- networking for gender equality in European cities

Foundation. In 1997, Milena was established upon the initiative of the City of Vienna as a forerunner network to what is now FemCities. The network at the time extended across cities in Central and Eastern Europe, enabling the Department for Women’s Issues in Vienna to cooperate with institutions and organisations in neighbouring regions and cities in Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. The purpose was to promote communication between city administrations, experts from universities and NGOs, as well as businesses on women’s and gender issues and good practice models. Partners were to be supported in building up and institutionalising structures relevant to women’s issues and subsequently in implementing EU directives at community level as needed. Thus, in 2002 the network ran the project “Preparing the Ground“, supporting women in Bratislava in establishing a contact office for women at the city administration.

Milena has become FemCities. Meanwhile, in 2005 all of the above mentioned countries became EU members themselves. At that time the network’s objectives and structures were revised and what was formerly Milena now became the city network FemCities. The Department for Women’s Issues at the Vienna City Administration is still responsible for its coordination but its range of operation and cooperation has been expanded to include the entire EU and associated countries in Europe. The network is to continue supporting the exchange of best practice models in the field of local and regional women’s policies while strengthening lobbying activities for women’s concerns in Europe.

The potential of city networking. The Department for Women’s Issues, in creating FemCities, has provided a forum for communicating good practice models, as well as strategies for the implementation of laws and the installation of administrative structures to promote women and gender equality. Of course, cities must continue to implement new EU developments with respect to gender equality, but FemCities is also concerned with what city administrations themselves can do to promote women and gender equality. Relevant administrations (on gender equality/equal opportunities/women) in European cities and municipalities are invited to join the network. They as well as representatives from the academia, the economy and NGOs are welcome to join the network's activities and to organise and participate in FemCities events. In the FemCities network meeting at the 2011 Basel conference the decision was taken to open the network for associate partners other than administrative units of cities and municipalities such as NGOs and administrative units of provinces, federal states or cantons.

New impetus – back to the roots. From June 2011 to December 2016 the project “FemCities Danube Region” is carried out within the framework of the “EU Strategy for the Danube Region”. The impetus of the “EU Strategy for the Danube Region” will be used to revive networking and cooperation activities in the area of gender equality and local women’s policies in Central and Eastern Europe – where the network took its first steps – and to extend contacts in the Danube Region.