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Women Mayors from Europe

> Rotterdam to be led by city's first woman mayor

> Florence and other regional centres in Italy elected female m,ayors

> A former refugee from Kenya becomes Mayor of Derry and Strabane

> Three women mayors elected in English regions
> Poland's mayoral elections: Results for women mayors

Rotterdam Mayor Carola Schouten

Rotterdam's municipal council nominated Carola Shouten to be the city's next mayor

NETHERLANDS

Rotterdammers are looking forward to their city’s first woman mayor

July 2024: Earlier this year, Rotterdam’s long-serving mayor and World Mayor prize winner Ahmed Aboutaleb announced that he would step down in October of this year. He said that after consultation with his family, friends and colleagues he had decided to leave politics. He explained that after the 2023 general election, the Netherlands had entered a new era that required a new city leader who could offer fresh ideas and perspectives. Rotterdam’s Municipal Council now believes it has found such a person. Unanimously, it nominated Carola Schouten, a former cabinet minister, for the post of mayor.

 

Carola Schouten's appointment is not yet final. After the recommendation by the municipal council, a background screening will take place. If it does not reveal anything untoward, the King of the Netherlands and the Dutch Minister of the Interior will appoint her for a term of six years. It is anticipated that she will take over from Ahmed Aboutaleb on 10 October 2024 and become the city’s first female mayor.

 

It was by no means a foregone conclusion that the Rotterdam councillors would nominate Carola Schouten. Several nationally highly regarded and locally well-connected politicians vied for the job. They included former Dutch Deputy Prime Minister Hugo de Jonge and the current ombudsman of Rotterdam, Marianne van den Anker. De Jonge congratulated Schouten, saying “I would have liked the job. But the city is in good hands with Carola.”

 

Carola Schouten was Minister of Agriculture between 2017 and 2022 and later Minister for Poverty and Pensions in the fourth government of Mark Rutte. She also served in both cabinets as deputy prime minister on behalf of the centrist Christian Union party.

 

Several city councillors who backed Schouten’s candidature from the start said that she perfectly fitted the profile of Rotterdam, a city she has lived in for 30 years. “We were looking for someone who would be open to anyone and who is accessible, stands with all people and is someone who Rotterdammers recognise as one of their own. Schouten has a talent for bringing people together, including when there are great tensions in our city.”

 

Further reading: Dutch women mayors

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ITALY

Florence and other Italian regional centres elected women mayors

July 2024: Until now, Italy has had the reputation of being a country where women have made little impact on local politics. It is estimated that only between seven and nine per cent of the country's mayors are women. But perhaps this will change. In local elections which took place over two rounds in June 2024, women managed to win mayoral positions in important regional centres.

 

The election result in Florence has attracted the most attention. In the city where Michelangelo grew up, a woman was elected mayor for the first time. Sara Funaro from the centre-left Democratic Party won convincingly against her opponent Eike Schmidt from the right-wing political camp. Although Schmidt, who was director of the Uffizi Gallery from 2015 until the beginning of this year, is known far beyond the city, he was convincingly defeated by Sara Funaro.

 

Women were also successful in other important regional centres. For example in Prato (Tuscany), Perugia (Umbria) and Bergamo (Lombardy) Commentators wrote Italian maschilismo suffered a defeat. Others also spoke of a Meloni effect. In Italy, the Prime Minister (Giorgia Meloni) and the leader of the opposition (Ely Schlein) are both women. FULL LIST & ANALYSIS

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NORTHERN IRELAND

Former Kenyan refugee becomes Northern Ireland’s first black mayor

June 2024: A woman from Kenya has made history in Northern Ireland after taking over as Mayor (1) of Derry and Strabane (2). Lilian Seenoi-Barr is the first black female mayor in the province, which is part of the United Kingdom. The SDLP (3) politician already caused a stir last year when she became the first black female politician elected to public office in Northern Ireland.

 

Lilian Seenoi-Barr came to Derry as a refugee in 2010. She left Kenya because her son's autism was misunderstood in her home country and other parts of Africa. She did not want to put her child in danger, she said at the time. Before fleeing to the UK, she worked in Kenya for organisations that educated women and girls of the Maasai tribe about the dangers of early marriages and female circumcision.

