SDGS: Africa can do more in raising the status of women
Ruth Butaumocho African Agenda
World leaders are meeting in New York this week to take part in the much-anticipated annual United Nations General Assembly.
The high-level convention being attended by most global leaders began on Tuesday following two weeks of meetings, is the most widely watched event in the United Nations’ annual calendar.
It provides world leaders and heads of state the opportunity to lay out their priorities for the coming year, urge cooperation on pressing issues, and often, call out their adversaries.
The platform affords all leaders not only to introspect and assess the state of the world, but also to commit and act for the common good in areas of deficiency and need.
“It is a one-of-a-kind moment each year for leaders from every corner of the globe to not only assess the state of the world but to act for the common good,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week in a statement released to the media.
A lot of issues, among them the effects of climate change, global recession and global instability owing to conflict in various regions across the world are likely to come under discussion.
This year’s general gebate is being held under the theme, “Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity: Accelerating action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals towards peace, prosperity, progress and sustainability for all”.
Signed in 2015, the 17 SDGS built on the eight millennium development goals are meant to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women.
They are also aimed at reducing child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/ AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for development.
Eight years after their launch, a review on progress on the SDGS on all the indicators show that Africa and the rest of the world would need to do more to ensure that it remains on track of all the requirements needed to attain the SDGS.
According to a report done by the UNWOMEN titled Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals: The gender snapshot 2022, Covid-19 that resulted in disruption of learning activities in schools and the backlash against women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights are some of the reasons which put Africa off track of the goals it had put in place towards attainment of the SDGS.
For instance, under SDG 4 that seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all, school closures during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted access to learning for most children, negatively impacting on education outcomes in 2020 when compared to 2019.
The disruption also resulted in a decline in pass rates from examinations written during the period, while some pupils dropped out of school after they relocated, lost their parents and simply could no longer afford paying fees.
On the other side, violence against women continues to be cause for concern, a surge in outbreak of various diseases, the effects of climate change and humanitarian crises have further increased risks of violence, especially for the most vulnerable women and girls; and women feel more unsafe than they did before the pandemic.
In architectural governance , women’s representation in positions of power and decision-making remains below parity despite concerted efforts by civil society and various sectors to increase the number of women in leadership.
Naturally, all the structural inequalities on the ground, are likely to further compound the problems of women, and the attainment of the SDGS, whose achievement hinges on both sexes commitment to attain the goals.
However, standing at midpoint towards the deadline, all hope is not lost, and much can be achieved within the remaining years once Governments make more investments and systemic change in the required areas.
The attainment or lack of thereof of the goals, will entirely depend on a number of fundamentals, with climate change being one of them.
With the effects of climate change threatening to upend all progress made across and bringing more harm than ever witnessed in form of extreme heat, natural disasters and droughts, a lot of planning and strategies should be done around women and youths so that they can build resilience, come up with strategies and best be prepared to deal with any eventualities.
Sometimes, women also face systematic forms of violence that often escalates during periods of instability such as floods and natural disasters, where they are often vulnerable after losing their possessions and are often displaced.
Following the devastating effects of Cyclone Idai in 2019 that hit Mozambique, some parts of Malawi and Zimbabwe, resulting in death and collapse of infrastructure, hundreds of women and girls had to walk for long distances to fetch water, while the Government and other partners were busy restoring services and other facilities.
The situation can become unbearable and sometimes fatal for women and children, when they fail to swim to safety in the event of strong torrential rains and other natural calamities because of their physique and their level of resilience in such situations.
Already previous severe droughts experienced across some parts of Africa and beyond in the last few years, has revealed that women’s roles as primary caregivers and providers of food and fuel make them more vulnerable when flooding and droughts occur.
Beyond providing for their families, when droughts and temperatures dry up sources of water, women have to travel longer distances to fetch water for household use.
Faced with a daunting future owing to the environmental challenges, it becomes critical to include women and the youth in the climate change discourse, whose results will filter in most of the SDGS goals that Africa is currently seized with.
Attainment of food security is one area where women have proved to be effective and can be entrusted to spearhead, support and systematically manage farming projects and agriculture- related innovations.
Although they might not hold powerful leadership positions in their communities or in government, women have historically developed knowledge and skills related to food preservation, natural resources management and even water harvesting methods.
It will also be prudent if Governments can invest in training them on various farming courses because women provide the bulk of labour in African agriculture, according to the World Bank reports and from other like-minded institutions.
Such a wealth of resource should not be taken lightly and would need to be guarded jealously, through incentivising their participation by improving on land tenure issues to enable the own land and also benefit from an avalanche of trainings.
Existing structural inequalities in agriculture could be lessened if financial institutions pay attention to financial needs of women by introducing packages that are amenable to women’s capacities.
Although a good percentage of women may not have collateral security to allow them to borrow money from banks, financial institutions and micro-finance companies can still come up,with tailor-made financial packages where women can borrow money with modest rates, that are not usury in nature.
Micro finance remains a crucial vehicle with access to finance and is regarded one of the key underpins of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
In the absence of sustained support from Governments and reluctance by banks to lend money to women, women have benefited immensely from micro-finance institution, with these institutions even attesting that women in emerging economies are generally more trustworthy and have greater social impact, than men.
Women have been shown to be less likely to default and are also more likely to disburse their borrowings wisely.
Borrowings tend to be used productively in micro-enterprises, rather than for consumption.
This is beneficial to borrowers and their households too, as it means lending is done on a sustainable basis, preventing borrowers from falling into a vicious circle of indebtedness.
In addition, women should also have access to technology as Governments attempt to realign SDGS goals with the aspirations and expectations of the people.
By their nature, SDGS are a gender-centric and their implementation will require a gender-responsive to ensure that no one is left behind towards the attainment of the goals.
Ongoing discussions at the UN , should amplify the role that women play across the globe, and come up with measures to amplify their participation instead of muting their efforts, if governments are indeed serious about the attainment of SDGS in 2030.