SDG 5 – Leave no women behind
By 2030, all forms of discrimination against women and girls worldwide should be ended, according to SDG 5. However, the involvement of women* is crucial to achieve the goals against poverty and hunger: SDG 1 and SDG 2. Therefore, policies must be designed with women's* empowerment in mind, says Sara Worku, coordinator of the Alliance 2015 in Ethiopia. In an interview with journalist Jan Rübel, she talks about the importance of access and why SDG 5 offers an important space for gender equality.
Is the global community moving forward in terms of women's human rights?
Sara Worku: I don't think that we are moving forward and be able to achieve our goals by 2030, due to different reasons. The multiple crisis, especially Covid-19, affected women’s lives negatively. And due to such crisis, we are even experiencing a regression. During the pandemic, women’s unpaid engagements highly increased just because of looking after the kids. It was a huge burden for the family, especially for the women. In addition, the economic crisis has impacted women differently than men. Not all women have been equally affected; women engaged in informal sectors have been highly affected.
Hence, when Covid happened, it struck them harder?
Yes, the economic crisis contributed to increase violence within the households. The physical, verbal and even the sexual abuse were in rise, especially for the most vulnerable women. In addition to this, due to climate change, conflicts and other crisis, women are more vulnerable to sever food insecurity. For instance, rural woman usually would like to serve food first to her husband and then to her kids and finally, to herself. However, in crisis time, the situation is worse for women as they may not get food to eat at all.
How do we get out of this spiral?
First, the commitment must be fulfilled. Each stakeholder should play their own roles. For instance, the government should strengthen its legal protection to their citizens, especially towards the most vulnerable groups. During crisis, vulnerable groups, especially women, are subjected to violence and food insecurity. Therefore, the government ensure the functionality of protection mechanisms including social protection. The donor should also allocate appropriate budget for gender equality. Increasing awareness raising would also be a way to get out of this trap, such as public awareness raising on gender equality.
Is more money to be invested?
I'm not sure how far the donors are committed to gender equality. However, to achieve gender equality, it is very important to invest more money in this area. Interventions including standalone and mainstreaming programs on gender equality should prioritize and encompass women and girls, especially vulnerable and unreachable women:
... ‘leave no women or girls behind’.
That does not sound very encouraging.
Progresses are seen in some of the SDGs. However, it is important to assess the trade off in our mainstreaming interventions. For instance, program that promote nutrition like home gardening for better diet especially for women and children. The initiative sounds great as it will bring a better diet for the women and children. However, usually home gardening is performed by women, that means we are adding an additional task, while they are already over burdened with other tasks. So, our intervention should be there to support her, not to overburden her.
The solution would be that the husband is doing the home gardening, right?
It could be. The husband needs to be convinced to engage household tasks. If he thinks it is just a womans task, we won’t improve women’s life. Therefore, our intervention should closely understand the trade off and provide a solution. It could be a promotion of labour and time saving technology (for other tasks) or raising awareness to the men and the community in general, so that women can get support from their husbands.
The most important thing is that we should not act only for the sake of promoting gender mainstreaming or just for the sake of counting the number of women in the given intervention. I think it's already outdated. This will not bring a change on gender equality. We must critically think how we can change or transform the gender, and the social norms, to really bring equality.
In Western Europe and there's a discussion about whether there is a kind of flashback right now in the political debates, even with patriarchal patterns. How do you see that? And does that coincide with your experience in in Africa, for example?
Yes, it is coincided with my experience. First, in my country, Ethiopia, due to tradition and culture, the man is dominant in the house. Even the women accept that, especially in the rural area. This is the way they grew up. Of course, when you look at educated women, there is some change or progress, which is good. But it's not only the culture or tradition in the household: the challenge is even seen in the organizations and institutions as well as in the private companies. They usually intend to pay a higher salary to their male staff, and a lower salary to women. Unfortunately, women usually don’t negotiate though they have equal competencies.
It is rooted in stereotypes.
Yes, for instance, construction or metal work are given to the guys. And when a woman comes with appropriate skills, the company asks twice whether she's really capable or not. And the stereotype thinking even applies to men who usually don't involve in cooking or hair salons – even if they have the talent for that. The other important point: women give birth and have to be away for some time for maternity leave, and breastfeeding. The company may not be happy because the manager wants to have a full-time staff. Due to that, they tend to prefer the male staff in their work. When you become like a senior manager, they are not 100% convinced, especially at the beginning time. Maybe after you proved yourself, but at the beginning…
And you have more to prove than men.
Exactly. And when the woman gets the job or is promoted to a higher position, they say: “This is because the gender agenda favours women, it's payback for the female.” So even though you have a capacity, they always say: “Oh, because you are a woman, you will get the job or the position.” This is a wrong perception!
Is it important to define a foreign policy and development policy as feminist?
I would suggest that the foreign policy has to be designed in the lens of women empowerment, looking beyond number counting, because number counting doesn't tell you really the transformation of gender.
Hence, whenever we design, we have to critically see the gender transformation element.
Why is SDG number five so fundamental in your view?
Because it holds several elements, like leadership and decision making – in the other goals, it's more of a sectoral aspects, like access to education or water or access to resources etc which of course very important too.
But SDG 5 gives room for women. The first thing is the access!
What has happened since 2015 concerning gender equality when the SDGs have been formulated?
Some progress is seen. For Ethiopia, the women participation in leadership roles like in the parliament or other high-level positions are increasing. After 2018, 50 percent of cabinet members were women. Now, unfortunately, it declined to 33%. Also, our president is a woman. Having women in the decision making is very critical.
There is also some improvement in the use of modern contraceptives. When women attend to education, they are more likely to use modern contraceptives, for example.
What is your approach to empower women?
Many approaches are leading towards women empowerment. The one I promote strongly is the self-help group approach, an informal women group which consists of 15-20 women. This approach focuses on three solid pillars: Social, economic and political empowerment. SHG approach is based on voluntary involvement of women who form homogenous groups; agree on their own by-laws and receive several practical trainings. Women meet in SHGs usually on weekly basis with the aim to discuss, to share and to save small amount of money. Money is saved in joint accounts and any women can take a loan from the group to establish or expand her business. An essential part of the group´s saving is money allocated for social protection fund, i.e., used in case a child is sick, for school payments, weddings or funerals etc. Women as members of SHGs are becoming empowered and share decision making responsibilities with their husbands. The approach gives an opportunity to unlock their potential. The group creates an opportunity to discuss any social agenda including their challenges or violence happing in their house or in the neighborhood. In addition to this, the women’s leadership skills also improved.
So far, men have dominated politics worldwide. Would you like to take stock? Is it time to let women in, also to achieve better results for civilization and the planet?
Women’s involvement in development and leadership is fundamental. It's a reality. Whenever women involve in things, they are so conscious, determined, and detailed. Women bring a change in many organizations and institutions. And another factor is in terms of corruption. Women are less corrupt – they are less risk takers; the woman is attached to her children, her family and she is less taking a risk which could affect them.