much less broken. 

Treating gender-based violence in a silo doesn’t work. You need to ask yourself: how does it intersect with other forms of violence here?

Sara serin-christ

Gender-Disaggregated Data for Policymaking

Heidi Haddad, assistant Professor of Politics at Pomona College, and Erin Bromaghim, Deputy Mayor of International Affairs in Los Angeles, discussed  gender data, and how thoughtful data indicators could help policy makers better understand women’s experience of the city.

CHANGE’s data workstream was spearheaded by founding city, Los Angeles, who had localized the SDGs.

Heidi Haddad and erin bromaghim at csoa

Deputy Mayor Bromaghim explained the processes of responding to indicators that were developed for national governments. “The SDG targets and indicators were not written for cities, nor built with the anticipation that cities could take them on,” so LA City Hall worked with 5 universities in California to map existing data to the targets, and then adapted where necessary.

Sometimes, we had data that reflected the intent of the indicator, but wasn’t quite there. It wasn’t in the language that the UN had approved. But that was ok.

Deputy Mayor bromaghim

Instead, LA focused on the intent of the data. Using SDG 5.4.1 as an example, the Global Goal that looks at unpaid labor, the city had to be creative, “It was hard to quantify and disaggregate this data by area, race and gender. Instead we looked at the other challenges that we know lead to unpaid care work.” Using statistics on access and affordability helped the city paint a picture of the local needs around this issue. You can read more about how LA has worked with CHANGE to better understand care needs in the city, and how the city is improving its offer to caregivers. 

“What city networks do well is i) create a place and platforms for cities to share what works; ii) help set a collective agenda for advocacy; and iii) build trust for collaboration,” Erin said, “CHANGE’s data project helps do that, as cities come together to develop a shared set of gender-based indicators at the local level.”

Professor Heidi Haddad worked with Pomona students to try and develop a shared set of indicators that cities around the world could use to measure gender equity in the city. Starting with a large-scale analysis of existing gender equity indicators, Heidi and her students gathered over 600 indicators, which they then filtered down to about 50. They did that by asking three questions 

  1. What are the aspects of life, and urban life, that impact gender equity?
  2. What do cities have competency over?
  3. What kind of data do cities have?

From there, CHANGE whittled down the indicators to the 30 that sit at the heart of our gender data work. 

“City jurisdiction was the hardest challenge,” Heidi explained. No two cities are the same. They have different authorities and competencies to respond to issues that are central to gender equity. “It’s difficult to have one set of indicators that all cities can measure”. Instead, leaving space for flexibility is essential. For example, if a municipality does not have the mandate to respond to certain issues, they might pull from data sets at different levels of government (national, or county, for example). 

But what is the value of tracking all these indicators together? “When talking about gender equality, we typically have bleak economic statistics. But we don’t often have the opportunity to think about what will fix that.

This is an opportunity to do just that,” Deputy Mayor Bromaghim said. And cities are just the arena to be action oriented, “Not unlike the climate sector, our goal here is to get to a “1.5 degree”-type target, but for gender equity.”

Municipal Care Systems

Mayor Claudia Lopez, of Bogotá, and Ito Peng, Director of the Centre for Global Social Policy at the University of Toronto, wrapped up the session with an inspiring segment on caregiving.

“Some day in all our lives, we are cared for,” Mayor Lopez started. “We have children, or we will get old and need to be looked after, or we may fall ill or have a family member with a disability. When there is no organized private-public system to provide that care, who will provide it? Women provide it. They provide hours of unpaid care and domestic work that has deprived them of opportunities.”

We have been taught that to be good women, and good mothers, we have to sacrifice our life, our time, our health, our economic autonomy and our education.

Mayor Claudia Lopez

Ito Peng is currently leading two major global research projects on the care economy, and her work offers evidence on the massive value of care. In her “Care Economies in Context”, Dr. Peng is mapping out, and calculating the shape and sizes of care infrastructure – both paid and unpaid – in 9 countries, including Colombia. She has been able to develop a gender sensitive, macroeconomic model, of the care economy to inform policy making. “Care work underpins both our socio and economic systems. All these systems are underpaid and unrecognized, but the economic contribution of care is huge, but rarely included in the calculation of the GDP.