 

In Northern Ireland, Lilian Seenoi-Barr continued to campaign on gender rights issues for Maasai women. She has made a name for herself for her strong criticism of forced marriage and female genital mutilation. She is also the founder and director of the North West Migrants Forum, which supports black and minority ethnic communities who live in Northern Ireland. At the height of the global Black Lives Matter protests in 2021, she, as the district councillor, organised demonstrations and spoke out against systemic racism.

 

In early June, around 300 people gathered in Derry Guildhall to witness Seenoi-Barr being presented with the Mayor's Chain of Office. Among those in attendance were family and friends, a delegation of Kenyan political representatives and members of various ethnic minorities from across the Island of Ireland.

 

At her inauguration, the new mayor described herself as a Maasai woman and a Derry girl. She thanked her fellow citizens for their hospitality since her arrival 14 years ago. "I have witnessed the warmth and kindness of the Derry that I know and have loved with all my heart, through the kindness of strangers and the outpouring of solidarity and support," she said.

 

But, according to Colum Eastwood, the leader of her SDLP party, the newly inaugurated mayor has also had to face a deluge of abuse and death threats from around the world. She has been the target of racism, including from American far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who in 2022 was ordered to pay £1.2bn for falsely claiming the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in America was a hoax. Jones has an audience of more than two million followers on social media platforms. On X, formerly Twitter, he has posted about the new Mayor of Derry and Strabane using language including ‘invaders’, ‘replacement migration’, ‘conquer the west’ and ‘Ireland is in the crosshairs’.

 

Colum Eastwood condemned the racially motivated attacks as attempts by far-right political actors hell-bent on spreading misinformation to fuel their appalling ideology.

 

“These people don’t care about places like Derry and Strabane, they don’t care about the people who live here and have made a home for their families here. The hate at the heart of their politics could not stand more starkly against the compassion that Lilian has shown for the people of Derry, people across this island and those in need even further afield.”

 

“Lilian will be an excellent Mayor precisely because she cares deeply about people regardless of their background, she is fearless in her advocacy and she works every single day to bring communities closer together. We will not be cowed by people like Alex Jones or his band of hate.”

 

(1) Mayors in Northern Ireland fulfil ceremonial functions and serve one-year terms.

 (2) Derry City (Londonderry) and Strabane is a local government district that was created on 1 April 2015 by merging the City of Derry District and Strabane District. It covers most of the northwest of Northern Ireland. The local authority is Derry City and Strabane District Council.

 (3) The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) is a social-democratic and Irish nationalist political party in Northern Ireland.

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GERMANY

A small town in Germany faces up to the consequences of global politics

June 2024: When Russia attacked Ukraine on 24 February 2022, Annekathrin Hoppe had only been Mayor of Schwedt on the German-Polish border for a few months. The town of 34,000 inhabitants had been economically dependent on imports of Russian oil like no other city in Germany. The local PCK refinery, which was and is majority-owned by the Russian oil company Rosneft, supplied almost 95 per cent of Berlin's and Brandenburg’s businesses and consumers with fuels such as petrol, heating oil and aviation fuel. The refinery employed around 1,200 people. In addition, more than 2,000 employees worked for supply companies. In the months following the Russian attack, Germany began to reduce oil imports from Russia and look for alternative sources of supply.

 

In an interview at the time, Annekathrin Hoppe said that she would not have believed that, as mayor of a relatively small town, she would have to deal with the consequences of world politics. “I went to sleep at night with the issue on my mind and woke up with it in the morning,” she said, pointing out that Schwedt without the PCK refinery was unthinkable. “1,200 jobs in Schwedt and the surrounding area depended directly on the refinery, and at least the same number indirectly.”

 

Today, Annekathrin Hoppe is more optimistic. “We mustn't be dependent on oil,” she says. “The transition to new technologies would have to have happened anyway, but now probably a little sooner.” Nevertheless, she is concerned about the immediate future of the PCK refinery. PCK is majority-owned by the Russian state-owned company Rosneft - even though Germany controls Rosneft's shares through a trust administration (Treuhand). Rosneft is expected to withdraw completely from the refinery in sell its shares. But it is still unclear how and when it will happen.

