The cities of Dortmund and Kumasi met online to discuss opportunities to support women in local government. The webinar took place during the week the UN Commission on the Status of Women convened in New York to discuss possibilities for the global advancement of women. The UNDP “SDG Local Solutions” Series of  March 14, 2024 focused on how women can take more responsibilities in governing cities. 

If you missed the webinar, it is available here in English, Spanish and French

Kumasi and Dortmund have been exchanging experiences since 2011. In 2024, the two cities are entering a sister city relationship to expand their collaboration from an exchange between city administrators to a city-wide level that will involve all city stakeholders, especially civil society, in the framework of the “She for Democracy project”.  

The cities and their projects 

  1. Dortmund, Germany 

The context: 

In Germany, women’s political participation has consistently lagged behind. As of 2021, women comprised only 35% of the national parliament, 28% of the state parliament, and 36% of the Dortmund City Council. Seeking to address this disparity ahead of the 2025 elections, the city initiated the “She for Democracy” initiative. 

This project builds upon three existing initiatives: (i) “Women Power Future” a program fostering cross-party networking among local councilwomen; (ii) student engagement exercises aimed at promoting democratic participation, and (iii) “speed dating” sessions connecting councilwomen with Dortmund citizens. 

The solution: 

She for Democracy is a collaborative effort between TU University of Dortmund and the Office for Equal Opportunities of the City of Dortmund, designed to inspire women’s political engagement. Participants undergo a seven-month program, getting to know Dortmund political structures, accompanying active female city councilors from various political groups at local events, and strengthening their personal skills in various workshops and visits. 

The program targets young women from diverse backgrounds, encouraging their involvement in Dortmund’s politics, promoting diversity in nationality, ethnicity, religion, disability, age, sexual orientation, or identity. Its aim is to democratize access to politics, address barriers hindering women’s participation, foster networking, and unite women from various backgrounds. 

In addition to theoretical knowledge, the program emphasizes practical skills. Mentoring between aspiring female politicians and councilwomen forms a crucial aspect. Workshops cover rhetoric, micropolitics, a trip to Berlin, a historical perspective on politics, and panels discussing various avenues for women’s participation. 

The program offered sixteen positions, encompassing women students, professionals, and local administrators, ensuring diversity. 

Results, impressions, and feedback: 

  • Participants showed high motivation and an increasing interest in local issues. 
  • Councilwomen displayed significant engagement in the program. 
  • Numerous networking opportunities were provided. 
  • Emphasis was placed on the importance of representation. 
  • Participants gained awareness of challenges and obstacles for active participation in politics, such as balancing political engagement with family and responsibilities and care burdens. 

The She for Democracy project underscores Dortmund’s commitment to gender equality in politics. By empowering women from diverse backgrounds, it strives to create a more inclusive and representative political landscape for the future.

  1. Kumasi, Ghana 

The context:  

Kumasi, with a population of 443.931 inhabitants, exhibits a gender disparity in its local governance structures. While women constitute 51.9% of the population, their representation in the city council of 66 members is starkly low, with only 6 women. Similarly, out of 40 elected assembly members, merely 2 are women. Consequently, the General Assembly presents a concerning gender parity index of 1:0.025, in contrast to the city’s population index of 1:1.078 (GSS, 2021). 

This imbalance in representation poses a significant challenge as the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (KMA) is tasked with formulating policies, programs, and projects crucial for the city’s administration. The unequal gender distribution undermines the inputs of women in decision-making processes. 

Through a SWOT analysis conducted within the She for Democracy project framework, supported by the city of Dortmund, Kumasi women identified several factors contributing to their underrepresentation: 

The solutions: 

Under the She for Democracy project, Kumasi is implementing the following initiatives: 

  • Capacity building: providing training and resources to the 2 elected Assembly women in community planning, mobilization, and execution skills and logistics. 
  • Publicity on KPIs: strengthening structures and mechanisms to enhance publicity on the performance of the 2 elected Assembly women. 
  • Co-creating Solutions: utilizing platforms for sharing best practices to collaboratively create local solutions to encourage more women to participate in local government. 
  • Raising Awareness: developing communication materials to promote women’s participation in local government. 

