City leaders and the #MeToo movement: A vital conversation

Across the ICLEI Network, city leaders dedicate every day of their lives to creating healthy, safe and sustainable communities.

These leaders, like their constituents, deserve to work in environments that empower and support them as they carry out this vision. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes, city leaders must take a stand themselves and push for safe work environments where they can do the job they were elected to do, free from harassment.

The #MeToo movement has sparked an important conversation worldwide. Councillor Cathy Oke of Melbourne, an active member of our ICLEI Global Executive Committee, has recently contributed to this conversation in a brave and powerful way, highlighting the significant impact felt by women politicians at all levels of government, where power imbalance restricts speaking out against sexual harassment.

At a recent council meeting in Melbourne, Councillor Oke spoke to the fact that safe and empowering work environments are vital in any workplace – especially at the city level, where the leadership should reflect the values and environment they want to see in their communities.

By sharing her experience, Councillor Oke has become an inspiration for other women in city government and across the workforce.

“This isn’t about politics. This is about people,” she stated. “We know that women, in all levels of government have experienced inappropriate behavior towards them in their workplace – what I hope we can do is make a change for ourselves and our colleagues at the local government level that enables our workplace culture to support healthy political operations and human interactions.

I strongly believe the solution isn’t just about what is written in our Councillor protocols.

There is a responsibility on all of us to recognize where power lies and to foster a healthy workplace for everyone, aligned with the values that we all hold as important and that our community would expect.”

In her statement, Councillor Oke also stood up for victims’ right to safe platforms which enable them to come forward: “…any form of sexual harassment within or outside of the workplace should be reported and acted upon. Victims certainly should not see the only option before them is to resign in order to seek justice.

…All of this is of course compounded when workplace norms do not encourage speaking out or the avenues to speak out are flawed. Avenues to act are determined by the law, by workplace structures and policies, and by legal support systems.”

As an organization that condemns any kind of harassment or discrimination, ICLEI stands by Councillor Oke, and other officials and staff around the world, endeavoring to make changes in city government that reflect the values they strive to see reflected in their communities.

See the full statement from Councillor Cathy Oke here.