 

However, the mayor believes that the refinery is currently operating well and that preparations for hydrogen production are continuing. The refinery has been running without Russian oil for almost a year and a half now. Russia has been replaced by other oil producers such as Kazakhstan.

 

If uncertainty about the refinery was not enough, the mayor of Schwedt is also worried about job losses at the paper manufacturer Leipa, the town's second-largest employer. The company has announced plans to cut around 100 jobs and close a production line. “On the other hand, Leipa is working on positioning itself for the future with new products,” said Hoppe. For example, the processing of natural and used clothing fibres is to be tested in a new laboratory.

 

The mayor confirmed that despite a shortfall of ten million euros of business tax revenues, the construction of a development centre for start-ups and workshops will go ahead in 2025. Of the costs totalling 18 million euros, Schwedt will have to contribute some 900,000 euros over four years. Subject to subsidies from the European Union and the German federal and Brandenburg state governments, the mayor also pushes for dedicated rail links between the town’s harbour and the ports of Rostock and Szczecin.

 

Further reading: German women mayors

 

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FRANCE

Mayor of Paris condemns hate speech against drag queen selected as Olympic torch bearer

May 2024: The Mayor of Paris has condemned ‘homophobic and transphobic comments’ aimed at drag queen Minima Gesté, who has been selected as an Olympic torchbearer. Anne Hidalgo said in a statement that the City of Paris was proud that a drag queen was carrying the Olympic flame and therefore the values of peace and humanity.

 

In a video on the official City of Paris website, Minima Gesté introduced herself as one of the 11,000 people the French capital chose to carry the Olympic flame. “Ten years ago, it would never have been possible to have a drag queen carry the Olympic flame.” “Visibility remains one of the pillars of acceptance for the LGBT community”, she added.

 

Social media commentators called the video ‘sickening’ and ‘perverse’ and described the French capital as ‘Sodom and Gomorrah 2.0’. Marion Maréchal, the leading candidate of the right-wing Reconquête! list for the forthcoming European elections, criticised Minima Gesté's ‘particularly vulgar, hyper-sexualised’ representations. “I don't think this is a good way to represent France to the world”, he said.

 

But there was also an outpouring of support and kind words for the performer. The Mayor of Paris offered her full support to Minima Gesté. “Paris City Hall will help with any legal action she may take in the face of this digital harassment, particularly relayed by far-right media”.

 

Anne Hidalgo has also reported to the Paris Public Prosecutor comments that she considered to constitute the offence of homophobic or transphobic public insult potentially.

Further reading: French women mayors

 

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BRITAIN

More women mayors in charge of English metro regions

May 2024: Following local and regional elections held on 2 May 2024, the number of women mayors in charge of England’s eleven metro regions has trebled from one to three. In the North East, Kim McGuinness replaced the mayor of the North of Tyne region*, while in the East Midlands, Claire Ward became the new region’s first elected mayor. Both women are members of the Labour Party.

 

Claire Ward, who was a British Member of Parliament (MP), from 19997 to 2010, won a decisive victory over her Conservative opponent Bed Bradley, who is the current Member of Parliament for Mansfield (East Midlands). Speaking to journalists about her new position as mayor, Ms Ward said: “We know the East Midlands authority is very new, so there is a bit of work to do on that to make sure we have got the right people in place to help us to be able to deliver that change I’ve talked about and which people have elected me to do.” The new mayor was first elected as MP for Watford at 24 in 1997 and moved to Nottinghamshire after losing her seat in 2010. She became a non-executive director of Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in 2013 and was appointed chairwoman in October 2021.

 

Kim McGuinness, the newly elected Mayor of the North East metro region, won with 41 per cent of the vote with independent candidate Jamie Driscoll, a former Labour mayor, coming in second with 28 per cent of the vote. Mr Driscoll was previously the North of Tyne Mayor and was a member of the Labour Party, but left the party in 2023 after he was controversially barred from Labour’s selection process for their North East Mayoral candidate. As part of creating the North East Mayor role, the North of Tyne Mayor has been abolished.

