Women in leadership: Libertad Zavala, representing women in decision making to ensure safer cities in Mexico


"We live in a century in which all people should have the same rights and opportunities; I would like girls to grow up knowing that they can be business owners, presidents, mayors, whatever they want to be and I would ask the community in general, their moms, dads, caregivers to teach them, how it is possible," Libertad Zavala, director of mobility and transportation for the city of Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco.

"When I competed for this position, I was surprised that out of the 20 people who were competing, there were only two women. I was chosen because of my experience, my capacity, my skills and the direction I could give to this agency," said Libertad.

Libertad has faced new responsibilities and challenges. Her leadership is characterized by creating more spaces and opportunities for women. "One of the responsibilities I took on was to involve more women in the decision-making process of defining what the city is like for them and with them. If we analyze the institutions, at the national level, of the offices that oversee city planning, we will notice that they are directed mostly by men of a certain age with certain privileges and for women, it is very difficult for us to reach those decision-making positions. That was one of the reasons why I made the decision to compete and was accompanied by women along the way," said Libertad.


Celsa Calderoni_libertad
Foto: ONUMujeres/Celsa Calderoni

As the head of Guadalajara's Directorate of Mobility and Transportation, Libertad has been able to represent women in decision-making: "I have a unique opportunity to have a voice and vote in many advisory councils where decisions are made that have a positive or negative impact on people's lives. For me it was very surprising to realize that I was making these decisions and I have found this opportunity to be a voice and make decisions in very small spaces where there are few women. That fills my heart," she reiterated.

Women's participation and leadership is a key factor in all sectors and societies. From the political, public and business spheres, the need to count on women's vision is constant, which is why it is so important to guarantee true equality of opportunities and a life free of violence for women and girls.

Since October 2017 to date, UN Women has worked with the local government through the Safe Cities and Public Spaces for Women and Girls Program in the Municipality of Guadalajara.

One of the strategic axes of said program is to incorporate a gender perspective in urban planning. This means considering the different needs of women and men in the planning of cities and public spaces and ensuring greater investment in the safety of women and girls in public infrastructure.  

  Andrea Cházaro, Coordinator of the Safe Cities Program in Mexico, mentioned that "In 2021, in collaboration with the Directorate of Mobility and Transportation headed by Libertad, as well as with other strategic actors and stakeholders at the local level, we will generate impact strategies and provide technical support in the integration of the gender perspective in the planning and management of the territory of the municipality of Guadalajara, giving women a voice at the center of urban planning and guaranteeing their right to the city to achieve a better human experience, appropriation and revitalization of public space, inspiring a sense of community belonging".

Libertad highlights that the city of Guadalajara received a special recognition from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), an institute that evaluates public policy on active mobility issues. One of the determining factors for which the city was awarded this recognition was precisely because of its high participation of women working in public policy.

"Imagine how many women there are who can compete for a position like this in Guadalajara, surely in Jalisco and in the whole country, but then we do not have the confidence to do so and that is a challenge. To be able to build confidence in other women and perhaps it is like an evangelization of feminism, the power is to recognize yourself in other women who are leaders in their sector," said Libertad.

Libertad recognizes the importance of working integrally under a gender perspective and has led efforts to work under this approach in the Directorate of Mobility and Transportation of Guadalajara.

Among her achievements is having a team strengthened mainly by women, recognizing the importance of forming a team committed to the gender perspective agenda. Another is to apply a cross-cutting gender perspective to public policy such as, for example, conducting gender-differentiated studies, such as knowing how many women travel by bicycle and how many stops they make. "We discovered that what women demand the most is more lighting, which is an element that detonates the positive safety perspective."   

Foto: ONUMujeres/CelsaCalderoni

Participation and leadership

"I'm proud of a collaboration we have with the Secretariat for Substantive Equality between Men and Women, which is a state-level instance where we are working on a project called Punto Púrpura, which is a global strategy to implement safe boarding and drop-off points for sites for platform cabs or conventional cabs."   

"These are physical spaces for women to wait for cabs. It is a truck stop dedicated to these sites or these platforms that is accompanied by a territorial strategy and with training for drivers of these cab platforms to sensitize them to gender issues and violence against women."   

Libertad acknowledges that in Guadalajara there are many women occupying public positions and mentions that the key is to believe in the power of women and not let the impostor syndrome limit women who are very capable.   

"I was taught to love the city I live in because it’s a bigger extension of your home and I want to leave a more inclusive, fair, territorial and spatial city in which we can coexist with all means of transportation and that the new things that come to the city have a space while respecting the existing". 



Learn more about UN Women's Safe Cities Program


Part of the special installment Women in Leadership: Drivers of Transformative Change for Human Rights and Gender Equality.