History of the Women Friendly Cities Challenge

History of the Women Friendly Cities Challenge

By: Joy Masuhara

The thin air was noticeable as I climbed the stairs. It was only about 10 steps, indoors, but I was a little winded as I got to the top. We were staying with a young woman and her family in one of the hilly neighbourhoods of Quito. The surrounding mountains and sprawling city could be seen from the window of our room. It was stunning. 

The three of us, Ellen Woodsworth, Christine O’Fallon and me, were representing our small, volunteer run non-profit organization, Women Transforming Cities at the UN Habitat III conference. This conference on sustainable urban development happens every 20 years. It was October 2016, and we were part of the official Canadian delegation. We had just arrived from Vancouver.  It was thrilling to be there, and we were grateful for the generosity of others, to help make it happen. 

We were going to be presenting alongside our sister organization, the Seoul Foundation of Women and Family later in the week at a side event entitled the “Women Friendly Cities Challenge”. We were each reporting on policies and programs that were making our respective cities more gender equitable, safe and better for all. 

As I was prepping for that event, an idea started taking form. Vancouver and Seoul weren’t the only cities that were making strides in applying a gendered intersectional lens to budgets, policies and programs. Many cities, non-profits, NGO’s, academic institutions, and the private sector were also doing the same. What if we were to collect all these fabulous initiatives in an online library?

The idea took hold. I laid out a format and with Ellen, Christine, our Seoul sisters, and various others from the Huairou Commission, a coalition of grassroots women’s organizations from around the world, we came up with several categories in which to showcase Wise Practices. 

We chose the term “Wise Practice” as opposed to “Best Practice”, as described by Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux and Brian Calliou. 

Wise Practices are locally appropriate actions, tools, principles or decisions that contribute significantly to the development of sustainable and equitable social conditions. They evolve and are refined as individual and community experience and knowledge expand.”

We proposed this idea of an online library at our event at UN Habitat III, noting it would be important to capture how the Wise Practice was being measured and monitored, as well as share lessons learned. There was much collective enthusiasm and we returned to Vancouver motivated to make it happen. 

Through 2017, we worked on refining the idea. Sixteen categories were eventually decided on and included: 

  • Governance and Leadership
  • Safety
  • Housing and Land Rights
  • Economic Security; Education 
  • Health
  • Transportation
  • Environment and Resilience 
  • Child and Elder Care
  • Diversity and Inclusion 
  • Arts, Media and Culture
  • Indigenous Peoples
  • Refugees and Immigrants
  • Infrastructure & Services
  • Urban Spaces
  • Peace & Security

We wanted to share Wise Practices that were working towards a Women Friendly City in each of these areas. 

The idea of linking this library to goals and objectives of various international documents was established, and is in an ongoing process of revision. We started with creating goals for each category that were linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the New Urban Agenda, (the outcome document of UN Habitat III), and CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women). 

By early 2018, a prototype website was developed with the efforts of Women Transforming Cities Board Director Celene Fung and volunteer Wendee Lang, and the website went live at a presentation we gave with our colleagues from Seoul, and others, at the World Urban Forum 9 in Kuala Lumpur. 

The 2018 prototype website.

We have encouraged submissions from around the world, and are slowly building the “living” library. Some examples of Wise Practices on the website are:

  • Conducting a gender impact analysis/assessment on all municipal promotional materials in Seoul Korea
  • Participatory and consultative neighbourhood women’s councils in Barcelona, Spain
  • Community and family building through “Mama Festivals” in post disaster Tohoku, Japan
  • Online crowd sourcing gender safety audit of public spaces in India
  • Women only accessible overdose prevention site in Vancouver, Canada
  • Free digital resource library for sexual and reproductive health and rights in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • A gender and safety audit tool for events and entertainment venues in Melbourne, Australia
  • Salary negotiation workshops for women from the City of Boston, USA
  • “Vancouver: A City for All Women”, the Women’s Equity Strategy for the City of Vancouver, Canada
  • Gender mainstreaming in urban planning in Vienna, Austria
  • Child minding for Council meetings in North Vancouver, Canada
  • Creating a trans and gender variant inclusion working group for municipal government, Vancouver, Canada

We now have a team of volunteer researchers who source Wise Practices for inclusion in the library. The website is also being updated to allow the database to be more searchable and user friendly as it grows. 

It has been interesting to see all the wonderful work that is being done around the world to make cities more inclusive and equitable. Our hope is that these Wise Practices can be shared, adopted and adapted, that networks and collaborations can form, and Women Friendly Cities can be created and be beneficial for all. 

Want to help promote equality in your city? Get Involved with WFCC, or Submit a Wise Practice.

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