A note about Peterloo

A little intro

Tonight we’re holding a special screening of Mike Leigh’s Peterloo at Cameo in Edinburgh. It’s nearly 200 years since a peaceful pro-democracy rally at St Peter’s Fields in Manchester turned into a bloody massacre, but the events that led up to this atrocity still have significance today.


I’ll be reflecting a bit more about the film after tonight’s screening, but for now I just wanted to explain a bit about why we’re doing this and what it means to us.

Why are we doing this now?

  • The Peterloo massacre happened on 16th August, 1819 and this year marks the events 200 year anniversary.
  • Peterloo was influential for working class men winning the right to vote, it also led to the rise of the Chartist Movement from which grew the Trade Unions.
  • Almost 100 years later, in 1918, all men and women over 30 were enfranchised
  • A further hundred years later, today, in 2019, in Scotland the voting age was reduced to 16 year olds for the referendum on independence but not for other elections – there are still some in-balances when it comes to voting across a nation (whatever we might be voting for).
  • 2019 marks further steps to open government programmes such as participatory budgeting and widening participation and decision making to citizens

Why are we, at Demsoc, doing this?

  • We are working for greater participation and dialogue in democracy – and Peterloo tells a story of our engagement in the decisions that affect us!
  • Peterloo highlights some of the issues of the time that can still be reflected on today – or are directly relevant – such as inequality, community spirit, representation.
  • Peterloo, itself is an artistic and somewhat more engaging and provocative medium of getting people to think about politics rather than relying on the written word. It’s the sort of thing we’d like to do more!

Why is it important to people now?

  • There is an increasing sense of loneliness and isolation (over 9 million people in the UK say they’re often or always lonely). This has a detrimental impact on individual health and wellbeing and community connectivity and public services.
  • While there is a debate about how technology and social media may affect social isolation, it can also be transformative for how we can engage with politics. (As work like Digital Participatory Budgeting proves.)
  • We may all have the vote now, but we also know that not everyone feels the same way about voting. There’s a sense of apathy for some about voting – and going back to the struggle for suffrage is one way to explore that.

What do we want to get out of this?

  • We want to highlight this important historical event on the year of its anniversary so we can remember those who protested, fought and died for the suffrage rights we have today.
  • We want people to reflect on some of these issues and actively get in touch with us whether that be a comment, idea or question to discuss some of Peterloo’s themes that affect us today.

After the screening we’ll want to chat about what the film meant for people so here are some questions I’ve got in my mind for that!

Questions for you to reflect on

  • Do you think film and other creative outlets are a good way to get people engaged in politics and reform?
  • What do you think would help bring people together in your community?
  • Do you think we should be bringing to light more political historic events?

We will be posting a fuller blog piece on this after the film screening, in the meantime tweet us with your thoughts, ideas and questions @DemsocScotland

#FSF2019 #communityspirit #suffrage #equality

Participatory Budgeting in Musselburgh: Your Voice Your Choice 2

In our first ever podcast, Annie Cook of The Democratic Society talks to Iain Clark of the Musselburgh Area Partnership about Your Voice Your Choice 2. The Musselburgh Area Partnership is one of the recipients of Community Choices funding – supported by the Scottish Government to do participatory budgeting and digital participatory budgeting. 

This is the first in a series of podcasts we’ll be doing about participatory budgeting – as part of our work supporting digital PB in Scotland.

You can find out more about participatory budgeting in Scotland over at the brilliant PBScotland website – and you can check out more that we’re doing here.

PB in NYC: How online & offline can work together in New York

This post is the first of many…

As part of our work developing the use of digital participatory budgeting (PB) in Scotland, Demsoc is shining a light on some of the innovative ways other people across the world use digital PB. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing a series of blog posts on different examples that illustrate different aspects of how digital and PB work together. We’ll be cross publishing these posts – on the PB Scotland website and on our own blog. This week we start by looking at PB in New York City (NYC).

Why would you read this post?

This is about how NYC has included digital channels within its existing, and growing, participatory budget. If you’re thinking about how to use digital tools to expand and strengthen PB, then this large-scale case shows what can be done. It talks about:

  • How digital participation can make it easier for people to have a say
  • How online and offline channels can be combined to improve inclusion
  • How NYC combines its online idea gathering with an innovative process of community-led review and investigation
  • How open data has helped make the process more transparent

Participatory budgeting in NYC: how did it start?

