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BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Less than five percent of cities are led by women and their lack of political participation is hampering progress in meeting international goals on making cities more sustainable and inclusive, a group of female mayors said on Friday.
Anne Hidalgo, the first female mayor of Paris said more must be done to ensure more women are elected to help build more socially inclusive and equal cities.
"Women represent half of humanity and you can't transform and build humanity if you ignore half of it," Hidalgo said at the World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders in Bogota.
"If we don't include women it's difficult to transform the cities we live in," she said.
Women running cities are more likely to focus on improving basic services, such as clean water and healthcare, transport, childcare, schools and providing support to businesswomen, experts say.
United Nation member states agreed last year to end violence and discrimination against women and girls and make sure they have equal opportunities in all areas of life, including politics, as part of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.
But with women making up less than five percent of the world's mayors and around 20 percent of local councillors, females remain under-represented in urban government.
While at the national level the percentage of women in parliaments has nearly doubled in the last 20 years, they still make up less than a quarter of all parliamentarians, according to U.N. Women.
Hidalgo said it was important to work with men to boost women's participation in politics and gender equality.
"The message isn't to exclude the participation of men," Hidalgo said. "We need an alliance, we need to have partnerships with progressive men."
She said U.N. studies showed that having women in power, both in local and central government, can help to stem corruption.
"Corruption is an ill and when women have access to power they are less prone to falling into the phenomenon of corruption," Hidalgo said.
Delegates at a U.N. conference in Ecuador starting on Monday will set out guidelines for the sustainable development of cities over the next 20 years by adopting a non-binding agreement, known as the New Urban Agenda.
Experts say ensuring the new agenda can be met means implementing policies and development projects that take into account that women experience cities in different ways to men.
They face unique challenges, such as gender-based violence and discrimination in access to jobs, education and housing.
"Inequality among women is felt very differently. They have more restrictions to access the labour market, to pensions," said Ibon Uribe, mayor of Galdakao, a town in northern Spain.
"To get more women elected we have to show the effects of such inequality and how inequality affects men and women differently," he said.
Uribe added introducing quotas to ensure women get elected into power was one way to increase their political participation.
Fatma Sahin, mayor of Gaziantep, a Turkish city of 2 million people, said one of her priorities was to ensure more girls go to school and have access to health services.
"We have created social policies that have put women and children at the centre from the cradle to grave," said Sahin, a former cabinet minister.
In Latin America, where some 80 percent of its 600 million people live in cities, a higher number than anywhere else, one key challenge is reaching women and children in slums.
"Improving gender equality means how cities can bring basic services to women," said Raisa Banfield, deputy mayor of Panama City, the capital of Panama.
Reporting by Anastasia Moloney; Editing by Astrid Zweynert.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories