Ideas & Debate

Policy shift needed to pull down more gender barriers

Samia Suluhu.

Samia Suluhu was sworn in as Tanzania's sixth president on March 19, 2021. She becomes the country's first female President. PHOTO | FILE


  • It has been said that the shortest distance between two points is partnership.
  • The world is waking up to a new dispensation that has philanthropy, development partners and business leaders embracing innovative collaborations.

It is impossible to ignore the negative impact of gender norms and inequality on the attainment of UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets. Progressive development will need to be defined by a shift in fiscal and policy agenda that aims to tackle gender bias, restrictive norms and the barriers that impede progress.

This need is more apparent in low- and middle-income countries in the global south.

It has been said that the shortest distance between two points is partnership. The world is waking up to a new dispensation that has philanthropy, development partners and business leaders embracing innovative collaborations.

The list of initiatives is growing: Co-Impact’s Gender Fund, the $300 million Equality Fund, the Foreign Commonwealth Development Office’s £26 million Africa-led movement to end FGM with programme hubs in Kenya and Senegal, the European Union and the United Nations’ €500 million Spotlight Initiative, the African Union Fund for African Women (FAW), Global Fund and Fondation CHANEL’s new $1.5 million partnership to advance women’s health in Western and Central Africa.

Gross government debt has been increasing since 2010. The African Development Bank’s flagship report — African Economic Outlook 2021 — shows that governments do not have the required financial capacity to respond to the pandemic and have to rely on debt instruments. A collective effort can help move the needle towards prosperity.

More than ever, countries across the world are pivoting under Covid-19 realities to address the glaring inequalities and systemic anomalies across critical sectors: health, education and economic opportunity.

In most countries, these sectors constitute a large part of the national infrastructure, workforce, budget and political priorities. Co-impact recognises this opportunity, and through global south-rooted programmes, the organisation aims to galvanise a global collaborative for systems change.

The world is waking up to women in leadership and intentionally celebrating the progress of women movements and the notable achievements of women in development and the private sector space. The platforms to galvanise for change are numerous. The commemoration of women’s international day on March 8, convening the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Actio, and The Gender Action Coalition, where Kenya co-leads the Gender-Based Violence Action Coalition with the UK and Uruguay.

The 2021 Brookings report indicates that ‘women are driving Africa’s transformation and contributing to a global reset’. To accelerate this momentum, restrictive gender norms that compound inequality and exclusion must be shifted to promote human rights for all. Development programmes must address barriers to digital and financial inclusion and deep-rooted attitudes about women’s role in society.

Diversity in leadership matters and signals gender equity, which has positive implications on development and the economic outlook. Women and girls, especially those in the global south, have been gravely impacted by the pandemic. There is a solution to this problem: Promoting, protecting and fulfilling the ambition of gender-transformative programmes integrated across multi-sector government policy and interventions.

It is essential that development efforts bake-in sustainability approaches designed through a gender transformative lens, which requires the marshalling of community-informed and community-driven initiatives to define the development agenda. This can be achieved by leveraging insights, expertise and resources of local stakeholders (programme beneficiaries), civil society and the private sector.

Governments in the global south must harness evidence and knowledge from the field across social stratifiers — class, wealth, income, race, education, disability, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, occupation, status, or derived power – and other markers of exclusion.

Every time one or two of these layers is added, the intervention becomes more complex. Policy and development programmes must address these stratifiers contextually for equitable access and improved outcomes in health, education and economic opportunity.

Governments, philanthropy, development partners and business leaders should leverage data equity to make good decisions.

The best ideas that will alleviate systemic challenges require evidence to spur action and ensure systems provide the most fundamental service in health, education, and economic opportunity, resulting in improved outcomes for millions of women, men, and children.

Implementing multi-sector interventions is a cost-effective approach to development that employs transdisciplinary interventions and resources towards a specific goal. As African nations prepare 2021/22 fiscal budgets and revise policies to achieve systemic change at scale, a structured approach to eliciting critical stakeholder insights into complex multi-sectoral issues will be necessary.

Universally, the emerging call to action is that a strong Covid-19 recovery must address gender discrimination and exclusion to tackle the intrinsic systemic challenges.

Ms Olende is a social entrepreneur based in Kenya