In 2011, a small number of council members decided to use participatory budgeting to decide how their ‘discretionary’ funds could be used. Since then, PB has grown quickly in New York City. While it’s the second oldest use of PB in the USA it’s by far the largest, with it affecting the lives of four million residents. After the success of a public ballot in 2018, it is now set to be taken citywide.

How participatory budgeting works in NYC

PB in New York is about people sharing ideas for what should be funded, deliberating about them, and voting for their favourites. Each district that’s involved pledges at least $1 million dollars to be decided through the process, which has to be spent on physical infrastructure. The video below from the PB Project explains the basics:

Why is New York City using digital PB?

New York City has used online channels to reach a wide audience and make it easy to take part in PB. Each PB process in New York City is called a ‘cycle’. Cycle 6 saw a 45 per cent increase in voters – up from 67,691 in Cycle 5. The city reports that “while paper ballot numbers stayed consistent, our new off-site digital voting accounted for this growth in participation.”

But at the same time they’ve combined this with offline engagement targeted at the hardest to reach – and with a process of offline discussion and research designed to make sure both the process and its results have a positive impact on the community as a whole.

How does NYC combine online and offline activities to make PB a success?

The process in New York meshes online and offline components. The former is used to make involvement easy for large numbers of people, while the latter helps target harder to reach groups and builds citizen-led research about local needs into the heart of the process.

An online idea map

Anyone can submit proposals. A simple online form is used, which asks people to write a few lines under the headings: ‘My project idea is…’ and ‘So that people could…’. Proposers categorise their idea from a short list of headings and plot it on a map of the city. The result is a visually attractive map that uses different logos to show what themes ideas relate to it.

A screenshot showing NYC's online idea map. A map of New York with coloured pins showing different categories of idea.
Screenshot from New York’s online idea map at:

Proposers have to give their name to submit an idea, or can sign in through facebook or twitter. Other than this there is nothing further they have to input, some basic demographic information is asked for, but is not required.

Targeted outreach offline

Alongside this simple online form, targeted activities are carried out offline to involve groups of people that NYC identified as underrepresented and gather other ideas. As well as holding public meetings open to all, districts are required to hold meetings targeted at underrepresented community members and to carry out idea collection at public events and spaces where there is a high concentration of underrepresented community members.

Researching impact offline

In the next stage, Local ‘Budget Delegate’ volunteers – chosen at idea-collection events – develop the proposals, investigate them, and shortlist them for the final vote. They work closely with council staff, and are encouraged to carry out research, including site visits and mapping community needs to help them. The delegates use a matrix to assess feasibility, need and equity of each proposal.

As well as managing down the number of proposals, this stage establishes a greater understanding of local needs and builds the skills and confidence of the volunteers themselves. Significantly, council staff and communities are able to work together productively. And, because the matrix is shared by PBNYC (as a PDF, is on this public Dropbox) along with guides to using the city’s open data and accessing other information sources) it can help to encourage proposers to think more critically about their suggestions from the start.

Opening up voting online and offline

Online voting is made possible through an online platform. In the last complete cycle (cycle 7) a modified version of the D21 platform was used, allowing five positive votes. New York City has a network of ‘Link’ kiosks that provide public wifi, phone charging and calls. These have been used as another way people can vote, as well as providing digital billboards to advertise the process.

Offline, voting is made available in places with high concentrations of underrepresented groups, including the use of ‘pop-up’ voting at subway stations and other busy places. Districts have also used Project Expos with stalls about each proposal where residents can find out more and cast their vote (such as this example from District 39). In cycle 7, 30% of people voted online and 70% offline.

Automated vote counting has been introduced, allowing a dramatic increase in the speed of counting paper ballots, and a quicker announcement of the result.

Council members, community groups and New York Council all use social media to promote ways of voting online and offline during the week of the vote under the hashtag #pbnyc.