In Canada, for example, care contributes anywhere between 17% to 27% of the GDP, depending on how you evaluate the work.

Ito Peng

This falls squarely in line with statistics raised by Mayor Lopez: care contributes to 20% of the national GDP in Colombia, “that’s more than oil, more than mining.”

In response to this, Claudia Lopez launched the Care Blocks, and spatially reorganised social infrastructure and services to be more easily accessible to women, and relieve them of some of their care responsibilities. At CHANGE, we discuss Bogotá’s Care System at length in our Caring Cities research project, and other articles. In short: by brining essential services within a 15 – 20 minute radius of caregivers, the city is making it easier for women to tend to their family responsibilities and win back time for themselves. This helps them tend to their own health, wellbeing and personal growth. For example, while children go to afterschool activities, parents can learn to ride a bike, finish high school, find a job, etc. Moreover, the municipality also offers “Care School for Men” to help men learn to care, and assume their responsibilities too. Outside of the Care Blocks, the city also offers Care Buses for peripheral parts of the city, and Door-to-Door Care, for families who have restricted mobility.

I have seen a 72 year old woman pick up her education and finish high school, inspiring her grandchildren to sit down to study and learn too.

Mayor claudia lopez

What started off as an exciting innovation has flourished into more than 20 Care Blocks in the capital of Colombia–set to reach 45 by 2035– and is now enshrined in the city’s master plan. A new law, passed unanimously, also institutionalizes the care system.

Mayor Lopez shared some tips and tricks on delivering such a successful project:

Importantly, Ito Peng summarized how investments in care, ripple through the rest of our lives. “Care intersects with different sectors like climate or transportation.” Using the Care Blocks as an example, Ito pointed out that beyond delivering a high quality, multi-dimensional service to women, it also brings the idea of the “15-minute city” to life, in which people no longer have to use cars or other types of automobiles. “If people are able to access serviceable local care, it enables them to meet each other and create social networks and bond with their neighbors.” Which, Dr. Peng points out, it becomes an important lifeline during climate crises and emergencies, “who do you depend on during a crisis? Your neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood.”  As such, creating this type of social and physical infrastructure responds to all sorts of issues; economic development, climate change, climate remediation…etc. 

To conclude the session, Ito perfectly summarized the spirit of the day, “Cities are so important, because municipal governments are the closest and most direct level of government to people’s lives and livelihoods. That means that city programs, policies and services have direct and immediate impact on the people who live there, and their communities.”

A Word from London and Melbourne

Sally Capp, Lord Mayor of Melbourne, and Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, both beamed in with words of encouragement, and advice on how to ensure our cities are truly inclusive and equitable for all.

Lord mayor sally capp
Mayor Sadiq khan

Diana Alarcón González

Chief advisor and International Affairs Coordinator, Mexico City (2018 – 2023)

Diana was the Chief advisor and International Affairs Coordinator of Mexico City’s Government under Claudia Sheinbaum. PhD in Economics from the University of California, Riverside. Academic at different universities in Mexico and the United States, with extensive experience in international organizations, mainly within the United Nations (UN).

Diana served as Head of the Policy and Development Analysis Unit at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA). From this position, she led the editorial team of the World Economic and Social Survey, the world’s largest publication on development data.

In the United Nations Secretariat she played a leading role in the preparation of analytical contributions to the intergovernmental processes that defined the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Diana played an important role in the coordination of technical assistance provided by the United Nations for the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); she was co-chairman of the United Nations commission that prepared the meta-data for the MDGs, and in 2008 she co-directed the creation and annual publication of the report on compliance with MDG-8 in relation to international cooperation for development. She worked for 10 years at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), as well as in the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the International Labor Organization (ILO). 

Diana began her professional career as an academic at several universities in Mexico and the United States and was one of the first researchers of the National System of Researchers (SNI). Since then, she has worked on a long list of publications about development issues. Her most recent book was published in 2018 by Oxford University Press titled: The World Economy Through the Lens of the United Nations (a coedition of Jose Antonio Ocampo, Anis Chowdury and Diana Alarcon).

