What The UN's SDGs Mean For Nigerian Women & Girls
Last week, the UN General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs) in New York. The SDGs are the successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and are expected to guide governments as they frame their agendas and policies over the next 15 years. The SDGs were developed through a series of global conversations that included open working group discussions, thematic and national consultations, door-to-door surveys, and an online worldwide survey.
The SDGs (and the overall sustainability agenda) are expected to accomplish what the MDGs did not. The SDGs are also much broader in scope than the MDGs: there are 17 SDGs (vs. the 8 MDGs). While some countries have complained that 17 goals are too broad, there seems to be consensus that it is better to have 17 goals that includes targets on women’s empowerment and climate change for example, than fewer goals that do not encompass these issues. The SDGs are also broader in reach. Whereas a common critique of the MDGs is that (in practice) they were targets for developing countries to achieve with aid from the global north; every country is expected to work towards accomplishing the SDGs.
The SDGs do not yet have clear indicators for measuring progress. However, the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEC-SDGs) is currently thrashing out these specifics towards presenting them to the UN Statistical Commission in March 2016. The SDGs will also be enormously expensive to implement- but there is discourse this time on funding sources beyond external aid including private sector participation, trade promotion, and more active approaches towards domestic resource mobilization.
It is truly an exciting time for the world. Countries now have the opportunity to determine what the SDGs mean for them, and to set targets they can realistically achieve. As the most populous African nation, Nigeria’s progress (or lack thereof) will impact the African continent as a whole. In the post-2015 world, Nigeria needs to live up to its title of ‘The Giant of Africa’ and take the lead on actualizing the SDGs on the continent. In domesticating the SDGs, Nigeria must be conscious to not forget women and girls who comprise approximately half of its population. UN Women’s Executive Director (Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka) noted in a recent statement on the SDGs, that a girl that is born today and who will be 15 in 2030 must experience a totally different world. If this goal is actualized, a girl born in Nigeria today will have better access to education, and fewer chances of witnessing domestic violence or experiencing sexual assault by 2030. This girl will hopefully grow in a world where practices like early marriage or female genital mutilation become a thing of the past. It will also mean this girl will grow up seeing more women CEOs, army generals, academics- maybe even a woman president! In short, it will mean a world where a Nigerian girl has a real chance of being who she wants to be.
How can Nigeria get there? There are a few ways Nigeria can begin to systematically and comprehensively address gender inequality in its post-2015 processes. First, Nigeria must set clear and realistic gender benchmarks that are translated into policy. Only with measurable indicators can the present administration, and those that follow it, be held truly accountable.
The Nigerian Ministry of Women Affairs needs to work more aggressively towards the implementation of policy that affects women and girls. For example, at least a dozen of Nigeria’s 36 states are yet to domesticate Nigeria’s Child Rights Act.
On a related note, Nigeria needs better data. As the Chair of the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission (Professor Chidi Odinkalu) put it: “For as long as we do not publish key reports on women issues, we continue to objectify women. When there is no information you manufacture fantasy.” But Nigeria doesn’t just need more data- it needs better data. That is, data that is more accurate, and data that incorporates cultural norms. For example, as opposed to just measuring the number of women with political positions, we need to begin to measure attitudes to women’s leadership. How many Nigerians still believe that men make better leaders than women?
Additionally, government spending in Nigeria must match policy setting. Recent research suggests that the MDGs impacted government policies but not spending. For example, Nigeria is generally recognized as achieving MDG Goal #3 with regards to gender parity at primary and secondary education levels, with the national average Gender Parity Index (GPI) being 1. But “bums in seats” are not enough. Celebrating increased school enrolment is dubious, if it distracts from actual functional performance. How much money did the Nigerian government spend in the MDG-era towards ensuring Nigerian girls can actually read and write at the appropriate level for their age?
Most importantly, cultural conversations on gender are necessary in Nigeria. Targets and policies on violence against women mean nothing, as long as Nigerian men and women continue to think that it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife; or that it is shameful for a woman to report rape. Spending on girl’s education will mean nothing, as long as the impact of Boko Haram’s abduction of the Chibok girls is not properly addressed. How can a girl aspire to positions of leadership if the culture she grows up in points to the kitchen as her sole destination?
These cultural conversations should take place at the national and community level. The burden of these conversations, however, doesn’t just fall on the Nigerian government. In our churches, our mosques and our places of work, we must begin to tackle gender bias. In our films, in our schools, in our literature- we must begin to shift the narrative of what it means to be a Nigerian woman. And in our parties, at our dinner tables, and in our private conversations, we as Nigerians must begin to ask: How can I improve the lives of the women around me?