International Women’s Day – Women transforming cities

Photo courtesy of Women Transforming Cities

International Women’s Day (March 8) is a time to recognize the contributions made by females all over the world, and one organization is working tirelessly to increase economic, social and political power for diverse women. Women Transforming Cities (WTC) is changing the civic landscape of Vancouver, hoping to create cities that reflect the women that live in them.

Ellen Woodsworth, founder and external chair of WTC, used her experience as a Vancouver city councillor to launch the non-profit in 2011. From her work with the United Nations Habitat 3 conference and as a council representative for the women’s advisory committee she noticed a glaring issue.

“Cities are a site of resistance for the women’s movement. Women work for cities, but cities don’t work for women and girls. We needed to bring a gendered intersectional lens to policies, programs, budgets, funding, staffing and governance,” says Woodsworth.

The organization, says Woodsworth, does just that by creating models of citizen activism to elucidate what a women-friendly city could look like. This means getting self-identifying women at the elected table, where their lived experiences are shared and the practicality of municipal decisions are weighted for their communities.

Dr. Joy Masuhara, co-chair of WTC, agrees.

“It is having equity in all areas that makes your city run, both physical and social structures. It means increasing inclusivity and opportunities for women,” she says.

While there has been a lot of work done for female empowerment in urban institutions, Woodsworth says there are still a lot of challenges remaining: the unpaid work in the home, child and elder care and huge pay gaps – especially for racialized women and male dominated workspaces, adding that change is needed at all levels.

“If women’s voices were taken note of there would be different ways that the budget would be allocated… things like an affordable national childcare strategy, affordable housing or increased transit at night,” says Woodsworth.

Knocking down barriers

WTC aims to address these aforementioned obstacles through a multifaceted strategy, with different projects targeting different issues. One impactful project was a three-year study in partnership with the Canadian Institution for the Advancement of Women. Systemic barriers to women’s participation in local government was researched and the organization came up with recommendations to increase female representation in four key areas: the elected level, advisory bodies, city staffing and general civic engagement.

Using these findings, Woodsworth and Masuhara are preparing to launch their third Hot Pink Paper Campaign for the 2022 Municipal election.

“We created cafes to get input from women on issues and solutions for their communities. We compile these findings and present them to candidates with various asks for each issue and then publicly post their commitments on our website,” explains Woodsworth.

As a non-partisan organization, the project’s goal was to create informed voters who could analyze the results and use them to vote in the way they see fit.

The women-friendly cities challenge is another initiative targeting gender parity in urban decision and policy making. Dubbed an online living library of wise practices

“It’s laws, initiatives, programs or tools posted in our database that contribute to social conditions. There are categories like education, climate change, government and safety – all issues that impact women,” Masuhara explains.

Showcased are global resources from around the world and local ones such as those posted by the City of Vancouver.

A global connection

Due to COVID-19, WTC had to pivot to an online platform to support their current projects.

“We host things such as a Women Diversifying Cities webinar series talking about some of the challenges of getting elected. We have webinars looking at civic engagement process with a panel talking about their own experiences on getting into advisory boards… We had a virtual café talking about electoral reform and all its different variations and how that can support more diverse women to be elected,” says Masuhara.

WTC has an upcoming webinar March 6, 2021 hosted by queer Muslim women from MENA.

While the pandemic has created many challenges, Woodsworth makes clear that it has also increased accessibility to the organization’s resources.

“More women can come to our events because they don’t have to arrange child or elder care or deal with transportation,” she explains.

There has been a connection on a world-wide scale, says Woodsworth, through online webinars with women from Iraq, South Korea, India, Japan, Germany and Abu Dhabi on gender parity.

WTC will also be virtually participating in the UN Commission on the Status of Women NGO Forum, where they will unveil their new Women Friendly Cities Challenge library with women from Barcelona, Erbil and Seoul.

For Woodsworth, this kind of global partnership is especially poignant for this International Women’s Day, in a world socially-distanced from one another.

“There’s all kinds of wonderful work being done across the world. We need to share the things that we are doing with each other and learn from them, because it’s not necessarily that one vehicle will be the only tool used to empower women,” says Woodsworth.

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