These actions aim to empower elected women, raise awareness about the importance of female participation, and increase the number of women involved in the assembly, challenging stereotypes prevalent in African society. 

Partnerships for the project implementation have been crucial, these include: 

  • Queen mothers and traders associations: Key influencers in identifying, mobilizing, and championing the agenda. 
  • Parliamentary women caucus and former Assembly members: Providing mentorship and coaching to new women candidates. 
  • Civil Society Organizations: Engaging in advocacy, capacity building, and funding support. 
  • Media: Raising awareness and combating stigmatization. 
  • Development Partners: Providing funding and platforms for best practice sharing.

In the future, the project aims to conduct needs assessments, secure funding, and set performance indicators. It will also collaborate with media houses for publicity and schedule media engagements. 

The project addresses SDG 5.5 (ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making, aiming to increase the number of elected women in the General Assembly by one-third, by 2028 and SDG 8.5 (achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men), willing to increase the number of women on the KMA Management team by one-third, by 2028.  

  1. United Cities and Local Governments – UCLG 

As the primary network of local and regional governments and their associations, UCLG represents approximately 250.000 local institutions in 175 countries. UCLG has been prioritizing the work on gender equality in cities, particularly encouraging women to assume leadership roles in cities worldwide. A clear example of this effort is the work done in Latin America and Africa, where networks of women mayors have been established (such as REFELA in Africa). 

New female mayors are bringing a different vision to a renewed and transformative agenda focused on gender equality and policies aimed at addressing inequalities in cities. The main transformation that women bring is in the area of caregiving, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic. This has been reflected in the creation of caregiving systems and policies.  

UCLG is also promoting a program to protect women and girls from gender-based violence at the local government level, enabling them to live without fear. It also focuses on political violence and the risks faced by female leaders. 

What did we learn? 

Is evident that concrete actions can effectively promote greater participation of women in local politics, ultimately empowering more women to govern cities. Here are some key insights that other cities may find valuable when implementing similar projects: 

  1. Importance of data and the diversity approach: successful strategies hinge on having access to real, localized data concerning societal dynamics, realities, and the unique needs of women, along with accurate participation statistics. It is imperative to actively involve women in the diagnostic and project formulation processes. Additionally, it is essential to gather differentiated information on various aspects such as nationality, disability, beliefs, religion, age, sexual orientation and gender identity, acknowledging the diverse backgrounds and experiences of the women targeted by these initiatives. 
  1. Care burdens and family roles as major barriers to women’s participation: both Kumasi and Dortmund highlighted a significant obstacle faced by women: the delicate balance between family obligations, caregiving responsibilities, and the time constraints imposed by political engagement. Consequently, strategies must include long-term support mechanisms to enable women to prepare and identify opportune moments for active participation. Furthermore, addressing this issue entails collaborative efforts with families, society at large, and participation bodies to challenge prevailing stereotypes and equitably distribute caregiving responsibilities. 
  1. Networks amongst women: in the experiences shared by both cities, the formation of networks among female councilors and mentoring relationships between them and aspiring women from society have proven highly effective. It is crucial for women to gain practical insights into the workings of political processes and to receive encouragement and guidance from fellow women who have navigated similar challenges. 
  1. Local approaches to address specific needs: shifting the focus from national or federal levels to the local sphere enables tailored responses to the specific needs of women within their respective communities. Moreover, meaningful participation needs the active involvement of local administrations and engagement with diverse sectors of society. 

This enriching exchange underscored the pervasive social and cultural barriers hindering women’s political participation. Consequently, cities must undertake initiatives that not only strengthen women’s capacities but also challenge entrenched stereotypes that impede their access to decision-making positions.  

Dortmund and Kumasi serve as inspiring examples, demonstrating tangible progress toward gender equality in city administration, one step at a time.