Erin Bromaghim

Deputy Mayor for International Affairs, Los Angeles

Erin Bromaghim serves as the Deputy Mayor of International Affairs in the Office of Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, focused on bringing global opportunities to Angelenos and connecting Los Angeles to economic and cultural partners around the world. She leads a team with deep expertise on international trade and investment, international relations, educational and cultural exchange, the Sustainable Development Goals and the green economy, city diplomacy, gender equity, and major global events including the 2026 FIFA World Cup and the 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Most recently, Erin served as the Director of Olympic and Paralympic Development as part of the Mayor’s International Affairs team, where she led the City’s planning for the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2028 and its enduring benefits for all Angelenos. This legacy includes her work as the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation Fellow, using the framework of the United Nations Agenda 2030 to align, measure, and track the City’s progress toward the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Erin has also served as a Visiting Senior Fellow on City and State Diplomacy with the Truman Center for National Policy, exploring the ways in which collaboration between local and federal actors can advance U.S. foreign policy objectives.

Erin previously spent 14 years as a senior civilian with the U.S. Department of Defense, where she managed interagency defense, intelligence, special operations, and security reform efforts. Erin entered federal civil service as a Presidential Management Fellow with the U.S. Navy, later working for the U.S. Air Force, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and NATO. She holds degrees from Wake Forest University and Georgetown University, as well as a certificate in advanced project management from Stanford University.

Carolina Cosse

Mayor of Montevideo

Carolina Cosse was elected mayor of Montevideo in November 2020. She was previously Senator of the Republic from February 2020. Carolina Cosse was Minister of Industry, Energy, and Mining under the presidency of Tabaré Vazquez from 2015 to 2019. She promoted the diversification of the national energy grid and the development of the mining and telecommunication sectors with special emphasis on micro, small and medium-sized enterprises. From 2010 to 2015 she was the president of ANTEL (the state-owned telecommunication company). Her first political position dates back to 2007 when she was appointed Director of the Information Technology Division of the Government of Montevideo. Prior to her political career, she worked in the private sector managing various engineering projects in Uruguay and in other Latin America countries. Carolina Cosse is an electrical engineer, she graduated from the Faculty of Engineering of the University of the Republic. She also has a Master’s degree in Mathematical engineering.

Heidi Haddad

Associate Professor of Politics , Pomona College

Associate Professor of Politics Heidi Haddad teaches courses on international relations, human rights, NGOs, urban development and global governance.

She is the author of The Hidden Hands of Justice: NGOs, Human Rights, and International Courts (Cambridge University Press, 2018), which maps and explains different patterns of non-governmental organization (NGO) engagement at three International courts—International Criminal Court, the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and Court. 

Her research has also explored the dynamics of NGO mission expansion, the role of advocacy groups in pressuring for prosecutions of sexual violence at international criminal tribunals, and how and why NGOs act as institution builders to international human rights courts. Her work has been published in Human Rights Review, Journal of Human Rights, and Global Governance. She has also written for the Washington Post Monkey Cage. Her current research examines how international norms are translated and implemented by cities and sub-national government.

Rachel Locke

Director of the Violence, Inequality and Power (VIP) Lab, University of San Diego.

Rachel has extensive experience delivering evidence-based violence prevention solutions to some of the most challenging contexts while simultaneously advancing policy for peace. Previously,  she was Head of Research for violence prevention with the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation. In this capacity, Rachel led coalition building and evidence curation with the UN, bilateral governments, the African Union, civil society and others to explore the challenge of delivering the 2030 Agenda targets for peaceful societies (SDG 16.1). 

Earlier in her career, Rachel served as Senior Policy Advisor with USAID where she developed and represented agency-wide policy on issues concerning conflict, violence and fragility. She also led research and policy on crime, conflict, and fragility and worked extensively on program design, implementation and evaluation primarily in Africa. After leaving USAID, Rachel launched a new area of work for the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, bridging effective violence reduction approaches from the U.S. to municipalities globally.

