Gender Equality And Sustainable Development In Sierra Leone.

Gender equality is the road. Fulfilling this right is the best chance we have in meeting some of the most pressing challenges of the current time—from the economic crisis and lack of health care to climate change, violence against women, and escalating conflicts.

Women are not only more affected by these problems, but also possess ideas and leadership to solve them. The gender discrimination still holding too many women back, holds our world back too. Women in our communities have the potential to push the world in the right direction for result-driven against the 2030 global project. However, they are still facing a let-down situation from certain male power holders in societies. The current global trajectory requires divergent approaches to address barriers that are affecting the economic growth of low-income countries. Women are designed for the back seats, rather they are needed with equal chances to fill existing gaps that are needed concerted efforts for a positive change. Women are designed to occupy their similar spaces like men, better to give way for them do that society will gain what it supposes to have. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by world leaders in 2015 embody a roadmap for progress that is sustainable and leaves no one behind.

 

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Achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment is integral to each of the 17 goals. Only by ensuring the rights of women and girls across all the goals will we get to justice and inclusion, economies that work for all, and sustaining our shared environment now and for future generation

The inclusion of social norms throughout the proposed SDG5 targets represents a promising point for change and leverage within the new development framework, recognizing the impact on gender equality and development. Social norms are the values, attitudes, and practices that shape behavior, expectations, and ways of living. They are reflected in the formal and informal laws that govern a country as well as community practices. As the only cross-country measure of discriminatory social norms, the OECD Development Centre’s Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) provides valuable evidence of how such norms seriously hinder women’s empowerment and adversely impact a broad range of development outcomes, including migration, employment, and life expectancy. SIGI’s variables look at the discrimination within formal and informal laws, practices, and attitudes and how they shape women’s voice, rights, and decision-making power within their families and societies, and thus, their empowerment pathways. Including a social norms approach within the post-2015 agenda is, as the SIGI’s data demonstrates, among the most effective means therefore to accelerate progress in this critical area.

Economic empowerment of women features strongly under SDG5, reflecting global recognition of its multiplier effect for development: the G20 and the African Union, for example, have also prioritized it in their development agendas for 2015. Economic empowerment entails women’s ability to make informed choices, take advantage of and fully benefit from economic opportunities, and control their income and assets. Today, this remains a distant reality for many women worldwide. Globally, the female share of the labor force hovers around 40%, barely changing over the past two decades. Only 52% of women are active in the labor force and are concentrated in part-time or vulnerable employment. In the Middle East and North Africa region, this falls to 25%. Gender wage gaps remain stubbornly at 20% worldwide, and female entrepreneurship remains low. Only 25% of business owners with employees in OECD economies are women. So, what would the world look like in 2030 if the SDG5 targets focusing on women’s economic empowerment are met, and how can a social norms approach be a catalyst for change?

First, SDG5 calls for reforms to women’s access to economic resources. So, by 2030, women would be empowered economic actors, contributing to the dynamism of their economies.

Today’s reality, however, is far different. The SIGI highlights how the discrimination women face now when it comes to land and property rights as well as financial inclusion is a serious brake on their economic empowerment. Growing evidence shows that tackling the discriminatory social norms that restrict women’s access to productive and economic resources would have significant gains for women as well as their economies. Discrimination against women comes with measurable economic costs: 2015 IMF estimates suggest that gender gaps in the labor market cost 27% of GDP in the Middle East and North Africa, 23% in South Asia, and 15% worldwide. Yet, in around 100 countries covered by the SIGI, women continue to face discrimination in law or practice in accessing the land, property, or opening a bank account: 18% of land titles are owned by women. 107 countries discriminate against daughters and/or widows in terms of inheritance rights either in the legal framework or in practice. Only 8% of women in Albania, like in many other countries, report having a say in their own income, this is serious !

WHAT COMMUNITY ACTION FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT SIERRA LEONE IS DOING TO PROMOTE GENDER EQUALITY?

A strong emphasis on the human rights, including reproductive rights, of individual women and girls underpins all of CASD’s work. Promoting and protecting human rights requires considerable cultural fluency as CASD works in some of the most sensitive and intimate spheres of human existence, including sexuality, gender relations, and population issues. Since 2018, CASD-SL has emphasized the integration of culturally sensitive approaches into its programs. In doing so, it has worked closely with communities and local agents of change, including religious leaders and faith-based organizations.

In Kebbietown Communities of Bo District, progress has been made in expanding opportunities for women and girls to promote gender equality and empowerment of women and girls. To reflect the commitment of the Government in meeting global obligations, legislative reforms in the following critical areas – as required by the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) – have been enacted: Domestic Violence Act 2007, Devolution of Estates Act 2007, Registration of Customary, Marriage and Divorce Act 2009, Child Rights Act 2007 and the Sexual Offences Act 2012. A functional National Committee on Gender-Based Violence comprising community structures such as the husband Schools, the Male Advocate Peer Educators (MAPEs) working on the prevention and response to issues of gender-based violence across the communities. In 2013 the Government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper III “Agenda for Prosperity” (2013-2018) had a standalone pillar that focused on gender equality and women’s empowerment with gender mainstreamed in all the other pillars. 

Nevertheless, gender inequality and denial of women’s rights are still prevalent at all levels in Sierra Leonean society even though women for 50.8 percent of the population. Despite the significant strides made, many women continue to suffer marginalization and discrimination, particularly in the areas of education, employment, political participation, and social justice. Issues of unequal opportunities for boys and girls continue to be exacerbated by factors such as early marriage for girls, teenage pregnancies, and harmful practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).   Gender-based violence perpetrated against women and girls continues to be one of the most prevalent and pervasive problems in post-conflict Sierra Leone.

In Bo District, CASD-SL works to ensure that programs at the community level are positioned within and supported by sustainable community structures. CASD-SL works with the Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs and Purposeful Production International by receiving capacity building, technical and financial assistance to support CASD-SL programs that are designed to support women and girls living in vulnerable and marginalized situations. We work with local non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, and other development agencies ensuring multi-level coordination to help strengthen the implementation of existing legislation pertaining to gender equality. We are working to create partnerships with more organizations working in the same directions of our strategic plan in Sierra Leone and the outside world. 

Current activities also undertaken by CASD-SL include community mobilization/sensitization and demand creation activities for family planning, reproductive health, and fistula services. Awareness-raising on relevant legislation involving gender-based violence, support to access free legal counseling/representation, and access to medical care for the victims and survivors of gender-based violence, girls mentorship, and male engagement, are among the key activities. Addressing harmful practices is also covered by raising awareness on both the potential short and longer-term health consequences, human rights violations of FGM, and the negative impact that early marriage and teenage pregnancy can have on the lives of girls and their families.

By Richmond Kabbah, April 2021.

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