Resilient cities – gendered view

Dear Guests.

It is a great pleasure to be with you here in Reykjavík. The previous conferences of the capitals have been both useful and enjoyable, and we’ve tried our best to make sure that this year’s conference will be no exception.

This year’s theme, resilient cities, is particularly relevant these days and it’s urgent that the Nordic countries do everything in their power to react and adapt to the shifts that climate change is bringing upon us.

Awaiting us are interesting lectures and discussions about, on the one hand, what we can do to counteract the climate change, and on the other, about the best ways for us to respond to the climate change’s inescapable effects.

We must shoulder the responsibility of the climactic issues ‒ and as the mayor already said, we, the inhabitants of Reykjavík will place great emphasis on more density and reduce the use of fossil fuel.

In addition, a declaration of partnership between the municipalities has been drafted, wherein we commit ourselves to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, to limiting the impact of the rising sea level and to prevent ocean acidification.

Resilient cities are good cities. Resilient cities must be responsible and sustainable. Sustainable in every sense of the ideology ‒ they must be sustainable regarding the environment, the economy, and the society.

100 years of womens vote 

On the 19th of June, one hundred years will have passed since women gained the right to vote in Iceland. This will be celebrated in various ways all over the country, and the city of Reykjavík will stage hundred events to commemorate those hundred years.

The objective of those events is to celebrate the advances that have been made and to encourage further progress in the field of gender equality, but also to increase the role of women and feminism in the public sector.

One of these events will take place later today, during the open segment of this conference. During that event we will treat the role and position of women in with regard to greenhouse gas emissions, ocean acidification and women in the sciences.

And last but not least, our beloved former president, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, will deliver a talk entitled “Listen to the women of the world”. And I hope you will do as she says.

Needless to say, no particular landmark-event should be required in order for us to turn our eyes towards the position of women ‒ it should of course be a natural part of all politics. Gender sensitive politics are better politics.

I will not dwell further on the subject of today’s seminar ‒ but instead reflect on the ways in which we can contribute to the resilience of our cities, with regard to gender- and human rights perspectives.

The impact will be unfair

We know that climate change is one of the biggest tasks facing authorities and societies all over the world. Climate change will have different effects on different parts of the world, different effects on different communities and different effects on different groups living within different communities.

And we also know that, however unfair that may be, climate change will have a greater impact on developing countries than on the developed ones, and that the impact will be more severely felt among the poorer parts of the population than on the richer ones, in all countries.

Natural disasters and societal shocks have greater consequences for people and nations that are disadvantaged than for those who are better off. –And the more minority groups people belong to, the greater the consequences.

Therefore: The effects will be felt more among women than men ‒ but also women in developing countries will suffer more than women in the Nordic states ‒ if nothing will be done to prevent it.

Fortunately, the public debate on the effects of climate change on the situation of women in developing countries has increased considerably in recent years, where lack of access to water, fuel and food is bound to grow even worse – with the resultant hardship for women and children.

In a globalised world, we all share the responsibility and must all do our part to limit climate change, while at the same time contributing to improving the conditions of women in developing countries.

Also in the Western world?

But what about us? ‒ How is this related to the resilience of the rich capitals of the Nordic Region, where surveys show gender equality to be the highest in the world and where few people suffer privation? ‒ Is everything perfectly all right in our own homes ‒ or could it be that we need to take into consideration different positions, different opportunities and different rights of men and women in the work that lies ahead on improving the resilience

Yes, it could. And we must. Even though we can be grateful and proud of the current state of affairs in the Nordic capitals, the situation is far from perfect. If we are serious about all three pillars of sustainable development, then we must ensure equality and social justice – and at the same time focus on increasing responsibility in environmental and economic affairs.

According to a report, written on the subject of Women, Cities and Climate change for UN-Habitat in the year 2011, there are five key factors of gender discrimination that could even worsen if nothing is done in the wake of climate change:

1. Gender bias in power and decision-making

Women are under-represented in decision-making, in particular in executive positions in urban climate policy. Consequences include a male biased response and decision-making on important infrastructure and planning, which may lead to neglect women’s needs.

It is necessary ‒ and in our cities’ best interest ‒ that we guarantee that the proportion of men and women on election slates, in municipal councils and in all boards and committees is as equal as possible.  It is our duty to ensure that the views of both man and women can influence all decision-making.

2. Gender division of labour

In cities all over the world, women spend more time for care work and unpaid work, and work more often in the informal sector than men. Climate change will in many cases increase the work burden of women due to climate related shortages of water, fuel and food as I have already said.

But here in the Nordic Countries, it is safe to assume that unpaid work will increase first and foremost in the case of an economic downturn and cut-backs in the welfare system. In that way, childrearing, care and nursing could increasingly find its way into the homes and onto the shoulders of women.

It is necessary ‒ and in our cities’ best interests ‒ that we safeguard a fruitful and reliable welfare system which ensures that everyone receives adequate services, and that the workers employed with carrying out those services receive decent salaries for their efforts.

3. Gender gap in income and assets

In all countries, whether they are developing or developed, there is a gender gap in incomes as well as in assets.

This is also the case in all the Nordic countries and affects women’s opportunities to live with dignity and to deal with economic recessions, including those caused by climate change.

The gender wage gap is absolutely unacceptable. We, the city councils of the capitals are in a key position to eliminate it, having numerous means to that end at our disposal. It is necessary – and in our cities’ best interests that we do so.

4. Gender roles, stereotypes and cultural patterns

Gender roles affect, for instance, mobility, education, attitudes, and means of communication.

Gender stereotypes place limits on the liberty of men and women to actively participate in the society, to pursue education and to find work.

The derivative effects of climate change on societies can lead to those stereotypes becoming further exaggerated, especially if welfare systems and infrastructure are undermined or if we fail to take into account the different needs of citizens.

5. Safety

Gender-based violence affects the situation of women all over the world ‒ domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape, pornography, prostitution and human trafficking. With inequality on the rise and welfare systems weakening as a result of climate change, a further increase of violence is to be expected.

Gender-based violence is the ugliest manifestation of gender inequality. No forms of violence should be tolerated, and plans of action set to tackle gender-based violence are one of the most urgent tasks facing all authorities around the world.

It is necessary ‒ and in our cities’ best interests – that we face this challenge and do everything that we can to eliminate all forms of violence.

What I have briefly outlined here applies to a gendered society, but is no less useful when looking at the situation of other minority groups. Resilient cities demand social justice, where the status of the genders is as equal as possible and where the rights and needs of all minorities are respected and fulfilled.

Resilient cities

Resilient cities are cities where the participation of both men and women in politics and the economy is as equal as possible, and where men and women have the same opportunities to influence the society. Resilient cities are cities with a solid welfare system where decent salaries are paid for important work such as childrearing, care and nursing. Resilient cities are cities of equal wages and resilient cities are cities where men and women are free from the burden of stereotypes when it comes to choosing an education and a line of work. And last but not least, resilient cities are safe for men and women. Gender-based violence is not tolerated in a resilient city.

As privileged societies of the Western world, we are charged with great responsibility. It is our duty to keep on promoting equality, responsible economic policies and responsible conduct towards the environment and nature ‒ to promote cities that are even more resilient.

Here we are today ‒ having a dialogue about how we can turn our cities into better communities. I am convinced that we are all going to learn a lot and hopefully this is only the beginning of a cooperation concerning the important tasks awaiting us ‒ and that together we can make the entire world a slightly better place to live in.

Ávarpið var flutt við á opnun höfuðborgarráðstefnu Norðurlandanna þann 7. maí 2015.