Connect with us

Opinion

Op-Ed: Women Empowerment During The Covid-19 Pandemic

Published

on

Looking at Covid-19 through a gender lens

Our world has undoubtedly been changed forever by the Covid-19 pandemic, as all efforts are focused on slowing down the increase and mitigating the impact of this silent enemy that has spread across the world like wildfire. Not only have there been many lives lost, but there have also been many businesses and millions of jobs impacted, which in turn directly affects millions of families. It doesn’t help that most countries around the world were already in distress with high levels of unemployment and devastating droughts as a result of climate change, which were already making it very difficult for families to put food on the table.  As the world tries to deal with this pandemic, I can’t help but think about what will happen to the efforts that have been made to help empower adolescent girls over the past few years.

Empowering girls, empowering communities

What makes this demographic more important than all the others? This is not just about the fight for women’s equal rights or the fight for equal pay, although those are valid and ongoing necessary discussions. This is about giving the adolescent girl a decent and fair start in her life, so she can have a better shot at being successful. So, with the current global crisis we find ourselves in, will the cause to empower young women remain on the world’s agenda or will this slide down to the bottom of the priority list? 

Standard Chartered Bank has been running a young girls’ empowerment programme called Goal, which is our flagship programme under Futuremakers.  Futuremakers by Standard Chartered is our global initiative to tackle inequality and promote greater economic inclusion for young people in our communities, especially those who are disadvantaged. The Goal programme specifically aims to equip young girls with the confidence, knowledge and skills they need to fulfil their economic potential. The programme was launched in New Delhi in 2006 with just 70 girls. I count myself fortunate to have been part of the team that was involved in the launch of the pilot programme, along with my colleagues and a very perceptive NGO partner who believed that together we could make an impact on these young girls and their community.

Developing confidence and vital life skills

Sometimes when the challenge seems insurmountable, what you need are individuals and partners who simply believe that you can still make a difference, regardless of the arduous journey ahead of you. In a country of over a billion people, what impact can you really make by reaching just 70 girls? Fourteen years later, Goal is now active in 24 countries, including South Africa (since 2015), and has impacted nearly 600,000 adolescent girls globally between 2006 and 2019 – and that number is growing.  This means that over half a million families are also impacted, as these girls carry the message back home. When you empower a girl, you empower a community.  

Goal is based on face-to-face interaction with these young women, which presents a challenge during a pandemic. The programme is run by Goal Champions who have graduated from the programme themselves and this is one of the elements that makes Goal sustainable, as it focuses on the ‘train the trainer’ approach. After completing the one-year programme, the girls come out with confidence and skills that they would otherwise have not acquired – our post programme scores have proved that every single time. In 2019, we commissioned a global development think tank called Overseas Development Institute (ODI) to assess Goal’s impact. Over 18,000 girls were surveyed and there were over 300 interviews and focus groups with the young girls, parents, teachers, community leaders and the  boys in those communities. The research found strong evidence of Goal’s positive and lasting impact on the girls, as the results showed a 14 percent increase in self-confidence, a 28 percent increase in knowledge about health and an 18 percent increase in knowledge about savings and finance.

The gender gap and GDP

Then Covid-19 happened to all of us, accompanied by varying levels of lockdowns, and along with that a halt to the valuable regular face-to-face sessions that a lot of these young Goal girls look forward to – an opportunity to be in a safe environment, playing sport with their peers, and learning about their rights, the importance of understanding reproductive health, saving money, and many other life skills.

Data is always important when presenting such arguments. According to one of the Goldman Sachs Global Economic papers, GDP growth rates rise if education pushes more women into the labour force. This makes gender equality not just an imperative but a valid economic argument.  It seems the ‘poorer’ a country, the higher the literacy differential between females and males. 

Apart from the inhumane forced child marriages that are still happening in this modern day and age in some countries, research also tells us that most girls without a secondary education are likely to have their first baby at a younger age, and in turn, there is a higher chance that this child will die before they are five years old. Chances are also higher that these young girls will have many more children than they can afford to raise in a way that they would like to. It becomes an ongoing vicious cycle and we need to do everything in our power to break that cycle – one girl at a time.

