The European Charter for Equality: the step forward in the development of local communities

The European Charter for Equality is an important tool for implementing the policy for equal rights on the local level. The Charter calls for European local and regional governments to take the responsibilities to use existing powers and partnerships to ensure the best equal opportunities for their citizens.

The European Charter for equality has 15 years of history, and 1872 cities and 36 countries all over the world have joined it during this time. This process was started in Ukraine by the Association of Ukrainian cities two years ago and 80 local governments (60 of them are cities and towns) accepted obligations to keep the rules of equality in their activities. The first ones to join were Vinnytsia (2017), Zhytomyr and Irpin (2018).

With signing the Charter local governments can demonstrate in public their positive attitude to principles of equality for women and men and responsibility for their implementation in the communities. To meet these goals the joining party has to create Action Plan for reaching the Equality and define the priorities, activities and resources for its implementation.

Olena Kondratiuk, Vice-Speaker of Ukrainian Parliament, co-founder of the Ukrainian Women’s Congress, mentions that following the equality principles is a quite complicated challenge. It demands continuous and multilevel changes in every part of social life together with refusing numerous stereotypes.

“The process of introducing principles of equal rights and opportunities for all people in Ukraine is in progress and it is irreversible. These are great changes! One of our great achievements is the level of women’s presence in the 9th convocation of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine which is 21% of the total number of People’s Deputies”, – she says.

As the Vice-Speaker mentions, representation is not enough for Ukrainian women now. They want to be decision-makers at all levels to make life in Ukraine fairer for everyone.

Olena Kondratiuk states That the higher the governmental level the fewer decisions are available for women. Especially if the distribution of resources of budget finances is in focus. This situation is common both for Parliament and Government and for local authorities.

“We must change it! Female politicians have many advantages but are ashamed to speak about them. Women are adaptive, active, ambitious and stress-resistant. They know and perfectly understand local issues and challenges of their communities. I’m sure that joining the European Charter for Equality is a vital and important step forward in the development of local communities”, – adds Kondratiuk.

Svitlana Hodakova, the Chairman of the Board of NGO “The open society” thinks that actual equality in Ukraine could be reached in the case when the local policy would start to implement a gender approach in the activities.

The mentions that active decentralization reform in Ukraine is in progress right now. Local communities get more financial and managing authorities. This provokes them to independent policy planning, development, resource distribution and reactions for challenges.

“Unfortunately, when we start overcoming different issues, we frequently use a stereotypical approach: problems are solved without considering different needs of women and men”, – she says.

According to her, this situation can deepen gender inequality in communities and as a result, Ukraine gets 83rd place among the countries on the level of democracy development (Democracy Index 2017) and the 65th place in the world rating of following gender equality (according to the World’s Economic Forum).

“Indexes are plain numbers, but there are human lives behind them. When local authorities join the European Charter of Equality, they admit in public that they are loyal to the ideas of equal participation for men and women in local communities’ life. But it not just about public statements, it is about real actions and changes”, – adds Svitlana Hodakova.

The world still has no examples of an ideal city of equality, but gender initiatives step by step make equality changes.

Let’s take Vinnytsia and its local initiatives as an example:

  • Civil servants get to know more about the policy of ensuring equal rights and opportunities.
  • The group on gender-oriented budgeting started working and analyzing budget programs.
  • The social accommodation for the victims of violence started functioning.
  • The policy of overcoming sexual harassment is in action.
  • Better accessibility to public places for low mobility groups is ensured.
  • There are complaint boxes for kids where they can inform about violence against them.

Maryna Khonda the Deputy Chairman of Kyiv state city administration, during her speech at the Forum for equal rights and opportunities in September 2020 in Kyiv, said that fighting gender-based violence is the priority for local government. She admitted she had been shocked when she started working with violence in a family issues.

“When we started exploring this issue and launches our first hotline, I was shocked by the quantity of the calls we were receiving. 15% of then were from men – and that fact surprised me a lot. And what violence do you think it was? Those were boys with disabilities who lived with their mother for all their lives. So, when the mother has no psychological and physical ability to care for her disabled child she comes to physical violence. And that is not just about criminal liability. This is a global system problem. And it could not be solved in a year or two. We have an activity «16 days against gender violence». But every day must not have any violence”, – convinces Maryna Khonda.

Despite numerous cases of formal recognition and progress the equality for women and men has not been reached yet. Women and men do not have equal rights in reality. Social, political, economic, and cultural inequality is still there, especially when it comes to compensations for work and political representation.

Considering the above mentioned, it’s important to state that European local and regional authorities play a really important role in ensuring women’s and men’s right to equality.