Are Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Attainable?
Just how pervasive is gender inequality across sub-Saharan Africa? This topic is particularly timely today, March 8, designated International Women’s Day by the United Nations. Despite the valiant efforts of many government officials, international and local non-governmental organizations and women’s advocates, in many areas of sub-Saharan Africa, women do not yet enjoy equal status with men, and full women’s empowerment is still a dream. In sub-Saharan Africa, where the Millennium Cities Initiative works, gender inequality is often quite prevalent, with many women remaining in perpetual poverty.
MCI was established to help urban residents across sub-Saharan Africa achieve all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including MDG 3, aimed at furthering gender equality and women’s empowerment. Our gender needs assessments have allowed us to explore the issue further, to better understand the situation and propose recommendations to help promote gender equality in the Millennium Cities in which we work.
Our most recent gender needs assessment in Louga, Senegal, found that gender inequality remains a significant concern. In 2006 only 24 percent of women were literate, compared with 45 percent of men. While primary school attendance rates among girls are increasing, by the time they reach middle school, many drop out – often due to early marriage, lack of resources and acceding to strong cultural stereotypes. Only 25 percent of women are employed in the formal sector, in comparison with 74 percent of men, as indicated by the 2002 census. And despite Islamic Law stating that “women shall be entitled to their share,” women’s inheritance and property rights remain a concern. Perhaps most disturbingly, violence against women appears to be widespread, with gender-based violence often considered socially acceptable. No counseling centers or shelters for victims of domestic violence exist in the city, and as a result, women have few support mechanisms.
MCI’s research has allowed us determine what can be done to help Louga begin to take important, necessary steps to achieve this cross-cutting Millennium Development Goal. We found that for an annual expenditure of under $3 per capita between 2010 and 2015, the city of Louga can, in fact, attain MDG 3 by 2015. We also recommend a number of interventions anchored in the recommendations of the UN Millennium Project Task Force on Education and Gender Equality, such as creating awareness campaigns regarding reproductive and sexual rights; addressing property/inheritance rights and gender-based violence; conducting vocational training for women; reinforcing existing microcredit programs for women; conducting gender sensitivity training for judges, bureaucrats and police officers; and engaging all members of society, particularly religious leaders, in the implementation of the proposed interventions.
This report has already garnered significant support by the Mayor of Louga. “This carefully constructed document translates the value and expertise of the Earth Institute, led by Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, which has in its charge the Millennium Cities Initiative,” stated Madame Aminata Mbengue Ndiaye, Mayor of the Commune of Louga and former Minister for Women’s Affairs, Government of Senegal. “Together with my staff, I have carefully studied the document which, from my point of view, is excellent.”
This is a terrific first step. We hope the Mayor’s sentiment will be shared by others in Louga and across Senegal, allowing for new programs and initiatives that will truly strengthen women’s equality and help women build better lives for themselves. Successful interventions in one impoverished city can lead to many more successes in the other Millennium Cities and throughout the developing world.