Looking toward the future

We need to remember that these adolescent girls are still very much a vulnerable group and we should not divert our attention away from them as we try and manage the ongoing pandemic. The two need not be exclusive.  In fact, we have seen how gender-based violence has escalated during the lockdowns in many countries, including here in South Africa, and I shudder to think how much of this has been directed towards young girls by the very people who are meant to take care of and protect them.

In the last few years, there has been an ongoing debate in some quarters that we mustn’t leave the boys behind as we empower the young girls and this a valid discussion to have. As a mother to a teenage son, I totally agree – my intention is to raise a well-rounded young man who will be a responsible member of society and who respects women.

In fact, in some of our markets where Goal has advanced, we do have boys on the programme, but the reality is we need to double our efforts in uplifting adolescent girls to get them just to be on an ‘equal footing’ with the boys. Research has also proved that in countries where education levels are low, the economic performance of that country is equally impacted.  What is the saying – when you empower and educate a girl, you empower a community.  What’s not to love about that?

– Geraldine Matchaba, Head of Corporate Affairs and Brand & Marketing at Standard Chartered.

Current Affairs

With proper investment in youth, Kenya’s potential for progress is unlimited

Published

on

By- Ruth Kagia and Siddharth Chatterjee

Africa’s demographic boom has been hailed as its biggest promise for transforming the continent’s economic and social outcomes, but only if the right investments are made to prepare its youthful population for tomorrow’s world.

Consider this. Every 24 hours, nearly 33,000 youth across Africa join the search for employment. About 60% will be joining the army of the unemployed. Africa’s youth population is growing rapidly and is expected to reach over 830 million by 2050. Whether this spells promise or peril depends on how the continent manages its “youth bulge”. 

President Kenyatta once said that “The crisis of mass youth unemployment is a threat to the stability and prosperity of Africa, and it can amount to a fundamental and existential threat”.

Investing in young people especially so that they are prepared for the world of work is the main mission of Generation Unlimited (GenU), a global multi-sector partnership established to meet the urgent need for expanded education, training and employment opportunities for young people aged 10 to 24.

On 05 August 2020, Kenya will launch the Generation Unlimited initiative. This initiative will bring together key actors from the public and private sector as well as development partners to help put into a higher gear this defining agenda of our time to ensure that we have prepared our children for a prosperous future by giving them the education, training and job opportunities that fully harnesses their potential. With a median age of 18, Kenya’s youthful population represents a real potential to reap a demographic dividend and accelerate its economic progress.

Kenya has one of the youngest populations in the world. With the right investment in their talents, skills, and entrepreneurial spirit, young people present an extraordinary opportunity for transformation, growth, and change.

Three quarters Kenya’s population is under the age of 35. Across Africa there are 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24, a demographic that is expected to double by 2045.

One of the greatest challenges facing governments and policymakers in Africa is how to provide opportunities for the continent’s youth, in order to provide them with decent lives and allow them to contribute to the economic development of their countries. As things stand, around 70% of Africa’s young people live below the poverty line.

In Kenya, the pillars for achieving GenU objectives are in place, with various initiatives for instance to strengthen education system through the recently-launched competency based curriculum and government promotion of programmes to enhance technical and digital skills.

The fruits of such initiatives can be seen through numerous youthful innovations from Kenya that continue to receive international attention.  For instance, inspired by his great urge to communicate with his 6-year-old niece who was born deaf, Roy Allela, a 25-year-old Kenyan invented Sign-10, a pair of smart gloves with flex sensors to aid his cousin’s communication with the other members of the family.

The flex sensors stitched to each finger aid in quantifying the letters formed from the curve of each finger of the glove’s wearer. The gloves are then connected through Bluetooth to a mobile phone application that vocalizes the hand movements.   This innovation won him the Trailblazer Award by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Gen U’s solution is to forge innovative collaborations with young people themselves. Since launching in 2018, the movement has brought onboard leaders from governments, foundations, and the private sector around the world. Its launch in Kenya underscores its government’s commitment to engage young people in pursuit of the Big 4 Development Agenda as well as Vision 2030.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is a global leader for the Generation Unlimited initiative. In Kenya, Gen U’s activities are coordinated by the Office of the President and the United Nations.