A screenshot of a tweet from a council member. The tweet embeds a brightly coloured poster with an image of the council member and the dates of the vote week.
Screenshot of a council member’s tweet about the PB vote:

Building Transparency Online

Finally online tools have a key role to play in making the process more transparent. The results of votes since cycle 4 are available on the council’s PB webpage. So too is the rulebook for the process, which includes a clear statement of the aims and values of the PB process.

Monitoring implementation is a key part of PB. For the New York process there is a tailor-made site that allows you to explore what has happened to projects since they were chosen. This is not a council site but is run by The PB Project, the non-profit organisation which was a key architect of the NY PB process. The site allows users to view successful proposals on a map, easily see their stage of completion, and filter them by which council department is responsible for their implementation. This is made possible using open data about the process shared on the council’s open data portal. At time of writing, the last set of PB results uploaded here was for 2017. Updates on project implementation are also delivered offline during idea collection events each year.

Screenshot of a webpage showing a map of NY with projects plotted on it using different symbols to show their stage in the process. On the left is are categories that can be used to filter the projects displayed.
Screenshot from The PB Project’s myPB site at:

What makes digital PB in New York special?

Online platforms can make it easier for more people to take part in processes. The experience of New York shows that this needn’t mean sacrificing targeted offline activities. Instead offline and online can complement each other, with online platforms bringing people into forms of involvement that can make a real difference to the people who take part and the communities they live in.

Evaluating the European Citizens’ Consultations

The Democratic Society and European Policy Centre recently published a report evaluating the European Citizens’ Consultations process.

The report includes contributions from members of the European Citizens’ Consultations Civil Society Network that was established in March 2018 to monitor the process and make recommendations for future pan-European consultation processes.

“Rethinking the manner in which we do democracy and finding 21st century appropriate ways to translate our democratic goals into practice is likely to be a long and hard struggle. But it has to begin somewhere, and the ECCs are a good place to start.”

The European Citizens’ Consultations (ECCs) were a project aiming to improve the quality of democracy at the EU level.  They were formed of two strands:

Our evaluation report presents the results of the research and analysis carried out by the Network over the past seven months, as well as a number of recommendations for how to capitalise on the current round of ECCs and how to improve the way they could be executed in the future. 

Three major themes became clear in the reports recommendations: 

  • Communication is key. There needs to be greater clarity around projects of this nature, both in the process and the aims and outcomes. There needs to be strong advertisement of the process as it cannot fulfill its potential if there is low public awareness.
  • There must be a balance between focusing on national issues and EU level issues, to properly inform and engage citizens.
  • It’s important to follow up on the process. Suggestions included pushing for public synthesis of results and an additional Citizens’ Panel to properly complete the process.

We intend to continue conversations about the learning from the European Citizens’ Consultations in 2019 and to use this experience as a starting point for further discussion about increasing citizen participation, and encouraging a culture of openness in and around the European institutions and at the national level in member states. 

Find the full report, executive summary and infographics here: http://www.epc.eu/pub_details.php?cat_id=1&pub_id=8839 

Read more about Demsoc’s involvement in this project here: https://www.demsoc.org/projects/ecc/ 

If you have any questions or want more information about this report, please contact Beth Wiltshire (European Programmes Officer) at beth@demsoc.org

How councils & community organisations in Scotland can use digital participatory budgeting

The Democratic Society is helping councils and communities in Scotland to hold participatory budgeting processes online.

What is participatory budgeting? 

Try the 60-second guide at PB Scotland

Our work is part of a national programme to help more people take part in decisions about how public money is spent in their communities. 

The support we can offer

If you’re part of a community organisation with Community Choices funding, or a council looking to do digital participatory budgeting, we can help with:

  • Access to a digital PB tool – to host your participatory budgeting process. You will be able to invite people to propose ideas, discuss them together and vote on them, all online.
  • Support from our digital engagement team in how to make the most out of digital PB and how to make it a natural part of how you do participation.

See this page for more information about the programme:

Reflections From Around the World on Participatory Budgeting

The International Observatory on Participatory Democracy is a worldwide network of local government and other interested researchers and practitioners interested in developing a more participatory form of local democracy. This year their conference was in Barcelona and we used the opportunity to run a workshop exploring people’s experiences of Participatory Budgeting, considering how this technique can best be used, and what its limitations are.

