While at the United Cities Local Government Conference in Durban, South Africa, Edmonton City Councillor Bev Esslinger shared some of the stories of the work that has been done in Edmonton to address gender inequality.
Last week I travelled to Durban, South Africa to attend the United Cities Local Government Conference. I was honored to be part of the delegation from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. It was amazing to see and hear from so many local elected officials leading municipalities around the globe. I was privileged to share what is happening in Edmonton and the challenges we face. It was really interesting that many of the municipalities have similar challenges.
Gender equality is something we are all working towards. I was asked to share about how to advance gender equality at the local level. I was very proud to talk about the work that we have done to ensure that the voice of women is heard and a gender lens applied to today’s decisions that would impact all of our tomorrows. The creation of the Women’s Advisory Voice of Edmonton (WAVE) is one way that women’s concerns are shared. The WAVE committee is made up of women community leaders who are a voice to city council, who provide leadership and engage women in gender equity issues across the city. They have provided input and sparked change in the safety of women on transit, DATS transportation system and in taxi cabs. They have provided a voice to women and insight into a wide variety of city policies including childcare and the future of our city.
We have made great strides in changing our city from adjusting council hours to be more family friendly, creating new staff policies on childcare, and parental leave for councilors. This January, we will start a pilot on providing childcare during public hearings and committee meetings. We are working at providing opportunities for folks to have a voice by removing potential barriers.
Council itself has taken training on Gender Based Analysis Plus (GBA+) as part of their orientation. GBA+ is a tool that helps to understand how various diverse groups will experience policies, programs and initiatives. The plus means it’s about more than gender, and includes many identity factors like ethnicity, religion, age, socio-economic, mental or physical disabilities. City staff who deal with policy development have been trained, and currently we are developing our own training for staff. As we use a GBA+ lens, we have seen changes to our community engagement processes, bus network redesign, recruitment and our city strategic plan. It’s exciting to hear reports to council that talk about what has changed using a GBA+ lens.
We looked within the corporation and found areas of inequity for women, so we are also making changes to support gender equality through an intersectional lens including initiatives to support elimination of the gender gap in targeted occupations (fire, transit operators) and talent acquisition from training supervisors in the hiring process to remove barriers and unconscious bias.
We are consciously celebrating International Women’s Day every year at City Hall to raise awareness and importance of this work. We also measure our own progress as a City through the Women’s Quality of Life scorecard. Every two years we see how we are doing as a community on women’s health, education, pay gap, leadership and safety.
Parallel to this work on gender equity is work on Gender Based Violence & Sexual Assault prevention. A few years ago a headline, Deadmonton – the worst place to live if you are a women – frustrated and angered many of us (including me). When digging deeper into why we held that title, we discovered our high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault were partly to blame, so we raised the profile of this work and are working with our community on it.
Affordable housing and homelessness is a challenge faced by many municipalities and Edmonton is no different. We desperately need more permanent supportive housing and affordable housing for many. We don’t do this alone and are working with other orders of government to meet the needs.
I also shared some of the actions we are taking on climate change because local municipalities and the infrastructure and services we manage are at the front lines of this risk.
Protecting our environment is about expanding our knowledge, making changes in how we live and sometimes learning to adapt to changes that have already taken place. Today we see the challenge, understand its impact and are looking for innovative local solutions.
We don’t have all the answers but we are working to take actions that move us in the right direction – one step at a time!