President Uhuru Kenyatta with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Kenyatta was on Monday unanimously endorsed by world leaders to champion a new UN intervention on youth education, training and employment.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres were unanimously endorsed by world leaders to champion a new UN intervention on youth education, training, and employment at the UN General Assembly in 2018. [Photo/PSCU]

Shifts in today’s global economy demand that young people acquire skills aligned with dynamic labour needs, but local education systems have been slow to adapt. In many countries in Africa, school enrolment is up, but learning outcomes for young people remain poor. Most leave school without the skills the contemporary job market needs, and are ill-prepared for a world in which low-skilled jobs are increasingly automated.

A million young people join the workforce every year in Kenya, applying for jobs in a formal sector that can only absorb one in five of them. Some, however, find work at least intermittently in Kenya’s vibrant informal sector, which accounts for more than 80% of the country’s economy according to the World Bank.

Rather than focusing on opportunities in the formal sector, partners in the Gen U movement will look at strategies for supporting the informal sector with better infrastructure and an improved business environment. In doing so, it is hoped that it will be transformed into a recognised and legitimate sector.

Such initiatives have the full support of the recently launched Kenya Youth Development Policy, which seeks to underscore issues affecting young people. Technology will play a central role, and sector-based strategies will be central to the government’s approach.

The Kenya Youth Agribusiness Strategy, for example, will enable Kenya’s youth to access information technology for various value-addition ventures in Africa’s agribusiness sector set to be worth $1 trillion by 2030.

The Coronavirus pandemic has seen countries face changes in entire social and economic systems. Key industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, public services, retail, transportation, food supply, tourism, media and entertainment have been hard hit by the pandemic. The pandemic is an inflection point that is giving the old system a nudge. The post-COVID-19 world will be founded on a tech-savvy workforce that will inevitably comprise young people.

Calling on urgent action for young people, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called on governments to “do far more to tap their talents as we tackle the pandemic and chart a recovery that leads to a more peaceful, sustainable and equitable future for all”.

In the run-up to the end of the SDGs era, we must ramp up the current level of investment in young people’s economic and social potential. As the vision of Generation Unlimited states, if the largest generation of young people in history is prepared for the transition to work, the potential for global progress is unlimited.

As President Kenyatta has noted, “the current generation of young people has the potential of expanding Africa’s productive workforce, promoting entrepreneurship and becoming genuine instruments of change to reverse the devastation caused by climate change.” 

Ruth Kagia is the Deputy Chief of Staff to President Kenyatta. Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya. Mrs Kagia and Mr Chatterjee co-chair the Generation Unlimited Steering Committee in Kenya.

Continue Reading

Health

Attacking WHO is Unhelpful-Let’s Focus on Defeating The Virus

At the conclusion of the 73rd World Health Assembly on 19 May 2020, the WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “COVID-19 has robbed us of people we love. It’s robbed us of lives and livelihoods; it’s shaken the foundations of our world; it threatens to tear at the fabric of international cooperation. But it’s also reminded us that for all our differences, we are one human race, and we are stronger together.”

Published

on

Flags fly at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo Eric Bridiers/ U.S. Mission Geneva/ CC BY-ND

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been under attack- efforts being made to defund it, ridicule it, undermine it. The world is fighting a major pandemic which rivals the flu of 1918, which killed over 50 million people.

The Coronavirus pandemic may well be a precursor of what is to come in the future. This for sure is not the last pandemic the world will grapple with, so let’s brace for impact, as the velocity and virulence of the next contagion may be far more fierce and destructive than COVID-19.

A recent remark that “WHO has been bought by China” is painful to hear. Coming from a senior leader of a country which is the beating heart of the UN’s multilateral system, and has been at the vanguard of improving lives and livelihoods of populations all over the world, is puzzling.

Words matter, and by promoting a number of incorrect and insinuating statements, such language may damage the overall pandemic response and undermine an organization that is doing its best – under the extraordinary circumstances – to save lives across the globe. 

I live in Kenya, and on a day to day basis I see the WHO working with countries across the continent to strengthen health systems and tackle health crises. These African countries, like many others especially in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, rely on WHO for guidance, expertise and often for human resources, particularly around disease responses like Ebola, Marburg, Zika or the plague. 

I myself have been a beneficiary of the organization’s work, having been immunized as a child through one of the WHO immunization programs, and surviving polio thanks to these efforts. Small pox would not have been eradicated without WHO. Billions more have benefited from WHO’s work, and humanity as a whole stands to gain from a well-funded, highly operational institution not only during this pandemic, but for years to come to prevent the next pandemic and build robust health systems.