We started by trying to draw some lessons from the demise,and suspension, of PB in the city were it first started: Porto Alegre. From this we asked participants to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of PB.

 What key explanations have been given for the demise of PB in Porto Alegre?

  • A lack of project implementation, with a backlog of uncompleted projects having built up. This was partly linked with a centralisation of funds away from the city.
  • Capture of the process. Part of the process involved electing citizen representatives to set the rules for PB. Over time these representatives started to alter rules to suit their own position.
  • A lack of transparency standards. Over time the budget information provided to participants became less thorough; there were no agreed standards to protect against this.
  • A lack of political will. This was partly associated with a shift towards looking for delivery partners in communities, rather than involving communities in priority-setting.
  • Difficulty including larger-scale projects. PB was mainly focussed on local infrastructure spending, and struggled to move into other issues.

After presenting this picture, we worked with participants to map out some of the strengths and weaknesses of PB. Below are some of the points discussed.

What are the strengths of PB?

  • It can, with enough effort and resource, reach groups who are traditionally less likely to participate.
  • Where based on deliberation, it can help people step in each other’s shoes and realise the diversity of outlooks and needs in their community. These interactions can strengthen communities.
  • It can make room for deliberation and the reaching of compromises, as in the Antwerp process. (There is a description of this process in Flemish here, we hope to share a case study about this in the near future).
  • As a regular annual process PB gives an opportunity to learn about what approaches work more or less well and make improvements in an iterative way.
  • It gives participants real decision-making power.
  • Participants can see really tangible outcomes of their involvement, within a much shorter timeframe than many other political processes.

What are the limitations of PB?

  • The cost of doing PB well is high, once you factor in things like the cost of facilitators.
  • Being set up to implement whichever projects are chosen also places considerable demands on organisations, who must be able to adapt.
  • People often come with their own pet projects,and aren’t keen to engage with other ideas. A more deliberative approach can help tackle this, though doesn’t remove it completely.
  • There are risks of just reaching the ‘usual suspects’, who are already good at raising their voice. However, there are ways of tackling this, and PB can be a way or reaching beyond these groups. For instance, Antwerp asked unrepresented groups what the barriers were and after discovering that uncertainty was a major deterrent went to great lengths to explain how events would work and even put on dry-run rehearsals so that people were more confidant taking part in the real decision-making sessions. 
  • The preference of the majority can, nonetheless,be very negative for those in the minority. A new sports facility might be great for most people, but could have really negative impacts like noise and light pollution for its immediate neighbours. Giving people negative, as well as positive, votes is one way of trying to mitigate against this. One case was mentioned where adding negative votes took a proposal from being the third most popular right down to the mid-50s.

Hopefully these comments will have spurred some reflections of your own. Feel free to add your own reflections in the comments. If you’d like to speak to us further about PB please contact hanne@demsoc.org or mat@demsoc.org

Key sources:

‘Porto Alegre, From Role Model to Crisis’. In: Hope for Democracy, 30 years of PB worldwide: http://www.academia.edu/37469402/Porto_Alegre_from_a_role_model_to_a_crisis

Porto Alegre: PB and the Challenge of Sustaining Transformative Change (World Resources Report) : https://wriorg.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/wrr-case-study-porto-alegre_0.pdf?_ga=2.93175645.1196892397.1543043396-497286152.1543043396

Just Space: Empowering Voices in London

As part of our Space in Common project we’ve been looking at how to make debates about the future shape of GreaterManchester into more inclusive and constructive conversations. At our latest workshop we were fortunate to hear from Richard Lee, coordinator of Just Space about their inspiring experiences in Greater London.

What is Just Space and what makes them special?

Just Space describes itself as ‘a community-led network of voluntary and action groups’ who come together to speak with a louder voice on decisions about how Greater London is developed.

Their emphasis is on supporting communities to speak up, rather than speaking for them. They gather evidence from the local level and feed this into policy debates at a strategic Greater-London-wide level.

Rather than just talking about ‘planning’ they recognise that planning decisions at this scale touch on so many other topics and talk about the issues that matter most to people.

