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Mayor of Bulqiza commits to work towards gender equality on International Women’s Day

By Monika Kocaqi and Dolly Wittberger

Equality of women and men is a fundamental right. It is the duty of local and regional governments to uphold this right in all areas of their responsibilities, including their obligation to eliminate all forms of discrimination (both direct and indirect).

Equality of women and men must also include the will to take action on the three complementary aspects of its achievement: the elimination of direct inequalities, the eradication of indirect inequalities, and the construction of a political, legal, and social environment that is supportive to the proactive development of an egalitarian democracy.

In addressing equality between women and men, multiple forms of discrimination and disadvantage should be considered. This includes identity characteristics such as sex (being born female or male), race, age, skin color, ethnic and social origin, genetic features, language, religion or beliefs, political opinion, membership as a national minority, property ownership, physical ability, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status.

Among these characteristics, inequality in social status between women and men remains the most pervasive. Local authorities must strive to eliminate stereotypes and obstacles upon which these inequalities in status and condition of women are based, and which give rise to the unequal evaluation of the roles of women and men in political, economic, social, and cultural terms.

The gender perspective must be considered in the drafting of policies, methods, and instruments which affect the daily life of the local population. To this end, women’s experiences in local life, including their living and working conditions, must be analyzed and put forth for consideration moving forward.

In a nutshell, the above constitutes the basis and fundamental principles of the European Charter for Equality of women and men in local life. The Charter is the guiding tool for integrating gender equality into local governance across Europe. It is composed of 30 articles and has been officially signed by 1791 local and regional authorities in 36 countries across Europe thus far, including several in Albania.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, on 4th March 2020, through support given by PLGP, the partner Municipality of Bulqiza joined the list of local authorities committed to advance gender equality by signing the European Charter for Equality of women and men in local life.

The Mayor’s decision to sign the European Charter for Equality was preceded by a comprehensive informative session organised by PLGP in cooperation with the municipality in February 2020. Aligned with the spirit of the Charter, the session took an inter-sectorial approach bringing together municipal staff and instrumental cooperating institutions engaging in service delivery and local governance.

Participants of the informative session unanimously supported the Mayor’s decision. The signing ceremony was organized in the presence of 21 participants, including the Mayor, the Deputy Mayor, and representatives of various municipal sectors and directories. The USAID/PLGP Chief of Party, Mr. Kevin McLaughlin, and PLGP’s Gender & Local Governance consultant were also present in this ceremony.

Mayor Alla opened his speech by mentioning that while much is being talked about women’s rights and gender equality, there is a striking contrast to actual implementation of concrete actions and measures.

He mentioned that traditional mentality maintains a strong influence on the concepts, models, and ways of doing things today, and he also acknowledged that he and his staff must work hard to change this reality, stating, “Signing this European Charter for Equality must be seen as just the starting point for taking steps in a new direction and for working harder to make gender equality a reality in Bulqiza.”

In his remarks, Mr. McLaughlin stated, “USAID’s Planning and Local Governance Project considers it very important to support this event. By signing the Charter, Mayor Alla and his team take a strong and formal public commitment to the principle of equality of women and men in your community. This commitment cannot be achieved without the strong support and collaboration of all local institutions, the Municipal Council, as well as of other partners and collaborators of the Municipality”.

The Head of the Municipal Council, Mr. Gezim Xhafa, confirmed his personal commitment and full support for the implementation of the Charter. This is crucial, as by signing the Charter the Municipality formally commits to developing a respective Local Gender Action Plan, which will also require the Municipal Council’s approval.

The Municipality Council also plays an important role in supporting specific projects related to gender equality and the improvement of women’s life and in communicating the spirit of the European Charter to both women’s and men’s constituencies.

The Director of The Local Health Care Unit said, “This charter is not simply for equality between women and men but is for all women, men, girls, and boys of our community and for addressing all their needs. In terms of my institution, there is so much to do, so we fully support the mayor’s initiative by considering this Our Charter, in terms of benefits, duties and responsibilities.”

By signing the Charter, the Municipality of Bulqiza joined seven other municipalities in Albania which have committed to the Charter, including Gjirokastër, Korçë, Elbasan, Shkodër, Tiranë, Durrës, and Përmet. As an immediate follow-up action, PLGP facilitated the communication process between the Brussels-based Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) and the Municipality of Bulqiza.

Signed Charter certificates were shared with CEMR’s Observatory, and the Municipality of Bulqiza will soon feature among Europe’s signatories in the Observatory’s interactive online map. PLGP will continue its support to Municipality of Bulqiza as they draft the Local Gender Action Plan, moving forward with the next concrete step towards turning promises and public commitments into reality for gender equality.

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