Published on Sustainable Cities

Women in the City: Will the world’s female mayors please stand up?

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After Newsweek’s third annual Women in the World summit two weeks ago, I started to wonder about where women stand in the massive wave of urbanization our world is facing. The UN study, The World’s Women 2010, tells us:

  • Only 14 women in the world were either Head of State or Head of Government in 2010.
  • In only 23 countries do women comprise over 30 percent in the lower house of their national parliament.
  • On average, only 1 in 6 cabinet ministers in the world is a woman.
  • Only 13 of the 500 largest corporations in the world have a female Chief Executive Officer.

But what about female Mayors? As the most visible face of local politics and the closest link to their constituents, do women occupy more positions in the city leadership? The global breakdown is below:

Graphic: Share of women among mayors

But why, one may ask, is the leadership of women particularly relevant to sustainable cities? The National Democratic Institute gives a number of reasons:

  • When women are empowered as political leaders, countries (and cities) experience higher standards of living. Positive developments can be seen in education, infrastructure and health.
  • There is strong evidence that women elected to office tend to emphasize quality of life issues that reflect the priorities of families, women, and ethnic and racial minorities.
  • More female mayors would likely mean more money put toward education and health programs, as well as a deepening public emphasis on quality of life. This would increase and diversify solutions to urban problems.

Furthermore, women suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change and natural disasters and can often advocate most strongly for more inclusive adaptation, recovery, and reconstruction.

To paraphrase Kah Walla, the president of the People’s Party of Cameroon, “Every woman (and man) needs to be involved in getting a woman (mayor) elected.” And as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also said at the WIW Summit, women have the power to “shape our destinies in ways previous generations couldn’t imagine.”

That destiny is an urban destiny. Will the future women mayors of the world please stand up?


Artessa Saldivar-Sali

Senior Infrastructure Specialist, World Bank

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