Posted on March 23, 2018
Comments Off on Working Toward Gender Equality in Africa
…Sustainable Development Goals and ACT
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were birthed in 2012 at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro. They were set as universal goals to meet the urgent environmental, political and economic challenges facing our world. The seventeen (17) SDGs replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which started a global effort in 2000 to tackle the indignity of poverty. If all seventeen SDGs are met then significant progress would have been made toward increasing the quality of life and opportunities for billions of people around the globe. Further information about the SDGs can be found on the UN website.
How do the SDGs impact on the work ACT is doing in Africa?
SDGs 1 to 4 address issues of poverty eradication, hunger eradication, good health and education, respectively and SDG 6 addresses the issue of clean water and sanitation. These five SDGs fit with the primary objective of ACT to alleviate poverty and hunger through education, health and sanitation in Africa among some of the poorest people groups, namely orphans, disadvantaged children and widows.
Although the other twelve SDGs are also relevant to the objectives of ACT to lesser or greater extent, perhaps none of them is as critical to how ACT works in Africa as SDG 5.
SDG 5 is about achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. It is a call for an end to all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking, sexual and other types of exploitation. No nation on earth can develop sustainably to its full potential if it falls behind on SDG 5, even if it achieves all the other SDGs. Gender equality is a prerequisite for 21st century growth and development.
Our work in Africa cuts across gender – we work with men and women, boys and girls – but it is our work with women and girls that is perhaps most crucial. Many African communities are still plagued by scourges such as limiting education of girls, child marriage, sexual harassment and female genital mutilation, all of which create structural barriers that prevent women and girls from reaching their potential. This only serves as a detriment to the wider community. All across the globe we have seen that where women and girls are given the same opportunities as men and boys, then genuine progress can be made. Africa therefore needs to change.
For this reason ACT has developed the Ulemu Project which we are carrying out currently in Malawi. It is absurd that a shocking percentage of children can be hindered from pursuing their education because of menstruation – as it applies to girls. One in every five girls in Malawi fail to complete secondary school and the number dropping out in primary school is even higher and it is mainly related to menstruation. A staggering 50 percent of all girls are married or bearing children by the age of 18. Ulemu project aims to tackle this issue.
ACT has been working with our Malawian partners who are on the ground, based in the communities. Together we have developed a curriculum that teaches young girls about menstruation, as well as sanitation and hygiene. They are learning that there is nothing unnatural or wrong about their menstrual cycle or being a girl.
The Ulemu Project also works with women “Mother groups” in the communities, counselling them on the importance of teaching the girl child about safe practices and limiting the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS. We also equip the women with tailoring tools and sewing machines and train them to sew re-useable menstrual pads and panties which are distributed to girls of menstrual age in primary and secondary school. Equipped with the skills and the sewing tools they are now also able to manufacture clothes and items that they sell for badly needed income. Ultimately, women and girls are benefiting from this programme and are developing healthier lifestyles while ensuring that girls are receiving their education without fear of affordability or exclusion based on gender.
The SDGs should challenge us and cause us to question how much real progress the world has made as we draw to the close of the second decade of the 21st century. The issue of gender equality has come to the fore, Africa and all the world will have to change. Nothing will remain the same again and the world can only benefit from this.
If you would like to find out more about the Ulemu Project and wish to support the project please click here.