 

During her election campaign, Kim McGuinness stated her priorities as ‘safe, reliable, affordable public transport’, ‘getting our buses back under public control’, and ‘ending child poverty’. She grew up in Newcastle and worked in finance, university education and environmental charities before entering politics.

 

In the West Yorkshire metro region, incumbent mayor Tracy Brabin was convincingly re-elected to a second term. She secured slightly more than half of the votes cast, with her nearest opponent receiving just 15 per cent of the vote. After announcing her win, she said: "I'm very humbled the public have put their faith in me for another four years." Ms Brabin pledged her new term in office would be about investing in mass transport and community facilities.

 

Voter turnout in all three elections was abysmally low. In West Yorkshire, only 32 per cent of registered voters bothered to cast their votes, while the figures for the East Midlands and the North East metro regions were 28 per cent and 31 per cent respectively.

 

* The enlarged North East combined Mayoral Authority was announced on 28 December 2022 and will be fully operational following the May 2024 local elections. It replaces the North East Combined Authority.

 

Further reading: British women mayors

 

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POLAND

Poland’s mayoral elections: Elected and defeated women mayors

April 2024: Women mayors performed well in Poland’s two-round local elections which took place on 7 and 21 April 2024. In the country’s eleven largest cities with female mayors, only three incumbents suffered second-round defeats. In Zabrze (Region of Slaskie), Agnieszka Rupniewska replaced Malgorzata Manka-Szulik, who had been mayor since 2006. Female mayors were also defeated in Jastrzebie-Zdroj and Belchatow.

 

In Gdansk, Aleksandra Dulkiewicz was re-elected in the first round of voting while in Lodz Hanna Zdanowska, who has been mayor since 2010, won more than 60 per cent of the second-round vote. Other cities where incumbent female mayors were successful include Slupsk (Region of Pomorskie), Ostrow Wielkopolski (Region of Wielkopolskie), Kedzierzyn-Kozle (Region of Opolskie) and Swidnica (Region of Dolnoslaskie).

 

In Kielce, the capital of the Świętokrzyskie province, Agata Wojda won a historic victory. She will be the city’s first female mayor after winning 58 per cent of second-round votes cast. She served as a city councillor from 2008 to 2023. From 2021 to 2023, she was deputy mayor of the city.

 

Results of Poland’s April 2024 mayoral elections

Elected or re-elected woman mayors

 

City of Lodz (Region of Lodzkie)

Popl: 696,000

Hanna Zdanowska, Mayor since December 2010, was re-elected on 21 April with 61% of second-round votes.

 

City of Gdansk (Region of Pomorskie)

Popl: 486,000

Aleksandra Dulkiewicz, Mayor since 2019, was re-elected on 7 April with 62% of first-round votes.

 

City of Kielce (Region of Świętokrzyskie)

Popl: 192,500

Agata Wojda was newly elected on 21 April with 57% of second-round votes.

 

City of Zabrze (Region of Slaskie)

Popl: 155,000

Agnieszka Rupniewska was newly elected in the second round of voting on 21 April. She grew up in Zabrze and later became a lawyer. She worked in the energy and waste management industries as well as for a charitable organisation. In the election, she was supported by the centrist Civic Coalition and the New Left.

 

City of Slupsk (Region of Pomorskie)

Popl: 86,000

Krystyna Danilecka-Wojewodzka, Mayor since 2018, was re-elected on 21 April with 63% of second-round votes.

 

City of Ostrow Wielkopolski (Region of Wielkopolskie)

Popl: 69,700

Beata Klimek, Mayor since December 2014, was re-elected on 21 April in the second round of voting.

 

City of Kedzierzyn-Kozle (Region of Opolskie)

Popl: 55,200

Sabina Nowosielska, Mayor since December 2014, was re-elected on 21 April with 54% of second-round votes. She failed to win in the first round by less than one percentage point.

