1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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Gender Equality: Striving for Justice in an Unequal World (Chinese edition)

From Chapter 12 – Decentralization and gender equality

Since the 1990s, an important focus of governance reform has been the strengthening of local government by the decentralization of powers, resources and responsibilities to municipal councils and other locally administered bodies. The intention is to improve the quality and efficiency of services, strengthen fiscal management, enhance private sector development and increase local participation in decision-making processes. Decentralization is expected to produce these outcomes because, since government will be nearer to them, citizens will take a closer interest in how their taxes are spent, and will subject to closer scrutiny the actions of their local representatives than they do those who disappear to the capital, holding them accountable to local needs.

This part of the reform agenda has been more open than others to the active participation of women, both as elected local councillors and as the clients of local government services. Women generally, as well as low-income and other socially marginal groups, are expected to benefit from the accountability and service delivery improvements that government in close proximity should provide. This is particularly relevant where social programmes of importance to disadvantaged groups are to be developed and managed locally—programmes such as those for health outreach, primary schooling, employment and income generation, slum redevelopment, and low-cost water and sanitation services.

Local government is also regarded as a significant political apprenticeship arena for women. Barriers to their entry—such as the need to travel and spend time away from home, a large disposable income, a reasonable level of education, experience of political competition, and social connections—are lower at the local level. Local government is also regarded as appealing to women participants because of the focus on basic community services; women’s engagement in informal community management is believed to make them attractive as local planners and managers. Institutional innovations to broaden local participation in decision making, such as new participatory budgeting arrangements in Brazil and elsewhere, can also give women more incentive and better opportunities to engage in public debate.

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