From Julius Caesar to the Pope, Rome’s history is full of powerful men. Now the Italian capital has elected its first ever female mayor: Virginia Raggi, of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, won 67% of the city’s vote, pledging to crack down on corruption and take on the Catholic Church.

Raggi’s victory is not only ground-breaking for Rome, it also represents a significant leap forward for women in the traditionally male-dominated field of local politics. Fewer than 5% of the world’s mayors are female, and women make up an average of just 20% of local councillors.

While female mayors may be few and far between, here are some shining examples of women who are leading their cities in innovative ways and making them better places to live.

Naomi Koshi, Otsu, Japan

In 2012, Naomi Koshi became the youngest woman to be elected mayor of a Japanese city.

Just 1% of Japan’s mayors are women, and only 11% of national parliamentarians and 7% of corporate executives are women. These figures may come as no surprise when you consider that 60% of Japanese women leave the workforce after having their first child.

Since becoming Otsu’s mayor in 2012, Naomi Koshi has introduced a series of practical measures aimed at helping women stay in the workforce, including improving access to childcare and changing men’s attitudes to taking parental leave.

Koshi, a member of the 2015 intake of World Economic Forum Young Global Leaders, says that she is usually the only woman in the room during most meetings, but she hopes that by changing policy at a local level she will help change the makeup of Japan’s government and boardrooms.

“I would like to do my part in making my city the best place for men and women to raise a family while working. A change in Otsu will act to further strengthen the Japanese voices that are pushing for gender equality nationwide.”

Tri Rismaharini, Surabaya, Indonesia

Tri Rismaharini has been successfully transforming Indonesia’s second-largest city into a more educated and sustainable place, earning her a place on Forb­­es Indonesia’s list of the 10 most inspiring women in 2014.

Known affectionately as “Mother Risma” because of the way she looks after the city of Surubaya, Rismaharini introduced free education for poor communities and raised the city’s education budget by 36%.

As the former head of the Sanitation and Parks Office and Planning Agency, she also made creating and improving the city’s green spaces a priority. Under her stewardship, Surabaya won the ASEAN Environmentally Sustainable City Award 2012 and the Adipura Kencana, one of Indonesia’s highest environmental awards.

Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, Warsaw, Poland

Back in 2006, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz became Warsaw's first female mayor. And it seems the citizens of Warsaw are keen to keep her in charge of their city: in 2014 they elected her to an unprecedented third term.

Gronkiewicz-Waltz went into politics following a career in banking and is a longstanding supporter of diversity, backing gay rights and introducing programmes to help foreign residents to integrate.

She is also known for speaking out for environmental issues and has attacked the Polish government’s opposition to European clean-energy goals.

Gronkiewicz-Waltz is also determined to improve the city’s economy. She launched the Innovation in Warsaw 2020 programme, which encourages entrepreneurship and R&D and has helped bring Google to Warsaw.

Celia Wade-Brown, Wellington, New Zealand
Celia Wade-Brown famously cycled to the airport to meet Hillary Clinton on her visit to New Zealand in 2010.

Dubbed New Zealand’s poster girl for cycling, the Wellington mayor has tripled the city’s cycling budget and is working to help make the city safer for cyclists and pedestrians as well as more environmentally friendly.

She is also working to boost economic development in Wellington. Future projects include creating a high-tech precinct and a runway extension for the international airport that would connect the city with commercial hubs in Asia and North America.

Giusi Nicolini, Lampedusa, Italy
Elected mayor of the southern Italian island of Lampedusa in 2012, Giusi Nicolini is a passionate human rights advocate. She has persistently called on European leaders to do more to help migrants heading to the continent, many of whom arrive in Lampedusa on boats from North Africa.

Her commitment to human rights has earned her numerous awards, including the recent 36th Peace Prize of Anue (United Nations Association of Spain).

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