They aim to work in a ‘horizontal’ way, for instance they don’t have an elected committee. Naturally those more involved have more influence so they emphasise the importance of using this to amplify the voices of others. Continuing to get new people involved has been crucial to ensuring it’s not just a network for the already active. For instance, they always aim to ensure that a good number of speakers at community conferences are new to the movement. The Just Space seat at public hearings on the London Plan is reserved for those unable to take part in the formal process. In their experience disagreement isn’t as much of a barrier as it might seem, there is much that unites communities on these topics, and they focus on where there is consensus(interestingly for Greater Manchester Greenbelt development was an issue where this hasn’t been achieved).

How did Just Space come about?

A key development was three main organisations working together informally: The London Tenants Federation; The London Civic Forum, and The London Social Forum. They worked together informally in response to the London Plan, along with some other organisations, then formed a network out of this.

One thing that made a difference was that the London Plan had to be examined at public hearings before the Planning Inspectorate, an organisation separate to local government who could call for revisions. This was an appealing prospect for those frustrated by responding to consultations without knowing whether they would really be listened to or not.

Following the Examination in Public on the London Plan the then London Mayor decided to grant fund the emerging Just Space network in recognition that they’d managed to bring new people into the room who didn’t normally engage on planning matters.

What has helped them grow and succeed?

As well as bringing new voices into debates Just Space have also seen policy debates shift overtime on many of the issues that they’ve campaigned on. So, what has helped them to succeed?

Over time they’ve become recognised for their expertise about planning policy at this strategic level, in a context where few other organisations are looking at this scale. As they’ve learnt who to speak to within the Greater London Authority on these matters, this has helped attract more people to get involved with them.

It’s easy to burn-out when spending all your time in a reactive mode, responding to consultations often without success. Instead Just Space have had an emphasis on being proactive and creative. Their relationship with University College London has been a big part of this. Universities are always looking for project work, JustSpace are able to approach them with projects they need their help on. The communities Just Space work with are often ‘over-researched’ but Just Space take a different approach. They involve communities in steering these projects,and the communities get something from the projects rather than researcher just coming with their own agenda.

Recently they’ve started to think more about how what happens in London affects other parts of the country, and to take the message of their way of organising to other places.

What projects have Just Space helped make happen?

Examples of projects that Just Space have helped initiate include:

  • Developing training in Social Impact Assessment within a postgraduate course at UCL. This was a response to the lack of social impact assessment in planning decisions and focusses on enabling communities to conduct this kind of study.
  • ‘Just Map’. This mapping project plots 250 community organisations, alongside statements of their purpose obtained through interviews. It also shows community assets under threat, which helped improve awareness of many BME community centres that previously suffered from a lack of visibility.
  • A community-led plan for Greater London (see below).

A community-led plan for Greater London

The decision to take this proactive step was partly borne out of frustration at their opposition to plans being ignored because they were too radical to be considered as a change to the proposals being put forward. The election of a new London Mayor in 2016 was also seen as a good time to put this vision forward.

This proactive step was only taken after several years working together during which time the network had built trust in each other and developed strong links into communities.

Conferences were held on the plan, out of which working groups were formed to develop individual parts. No-one was brought in to write it, but instead the network collectively drafted this. Through the process new people became interested in the network and what they were doing.

You can find out more about Just Space through their website. If you’d like to know more about Space inCommon, or are interested in taking part in these workshops please contact mat@demsoc.org

Uguaglianza di genere: di chi è la battaglia?

By Francesca Attolino

Al Forum Mondiale per la Democrazia del 2018, tenutosi a Strasburgo dal 19 al 21 novembre, ho incontrato una brillante giovane donna. È islandese, ha 24 anni, è una politica e sostiene di dover ringraziare le quote per la sua presenza in politica e al Forum. E lei era nel posto giusto, perché il Forum era incentrato sulla partecipazione pubblica, politica ed economica delle donne e sulla lotta alla violenza contro le donne sulla scia del movimento #MeToo.

È stato un onore e una reale opportunità di partecipazione, anche se è molto triste che l’uguaglianza di genere debba ancora essere difesa pubblicamente.
Ora, la domanda da porci è: quali sono le chiavi per promuovere il cambiamento?

