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  • November 24, 2020

Cities must move to the frontline of efforts to fight gender inequality, which has grown worse in the coronavirus pandemic, said six mayors from three continents as they joined forces in a new network to advance women’s rights.

Around the world, women’s jobs, unpaid labour, health and safety have been upended by the impacts of Covid-19 and need critical attention, said the leaders of City Hub and Network for Gender Equity (Change).

The network aims to promote and share innovative projects focused on combating gender inequality with city mayors around the world.

“Local governments can and should lead,” said Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, the network’s first chair, who joined the mayors of Barcelona, Freetown, Mexico City, London and Tokyo in an online webinar with the media.

Data from the World Economic Forum shows that at the current pace, the gender pay gap will not close for 257 years, he said. “We must act with urgency,” Garcetti said. “We can’t allow this pandemic to set us back further.”

Women’s jobs have been 1.8 times more vulnerable to being lost in the pandemic than men’s, said a study by consultants McKinsey Co, while government data showed of the 1.1 million US workers who dropped out of the workforce in September, 80% were women.

In Los Angeles, every city department must have a gender action plan and show progress on tackling gender inequality, such as appointing women to boards and top positions, closing the gender pay gap and ensuring more girls use public spaces like sports fields, Garcetti said.

Ada Colau, the first female mayor of Barcelona who called her administration a “feminist government”, singled out unpaid care work of children and ageing relatives.

“We must fight against the inequality and injustice that women still suffer and end the invisibility of care work – a burden which is mostly borne by women,” Colau said.

Ada Colau, the first woman to be elected mayor of Barcelona, described her administration as a ‘feminist government’ Photograph: Europa Press News/Getty Images

London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, who called himself as a “proud feminist”, said a report found in England, mothers were 47% more likely than fathers to have lost or left their jobs in the pandemic.

With women accounting for eight out of 10 people in low-paid jobs, London’s government has invested £3m to “re-skill” and “up-skill” women for better-paying jobs, he said.

“I want gender equity hardwired into everything we do, not simply child care, though important it is, but from housing to a hiring policy to recruitment retention from policing to the environment,” Khan said.

Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said a key priority is combating domestic violence that has worsened during lockdown.

The city government has launched a network of 100 female lawyers who help women file reports of domestic abuse and provide free legal advice, she said.

Two-thirds of the city’s 50,000 small businesses loans provided since the pandemic started have gone to help women become economically independent, Sheinbaum said.

In Sierra Leone’s capital, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, the first female mayor of Freetown, said she was focused on stemming the world’s highest maternal mortality rates and supporting working mothers with child care.

Last month, Freetown’s government launched a digital mobile phone literacy programme aimed at women and opened the city’s first free day care for young children of market traders, most of whom are women, she said.

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