The time has come to evaluate our achievements during the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) era of 2000 to 2015, and to look forward to the adoption of new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will guide global development priorities for the next 15 years. While there have been considerable improvements across the eight dimensions of the MDGs, the gains have been uneven, particularly with regards to poverty alleviation, education and gender equality.
Considerable effort has been dedicated to the pursuit of MDG 3, which aimed to: “Promote gender equality and empower women,” in concert with the other MDGs, to bolster women’s participation in business, governance, and other areas of society. Indeed, African countries have seen an upward trend in the participation of women in parliament, as shown in Rwanda and Senegal, and great strides have been made to improve gender parity in primary education. Despite more visible female leadership in public office, in education and in business, the gender gap is stillconsiderable.
Daily acts of horrendous violence against women remind us of the gross inequalities between men and women across Africa. It has been more than 500 days since more than 270 schoolgirls were abducted in Northeast Nigeria, and there is no concrete evidence to show that those girls have been recovered from the kidnappers. Rape is still being used as a weapon of war, even in places like Syria and South Sudan. Some traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation and under-age girl-child marriage, are still common, as over half of girls in Niger and Mali aged 15-19 years are married. Meanwhile, across the continent, hundreds of women die every day while giving birth, due to limited access to healthcare.
So how do we move toward a safer, more equal world for all women and girls? First, we must take into account the socio-cultural and policy barriers to gender equality, and elevate these challenges to an international stage. The African Union is playing its part by declaring 2015 the year of Women’s Empowerment. As part of this, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Madam Dlamini Zuma, in collaboration with Angelina Jolie, convened a panel on Sexual Violence during the June 2015 African Union Summit in South Africa. The objectives of this panel were to promote zero tolerance for sexual violence and to fight against impunity. Furthermore, the African Union will look to create a strong link between the Agenda 2063 (Africa We Want) and the SDGs. Inclusive growth and sustainable development top the list of Agenda 2063 priorities, but they cannot be achieved unless we address the issue of women’s economic empowerment.
Second, we must leverage new information and communications technologies (ICTs) to empower women and girls, and better diagnose the problems we face. ICTs have fueled a “data revolution” for sustainable development, allowing us to capture more accurate and comprehensive data to improve policies and investments. With an estimated seven billion mobile subscriptions worldwide, it has also become easier to reach almost every household on earth with important information to influence their lifestyle and their choices. The pursuit of the SDGs will no longer stay the purview of the polity or parliaments but is in all of our hands. We must use our access to technology as a tool to shape our common journey.
During the new era of the SDGs, the global challenges we face are complex, interconnected and ever-shifting. The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Thematic Group on Social Inclusion, Gender Equality and Human Rights — which I co-chair — has been working on several SDGs indicators, as well as developing SDG-related solutions initiatives and a global-accountability framework. It is our intention to support the pursuit of SDG 5, to “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls,” working in partnership with governments, academics, the private sector and civil society, with full participation of both men and women.
We have seen how the economy and livelihoods can improve for everyone when women are given the power to contribute. We will see in the years to come what we can achieve if women have the chance to raise their voice, maximize their potential, and build our world.