Il linguaggio è di certo una di queste. In Italia, stiamo cercando di ridefinire i titoli di lavoro, per garantire che un ‘avvocato’ possa essere descritto anche come donna (Avvocato – Avvocata), e viceversa per le posizioni di segretario. La lingua inglese è neutrale rispetto al genere nella sua concezione, ma l’italiano e il francese non lo sono. Durante il forum ci sono state proposte interessanti sul linguaggio come il passare da “droits de l’homme” a “droits humains” o parlare di “giustizia di genere” al posto della più usata “uguaglianza di genere”. L’uguaglianza di genere non riguarda solo l’equità. La rappresentanza e l’impegno delle donne sono la chiave per maggiore uguaglianza, sviluppo, crescita e pace in tutta la società.

La seconda è la maternità, l’elefante nella stanza di qualsiasi discussione di genere. Marlène Schiappa, si occupa di parità tra donne e uomini nel governo francese e ha preso parte anche al forum. Mi sono sentita profondamente ispirata, poiché una parte del suo discorso era sull’idea che la maternità non sia concepita come una mancanza – data da alcuni mesi di stop – ma come un vantaggio, un master. Essere madre significa avere capacità organizzative e progettuali, capacità motivazionali, essere una professionista delle risorse umane. Si tratta di lavoro di squadra e leadership, include energia e sacrifici, perseveranza, gestione del rischio e molte altre cose. Per questo vale la pena guardare questo video di soli 3 minuti, perché riformula qualcosa che pensavamo fosse superato.
Come possiamo riuscire a raggiungere l’uguaglianza di genere e quali sono le misure più efficaci nei suoi confronti? Direi che abbiamo almeno tre modi per raggiungere questo traguardo, ma è fondamentale portarli avanti contemporaneamente.

– Formazione scolastica

– Capacity building e leadership: dall’empowerment al potere

– Misure temporanee

L’educazione non ha bisogno di introduzioni o spiegazioni. È necessario educare le nuove generazioni di ragazze e ragazzi senza stereotipi, con un forte senso di rispetto e solidarietà. Abbiamo bisogno di insegnanti e professori impegnati e ben informati sulla causa. Dovremmo essere tutti consapevoli del fatto che il genere è un tema intersettoriale e trasversale e che dobbiamo adottare e integrare la prospettiva di genere nella vita di tutti i giorni. Il genere può essere visto come qualcosa legato alla politica e alla rappresentazione, ma è anche fondamentale per l’economia, la scienza, l’elaborazione delle politiche, la qualità della democrazia, l’inclusività, la crescita e la pace.

Il rafforzamento delle capacità riguarda l’opportunità di sviluppare nuove competenze, di sfidare l’attuale leadership e politica, entrambe tipicamente costruite su una prospettiva maschile. Storicamente, le donne parlavano meno degli uomini – almeno in occasioni pubbliche! – ma questo ci ha dato la possibilità di diventare ottime ascoltatrici, e l’ascolto ci porta a prendere decisioni migliori. Ascoltare, ad esempio, è la chiave per la democrazia partecipativa e l’impegno dei cittadini. Michelle Bachelet una volta disse che quando una donna entra in politica, la sua vita cambia. Quando più donne entrano in politica, è la politica a cambiare. Sono sicura che possiamo estendere questa frase a tutti i campi: una volta che le donne saranno ugualmente rappresentate in ogni campo, daranno un forte valore aggiunto all’equazione generale.

Infine, le misure temporanee. Sono spesso – erroneamente – associate all’ideologia politica e alla polarizzazione. Dovrebbero, invece, essere introdotte in modo unilaterale per promuovere e accelerare la strada verso una partecipazione equilibrata di uomini e donne. Le misure temporanee (le più diffuse sono le quote ma non sono le uniche!) devono essere in vigore per un periodo di tempo che sia breve e definito. Ancor più importante devono essere concepite come il primo passo di un progetto più ampio per raggiungere l’uguaglianza di genere, il cosiddetto meccanismo di applicazione.

Questi non sono elementi teorici o dogmatici. La giovane donna che ho incontrato al Forum era lì grazie a cambiamenti culturali come questi. Aveva bisogno delle quote per sperimentare e conoscere la politica e avere l’opportunità di spingere per il suo paese e per l’Europa. Senza di loro, l’Islanda avrebbe perso un’occasione meravigliosa per essere rinnovata e ispirata dalla mente di queste ragazze.

