into the local policy agenda
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The Information Centre of the Independent Women’s Forum (ICIWF) is a non-profit organization founded in 1994, networking women’s organizations and now active throughout Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The Centre disseminates information on women’s rights and gender issues, encourages concerted actions among women’s organizations, exchanges information through forums and e-mails with women’s organizations across the CIS, supports women’s grassroots initiatives, and organizes educational projects, all with the aim of promoting less-discriminatory societies, and establishing a strong position for women and their concerns in policy and institutions.
The Centre is using the Habitat Agenda (which calls for the promotion of gender equality in human settlement development) through the Women’s Network for the Habitat Agenda Promotion to foster the mainstreaming of gender issues into urban, municipal and local policy. At national level, the ICIWF draws from its established partnership with a range of government ministries to transfer information between the federal and the local levels, and advocate to the State Duma (parliament) on behalf of grassroots organizations. With its large panel of projects and activities in different locations across Russia and the CIS, ICIWF is demonstrating that gender equity can be incorporated into the wider agenda of sustainability.
With experience, ICIWF has worked out its own approach and methods based on the building of partnerships, sharing experience and information, and cooperation with the relevant local authorities. Women’s safety is an important concern, and experience suggests the issues are best addressed through the mobilization of neighbourhood groups or local communities. Moreover, housing and communal reforms in Russia are based on local groups joining together within a certain territory. However, this culture of dialogue is often lacking. People living in large housing blocks often do not know each other and ‘have no common language’. ICIWF and its member organizations thus put considerable effort into promoting dialogue and the development of social skills among neighbours, and their mobilization into groups through the organization of joint discussions, training and local development projects. They ensure that residents, and first of all women, take an active part in the planning and implementation of these projects.
Once communities within a neighbourhood are better organized and ready to undertake joint action, the next step is to build the partnership between women’s NGOs, neighbourhood communities and the relevant city authorities. This is done through training and seminars involving representatives of the municipal administration, council deputies and the police, as well as neighbourhood and community leaders, women’s NGOs, crisis centres and citizens. For example, in Petrozavodsk since October 2003, the ICIWF has organized a series of seminars and training for the city administration, the local police department and the architecture department on how to improve safety levels in the locality or how to render the living environment more women and children friendly. Participatory skills and methods are put forward as procedures for discussion and decision making, as well as for the control and outcome assessment processes.In parallel, women’s groups and their leaders receive training to help them improve their status and promote women’s agenda into policy discussions at the municipal and regional levels. The Centre also encourages the publication of articles and information in the local press to make the projects and the problems they are aiming to solve better understood by the public. By December 2003 in Petrozavodsk, the head of the women’s group had been invited by the head of the city police department to join the ‘Public Advisers’, and some women members were given the right to observe the safety of their locality with a specific police identification pass. Meanwhile, the general level of safety in Petrozavodsk’s neighbourhoods has improved as people have become more eager to communicate, support each other and participate in crime prevention solutions. The seminars were used to inform joint projects on ‘Local Dialogue’ and ‘Safer Territory’, which also included components for improving local plans and architectural designs according to safety and gender-friendly criteria. According to the figures of the Petrozavodsk Police Department, the number of crimes has significantly decreased in these districts. Domestic violence has also reduced. The partnership between women’s groups and the police contributed to changing behaviours and stereotypes among police staff and citizens, and raised public awareness on gender and safety issues.
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The ICIWF issues a newsletter Vestnik in Russian, downloadable from the internet at http://www.owl.ru/win/women/org001/v21.htm
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