Local government is the sphere of government closest to the people, providing vision and leadership for local communities and many of the basic services needed to improve their day-to-day lives and meet the Millennium Development Goals. Local government has a lot to offer in accelerating MDG progress and energizing development overall and can is the key to advance gender equality. This is what emerged from the Gender and Local Development Africa Regional Forum that took place in Freetown on 27th-28th September, 2012.
Opened by H.E. Vice-President of Sierra Leone Alhaji Samuel Sam-Sumana, the Forum brought together Ministers and other senior National and sub-National officials from several African countries; as well as UN representatives, development partners and civil society to discuss the progress of the Gender Equitable Local Development (GELD) programme in the pilot countries and to consider options for its future expansion.
A joint UNCDF – UN Women initiative funded by Belgium and Austria, GELD aims at aligning policy planning, budgeting and public expenditure with women's priorities at the local level. Currently being piloted in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania, the GELD programme starts from the assumption that when women are supported and empowered, all of society benefits.
“Planning and budgeting provide critical entry points to make sure that the voice of woman is heard, that their needs and priorities are taken into account and that resources are allocated in a gender sensitive way” said Nicola Crosta, UNCDF’s Head of Knowledge, Policy and Advocacy. “This is precisely what GELD is about: identifying all those spaces in local processes that allow for innovations to be introduced. The sum of all these innovations translates into a ‘different way of doing businesses, one in which women count more.”
Women are the backbone of rural economies throughout the least developed countries. They are marginalized, however, if not excluded altogether, from playing a key role in economic decisions. They are still frequently denied the right of representation in decision-making, the right to own land, obtain loans, or receive an education. This exclusion often perpetuates a vicious cycle of poverty, instead of supporting the promise of sustainable development. GELD tries to address this challenge.
By allocating capital investment grants to local authorities and engaging women in local development planning through awareness raising and capacity building activities, GELD aims at making sure that the voice of women is heard, that women’s needs and priorities are taken into account and that resources are allocated in a gender sensitive way.
"We congratulate you and feel you have a reason to be proud as Sierra Leoneans for the way you have financially and physically incorporated gender issues into your Local Council" said Mary Okumu, GELD Chief Technical Adviser. “In all of Africa, Sierra Leone has been chosen as one of the best practices for further studies in the area of gender and decentralization by the Economic Commission for Africa". Ms. Okumu stressed the exemplary nature of the GELD project in Sierra Leone, describing the level of engagement of women in the affairs of the Kenema City Council and their depth of knowledge on the budgeting processes.
GELD has created a voice for women to demand access to services at decentralized level and the Forum also underlined the potential for its expansion to ensure in other countries women’s voice can be heard as well, and women count for more.