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Local leaders can 'catalyse' change for women  

Local and regional leaders are calling for the national governments and the European Union to support local and regional authorities by investing more in social infrastructure to tackle two major problems in the Mediterranean region: the radicalisation of young people and the position of women.

The two separate draft reports – one written by an Egyptian governor and the other by a member of the council of the Irish capital, Dublin – contain a range of recommendations that will be debated and adopted by the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly (ARLEM) in early 2018, and then passed on to the governments of the 43 countries represented in the assembly and to the decision-making institutions of the European Union.

The two reports share a common emphasis on the potential of local and regional authorities to be "catalysts for change" and on the need for increased national and international support for municipal and regional authorities, for greater attention to education and training, and for improving the position of women. The draft recommendations note particular challenges in rural and disadvantaged urban areas. They would, if adopted, also have effects on cross-cutting policy areas, with, for instance, a call for urban planning – including housing and transport – to pay specific attention to women's concerns, notably safety.

The report on "The role of the sub-national authorities from the Mediterranean region in addressing radicalisation and violent extremism of young people" has been drafted by Mohamed Kamal El Daly, Governor of Giza in Egypt. His report emphasises that "local authorities need to go beyond a one-dimensional approach, which focuses only on security measures". They should, he said, direct their efforts at providing "a variety of places where young people can spend their leisure time" and where they "can express their ideas", with particular attention to vulnerable areas – "such as those border areas", rural and urban marginalised neighbourhoods.

Reflecting a particular stress on education, Governor El Daly's recommendations call for job-creation efforts to be accompanied by educational reform. He also highlights that "efforts to fight extremism among young people need to include the integration of women at all levels", and declares that "grass-roots civil society organisations" should be supported in efforts to "design programmes for dialogue and knowledge exchange with marginalised young people and their families".

The rapporteur on "Women's empowerment in the Mediterranean region" is Mary Freehill, a member of Dublin City Council and a member of the European Committee of the Regions. Her report concludes with nine specific recommendations. Noting that regional and local governments are "on the frontline of identifying and tackling violence and harmful practices against women", the report argues that local and regional leaders are "well placed to roll out public information campaigns" to raise awareness of domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence, "can make significant practical interventions to increase women's participation in local employment" and are "well placed to identify and tackle barriers to women's equal access to land control and ownership and access to finance". At present, however, "poor infrastructure and resources result in poor services and totally inadequate protection for vulnerable women", the report states.

While Ms Freehill's report notes "substantial progress" in the position of women in southern and eastern Mediterranean countries, it points to persistent problems and highlights specific areas in which the region is lagging behind other parts of the world. A below-average percentage of employers are women (6%, compared with a global average of around 24%); the same is true for the percentage of self-employed people who are women (13%, compared to 31%-38% globally). It notes too that violence against women – including sexual and domestic violence – is "endemic", that female genital mutilation is common in Egypt and Mauritania, reports that child marriage is on the increase in rural areas of Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon and remains prevalent in Mauritania, Morocco and Palestine.

Both reports argue municipalities in the Mediterranean region should form international partnerships and share best practice.

The reports were adopted by ARLEM's commission on sustainable development, which has in recent years also drawn up recommendations on other critical issues for the region, such as the impact of climate change, water management, waste management, and the energy transformation. The European Committee of the Regions created ARLEM in 2010 to provide a local and regional perspective on Mediterranean issues, complementing efforts made by the EU and non-EU Mediterranean states in the region to develop more channels and levels of dialogue and cooperation.

The commission meeting, which was held in Brussels on 24 October, were the first ARLEM meetings chaired by Karl-Heinz Lambertz, president of the CoR since July, and by Mohamed Boudra, president of the Moroccan Association of Presidents of the Municipal Councils (AMPCC) and President of the Commune of Al Hoceima.

ARLEM's plenary session will be hosted in Egypt in early 2018 by Governor El Daly of Giza.

Earlier, at a meeting of the ARLEM bureau, Patrick Costello, a head of division in the European External Action Service, provided an EU perspective on developments in Egypt, while Guido De Clercq, executive director of Transparency International Belgium, mapped out recent findings about governance and corruption in the Mediterranean region. Speakers at the debates about the opinions included Professor Ana María Vega Gutiérrez of University of La Rioja, Professor Aicha El Hajjami from Morocco, and a consultant Serena Romano on women's empowerment and – on radicalisation – Emmanuel Cohen-Hadria of the European Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMed) and Werner Prinzjakowitsch, co-chairman of the youth, families and communities working group of the EU's Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN).

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