 

City of Swidnica (Region of Dolnoslaskie)

Popl: 53,400

Beata Moskal-Slaniewska, Mayor since December 2014, was re-elected on 21 April with 56% of second-round votes. She ran with the support of the New Left.

 

City of Piekary Slaskie (Region of Śląskie)

Popl: 52,100 (National rank 82)

Slawa Uminska-Kajdan, Mayor since December 2014, was re-elected on 21 April with 52% of second-round votes.

 

City of Kolobrzeg (Region of Zachodniopomorskie)

Popl: 43,600

Anna Mleczkowska, Mayor since November 2018, was re-elected on 7 April with 65% of first-round votes. Her two opponents both received less than 20% of votes cast.

 

Not re-elected women mayors

City of Zabrze (Region of Slaskie)

Popl: 155,000

Malgorzata Manka-Szulik, Mayor since December 2006, was not re-elected.

 

City of Jastrzebie-Zdroj (Region of Slaskie)

Popl: 83,000

Anna Hetman, Mayor since 2014, was not re-elected.

 

City of Belchatow (Region of Łódzkie)

Popl: 52,800

Mariola Czechowska, Mayor since December 2014, was not re-elected.

 

Further reading: Polish women mayors

 

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POLAND

Gdańsk mayor Aleksandra Dulkiewicz resoundingly re-elected to second term

April 2024: Aleksandra Dulkiewicz, Mayor of the Baltic City of Gdańsk, was resoundingly re-elected in Polish local elections held on 7 April 2024. With more than 62 per cent of voters supporting her, she will not have to face a run-off election. Her nearest rival, Tomasz Rakowski, received just over 12 per cent of votes cast. All other mayoral candidates in Gdańsk failed to gain double-digit support.

 

After the first exit polls were announced, Aleksandra Dulkiewicz told enthusiastic supporters the results showed that her administration had passed the test of good local government. “During the campaign, we often heard we lack emotion. But I dream of Gdańsk as a normal, ordinary city without fireworks. I don't need fireworks. I prefer a city where everyone lives well and I believe that during my first term, we were able to work towards such a city. The results seem to show that the people of Gdańsk agree.”

 

Aleksandra Dulkiewicz has been mayor of Gdańsk since 2019. She is a member of the association Wszystko dla Gdańska (Everything for Gdańsk), which was founded by her assassinated predecessor Paweł Adamowicz. In the elections, she ran with the support of the centrist Civic Coalition (PO) party OF Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

 

A clearly disappointed runner-up, Tomasz Rakowski, from the right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) congratulated the re-elected mayor and admitted that his party had probably reached a glass ceiling in liberal Gdańsk.

 

While in most Polish towns and cities, none of the leading candidates received the absolute majority of 50 per cent plus necessary to win outright – and thus will have to compete in the run-off election on 21 April - several women won in the first round.

 

Voters in Swinoujscie elected Joanna Agatowska as their mayor. The new mayor, a member of the New Left party, won almost 54 per cent of votes cast. In Piekary Slaskie, Sława Umińska-Kajdan won a second term, while in Kolobrzeg the incumbent mayor Anna Mieczkowska was also re-elected to a second term. Provisional results show that she was able to substantially increase her support compared to five years ago.

 

In Wroclaw, Poland’s fourth-largest city, Izabela Bodnar, a member of the centre-right Third Way party, came a close second to the incumbent mayor Jacka Sutryka. She received 31.7 per cent of the votes cast, with Mayor Sutryka on 33.4 per cent.

 

Across Poland, according to initial results, the national rightwing opposition party PiS has emerged from the local elections in Poland as the strongest force with 33.7 of the vote. The liberal-centrist Civic Coalition, led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk, came second with 31.9 per cent. It achieved a major success in the capital Warsaw. The incumbent mayor Rafal Trzaskowski was confirmed in office in the first round of voting with almost 60 per cent of the vote. "Here is the hero of today," Prime Minister Tusk said of Trzaskowski on election night. The 52-year-old Trzaskowski was only narrowly defeated by incumbent Andrzej Duda in the 2020 presidential election. He has ambitions to run again in next year's presidential election.

 

Further reading: Polish women mayors

 

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