Rachel’s experience bridges the humanitarian, development, peacebuilding and urban violence realms. She holds a Master’s in International Affairs from Columbia University, Graduate School of International and Public Affairs. She has also published a variety of articles and other works focusing on violence prevention, humanitarian aid, conflict and transnational organized crime.

Claudia Lopez

Mayor of Bogotá (2020 – 2023)

Claudia López started her mandate on the 1st of January 2020 for a four-year term, she was elected with more than 1,1108,000 votes, the highest total count of any mayor in the city’s history. She became the city’s first female and also the first lesbian Mayor in Bogotá’s history. She has an emphatic focus on the environmental, social equity and anticorruption agendas.

López was the vice-presidential candidate in the 2018 presidential election for the Green Alliance Party, and Senator of the Republic of Colombia between 2014 and 2018, from there she promoted important laws such as the Bicycle Law, she ensured the fair premium for domestic employees, she helped provide a guarantee of resources for “From Zero to Always,” an early childhood policy by the state, and facilitated GDEs for many students without having to enlist in the military first.

The public recognizes her tenacity and enormous capacity for collective action, which was reflected in the fight against corruption by leading a citizen consultancy, a participatory instrument where she received 11,671,420 nation-wide votes, the most votes that any initiative has received in Colombia’s entire history. Before entering her political career, Lopez was an accomplished researcher and scholar. 

Lopez is a finance and international relations graduate from Universidad Externado de Colombia, holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration and Urban Politics from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Northwestern University.

Alejandra Mora Mora

Executive Secretary, Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM), Organization of American States (OAS)

A Costa Rican jurist, feminist, researcher, academic and politician, Alejandra is highly recognized in the international community for her activism for the human rights of women and girls. As of August 16, 2019 she has held the position of Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM) at the Organization of American States (OAS). Prior to this, she served as Minister for the Status of Women and President of the National Institute of Women (INAMU) of Costa Rica, from 2014 to 2018, and Director of the Office for Women of the Office of the Ombudsperson of Costa Rica until August 2019.

She has a law degree from the University of Costa Rica (1989) and completed specialization courses at the University of Lund and Raul Wallenberg in Sweden in 1997. She obtained her Master’s Degree in Constitutional Law from the State Open University of Costa Rica in 2004 and a Postgraduate degree in Human Rights from the University of Chile in 2007. She is the author of a book and multiple articles on different aspects of women’s human rights.

Ito Peng

Director of the Centre for Global Social Policy, University of Toronto

Professor Ito Peng is a Canada Research Chair in Global Social Policy and the Director of the Centre for Global Social Policy at the Department of Sociology, and the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto. She is recognized as a leading researcher and expert in global social policy, specializing in the care economy, gender, migration and care policies. She has written extensively on social policies and political economy of care. She currently leads a SSHRC, Hewlett Foundation, and Open Society Foundations supported global partnership research project, Care Economies in Context (2021-2028) and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund supported Comparing Child Care Initiatives in a World of Climate Change (C5) Project (2022-2023). She is also the co-lead of the Room 5 for the Rockefeller Foundation-Brookings Institute’s 17-Rooms project.

Sara Serin-Christ

Gender-Based Violence Program Planner, Department of Violence Prevention, Oakland

Sara Rose Serin-Christ received her Master of Public Health in Community Health Sciences from the University of California, Los Angeles with an emphasis in Maternal Child Health. During her studies she worked with traditional midwives in Oaxaca, Mexico and for the Ministry of Health in Costa Rica. After graduating she started her career at Centerforce running a peer health educator program for women visitors at San Quentin State Prison and supporting a fatherhood and family reunification program with men being released from the prison. 

Sara has worked for ten years in the City of Oakland and is currently the Gender-Based Violence Program Planner for the Department of Violence Prevention. Sara supported the community-based organizations funded by the city to provide gender-based violence services to victims and survivors in Oakland as well as advocated to lift up the importance of Gender-Based Violence work in the field of violence prevention.

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