Edith Gingras from Montreal, Canada, is a local government program manager and municipal planner specialising in local governance, economic development and decentralization issues. Along with three international experts, Ms. Gingras was recently selected as member of the the jury responsible for selecting the six Metropolis pilot projects. We spoke to her about gender equality, women empowerment and her perspective on implementing the SDGs.
What and where have been your most enriching and/or challenging experiences with gender equality projects?
The most enriching and challenging experiences have been in Africa with dynamic, visionary women designing and implementing gender equality projects targeting governance and economic empowerment in local governments. Personally, the projects have been such a learning experience and a privilege. Programs focused on overcoming barriers in local governments and providing support to women in the political arena, designing municipal gender equality services, ensuring a ‘space’ for women to be heard, and participation in decision-making models.
Capacity building using economic empowerment and microfinancing activities were developed in collaboration with local governments. Such projects enabled women to increase their livelihoods and business skills. The challenge was two-fold:
a) developing women’s economic capacity and,
b) making the ‘space’ for them to participate in decision-making processes at all levels of the projects.
Considering your background in this field, how close do you believe we are to the implementation of SDG5, which is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls?
Gender equality is a fundamental right and this goal is core to a city’s development. Although implementing actions to improve decision-making and economic empowerment of women and girls are being embedded in projects, institutions and governments, reaching the targets also means a 180 degree shift in cultural mind-sets and discrimination. Unless mind-sets are changed, eradicating inequalities will continue to be an uphill battle.
Regardless of the increase in education, skills building, accessibility to ICT, legislative changes (violence, youth marriages), etc., women/girls must hold strategic seats in the decision-making and political spheres (target 5.5). The challenge will take decades and, in my opinion, only when women are empowered and given the opportunities to be ‘influencers’ of change will we fully reach the targets identified in this SDG goal.
What are the main challenges in meeting the indicators and measures of this goal?
The current lack of gender sensitive disaggregated data will be a challenge in measuring the goal as experts are struggling to also identify the baseline in many areas namely health, education, etc. As there are few overarching monitoring/evaluation methodologies to measure implemented actions for this goal, supporting areas displaying little/low progress will be difficult. This will possibly create an obstacle for improvement or realignment, especially for policy and legislative changes.
As the implementation of the targets will vary in each country, the type, depth and ramifications of actions focused on female poverty, inequality and ability for leadership needs to be compared to better understand the gaps in the current frameworks if we are to achieve most of the indicators of this goal. The need to design a common set of tools to enable basic monitoring levels to capture progress such as data gathering, interpretation of said data, and ability to best understand levels of achievements, would assist in defining the achievements. Often, many unplanned activities or results of implemented activities are not captured and are lost.
What is the role of subnational authorities, such as city governments, metropolitan authorities and regional administrations in making cities and settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable?
Local/regional governments are the closest to the population and have a fundamental role in ensuring the safety, security, livelihoods and the sustainable integrated development of a constant expanding geography. Faced with numerous management challenges, local/regional governments need to continue to coordinate efforts, share knowledge and design innovative frameworks.
Making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable will require not only new energy efficient infrastructure but also new planning models to create energetic communities. This, I believe, will be key to resilience.
Cities roles/responsibilities in achieving SDG 11 will also need to create innovative urban patterns, tackle urban sprawl, promote alternative affordable housing and introduce participatory initiatives to continue to reduce inequities. Inclusive cities will mean strengthening decision-making opportunities for its population, including women and youth. Cities must be seen as a complex living organism and their sustainability relies on its community.
What is your perspective on the roles of various stakeholders from different sectors (e.g. private companies, citizens, multilateral institutions, grassroots organizations) in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals? Are they well-coordinated and how can their coordination be enhanced?
Stakeholders have a crucial role to play to achieve the SDG’s. Supporting their participation requires innovative ways to reach out to them. However, the sharing of information is a mutual responsibility and not simply that of local governments. Communication, transparency and clear guidelines/structure are necessary for stakeholders to participate. Participation requires learning, understanding of variables and a desire for collaboration. Both cities and grassroots organisations are usually quite structured but their communication methods vary which can lead to communication breakdowns. Communication bridges using a common understanding and respect of roles and responsibilities need to be sound and with clear guidelines which can be a challenge.
How do you think the exchange of local practices across the world can contribute to a more sustainable planet by 2030? Is the Policy Transfer Platform a useful tool for knowledge exchange and would you recommend it to other urban practitioners?
1) Knowledge sharing and interactive platforms enable practitioners to exchange information, resolve issues and provide support to one another. Accessibility and interactive ICT tools will increase opportunities for capacity building between local governments. The complexities that local governments are faced with require that experiences be shared to resolve current and forthcoming issues. If we are to find optimal ways of supporting the development of our cities, knowledge platforms can ensure that information enables them to benefit from experiences tackled by other local governments.
Global sustainability is a shared responsibility and our cities need to be at the forefront of the development issues. Knowledge sharing platforms, consultative processes, and gender equal decision-making processes can contribute to reaching out to our citizens, increase understanding, and enhance our local and global actions.
2) use is a useful knowledge tool and serves as a wonderful library of projects which for the most part can be fully or partially replicated /adapted. Of course, I am most happy to recommend this knowledge platform to other urban practitioners.
Is there any particular use case study or expert from the use community that you find inspiring or relevant for your work?
The Ivorian case study which focuses on the transformation of cassava into Attiéké in Abidjan (Ivory Coast) is a wonderful economic development project which supports women’s economic empowerment. A similar project (5,000$cdn) in Kadiolo (Mali) supported the development of a cooperative and provided 27 women with full time employment, business and management skills as well as stable revenue. Within a year, using an innovative microfinancing project funded by local government, production increased immensely, reimbursements were stable, and the quality of the product was astonishing. I appreciated being able to compare both projects as a learning opportunity.
The interview was conducted by the use-team, 5th July, 2018