Voglio per il mio paese esattamente la stessa opportunità. Voglio essere rappresentata da una donna, da una giovane donna, dalle sue conoscenze e abilità, dalla sua intelligenza emotiva, dalla sua volontà di fare il meglio che può.

Quindi, tornando al titolo “Uguaglianza di genere: di chi è la battaglia?”, vi dico: questa è la mia battaglia, la tua battaglia, la nostra battaglia. Questa è la battaglia dell’umanità e tutti noi dobbiamo stare insieme, alzarci e lottare.

Gender equality: whose battle?

By Francesca Attolino

At the World Forum for Democracy 2018, held in Strasbourg on November 19-21, I met a smart young woman. She is Icelandic, 24 years old, a politician, and she claims she has quotas to thank for her presence in politics and at the Forum. And she was in the right place, because the Forum centred around women’s public, political and economic participation, and combating violence against women in the wake of #MeToo.

It was an honour and a real opportunity to participate, even if it is very sad gender equality is still needs to be defended so publicly. The question is now, what are the keys to fostering change?
Language is one of them. In Italy, we are redefining job titles, to ensure a ‘lawyer’ can be described as female too (e.g. Avvocato – Avvocata), and vice versa for the secretary positions. English language is gender neutral in its conception, but Italian and French are not. During the Forum there were interesting proposals concerning languages such as shifting from “droits de l’homme” to “droits humains” or talking about “gender justice” instead of the most commonly used “gender equality”. Gender equality is not only about fairness. Women representation and engagement is key to greater equality, development, growth and peace across society.

A second one is maternity, as the elephant in the room of any gender discussion. Marlène Schiappa, serves as the Secretary of Equality between women and men in the French Government, and was speaking at the Forum as well. I felt deeply inspired, as her speech laid out the idea that maternity should not be conceived of as a gap, but as a plus, a master. Being a mother means having organisation and planning skills, motivational skills, being an HR professional. It is is about team work and leadership, energy and sacrifices, perseverance, risk management and a lot of other things. This video is worth 3 minutes of your time, because it reframes something we thought was so stubbornly fixed.

How can we succeed in reaching gender equality, and what are the most effective measures towards it? I would say that we have at least three ways to reach this ambition, but we have to use them all simultaneously.

– Education

– Capacity building and leadership, from empowerment to power

– Temporary measures

Education is self-evident. We need to raise new generations of young girls and boys without stereotypes, with a strong sense of respect and solidarity. We need teachers and professors committed and knowledgeable about the cause. We should all be aware that gender is an intersectional and crosscutting theme, and we need to adopt and mainstream the gender perspective in every day life. Gender may be seen as something related to politics and representation, but it is also fundamental to economics, science, policy making, the quality of democracy, inclusiveness, growth and peace.

Capacity building is about the opportunity to develop new skills, to challenge the actual leadership and politics, both typically built on a male perspective. Historically, women spoke less than men did – at least in public occasions! – but this gave us the chance to become very good listeners, and listening produces better decisions. Listening, for instance, is key to participatory democracy and citizens’ engagement. Michelle Bachelet once said that when a woman enters politics, her life changes. When more women enter politics, politics changes. I am sure we can extend this to all fields; once women will be equally represented in every field, they will strongly add value to the general equation.

Finally, temporary measures. They are often – incorrectly – associated with political ideology and polarization. They should be introduced in a unilateral way to promote and accelerate the road to a balance participation of men and women. Temporary measures, the best-known ones being quotas, must be in place for a short and defined period of time. And must be conceived as the first step of a bigger and wider plan to reach gender equality, the so-called enforcement mechanism.

These are not theoretical or dogmatic line items. The young lady I met at the Forum was there because of cultural changes like these. She needed them to experience politics, and to have the opportunity to push for her country and for Europe. Without them, Iceland would have lost a wonderful occasion to be renewed and to be inspired by this girls’ mind.

I want for my country exactly the same. I want to be represented by a woman, by a young woman, by her knowledge and skills, by her emotional intelligence, by her willingness to do the best she can.

So, coming back to the title “Gender Equality: whose battle?”, this is my battle, your battle, this is mankind’s battle and we need to stand together and fight for it.