Currently, there have been more than 15 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 600,000 deaths around the world. But this tiny microbe has impacted far more than just the global health system. It has pressure tested our political, economic, social and cultural institutions, attacking not only our bodies but the very threads of humanity that hold us together. What’s clear already is that the virus mercilessly exploits any chinks in national unity or global solidarity, making it an enemy far more formidable the modern world has seen in recent history. 

At a pivotal time for tackling the pandemic, the global response needs solidarity, not politicization. The attacks against WHO threatens to derail global efforts to bring this pandemic under control.

Over the course of the next few months, governments will determine not only how they tackle COVID-19, but they will set a precedent that will guide the world for tackling future global threats. No country can overcome this pandemic on its own, no matter how advanced its economic systems are or how mighty its military is.

This pandemic is threatening lives, livelihoods, social and economic systems that have taken decades to build. It is an enemy that is threatening to reverse the gains the world has made in healthcare, education, poverty reduction, eradicating hunger and strengthening political unity.

For the sake of humanity, we must stand united against it, and this means supporting institutions that are playing a key role in the pandemic response.

From the climate crisis to inequality, antimicrobial resistance to the threat of a meteor hit, global challenges need global solutions, and these solutions cannot be developed if we focus on demonizing institutions rather than addressing the real issues at hand.

In terms of COVID-19, we have seen examples from around the world that clearly show that no matter how bad the outbreak, leaders can get a grip on the virus. By working with a whole of government and whole of society approach, the virus can be brought under control. Countries that have done this successfully, including New Zealand and Vietnam, which stand out as exemplars of how to tackle the pandemic, have shown us that a singular focus on preventing transmission and keeping their populations safe – not engaging in politics, blame games and blatant denial of science – is what is needed to ultimately flatten the curve.

WHO continues to provide valuable leadership in navigating the pandemic, helping the world deal with this crisis by distributing much-needed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and diagnostics, providing technical guidance for health workers, leading efforts to find a vaccine and disseminating information that is playing a critical role in keeping people safe. Reducing support for WHO at this time is therefore tantamount to saying that we are all on our own. But we are not.

At the conclusion of the 73rd World Health Assembly on 19 May 2020, the WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “COVID-19 has robbed us of people we love. It’s robbed us of lives and livelihoods; it’s shaken the foundations of our world; it threatens to tear at the fabric of international cooperation. But it’s also reminded us that for all our differences, we are one human race, and we are stronger together.”

Let’s take a moment to look at the value WHO brings to the world. It may not be a perfect institution, but it is providing global leadership at a time when it is needed most.

What WHO has achieved in 72 years is remarkable, and undeniable. To accelerate the science, find solutions to the COVID-19 challenges and build global solidarity; now more than ever, the world needs WHO.

Siddharth Chatterjee, is the United Nations resident coordinator to Kenya. He has served with the UN and the Red Cross Movement in various parts of the world affected by conflicts and humanitarian crisis. He is also a decorated Special Forces veteran and a Princeton University alumnus. Follow him on Twitter @sidchat1

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.​​​​​

Continue Reading

Economy

Op-Ed: The eCommerce Lifeboat For South Africa’s Retail Industry

Published

on

Covid-19 led eCommerce revolution

The Covid-19 crisis has redefined the retail playing field.  This has seen retailers scrambling to accommodate changed consumer behaviour as shopping surges online.  

The pandemic has exposed the precariousness of a solely bricks and mortar model.  According to a recent report by McKinsey, consumers expect a relative shift to online shopping in most categories in the short term,  driven primarily by a sharp decrease in in-store shopping. In the longer term, 40 percent of consumers plan to increase online shopping once the crisis is over.

Fear of infection drives move to online

“Previous epidemics have foreshadowed this online trend,”  says Derek Cikes, Commercial Director at buy now pay later fintech, Payflex.  

“The SARS epidemic in 2003 expedited China’s path in launching digital payments and eCommerce in the country, creating a permanent shift in consumer behaviour.  Similarly, the Coronavirus has caused a marked change in South Africa’s consumer behaviour and habits, with social distancing, hygiene measures and self-quarantine now integral parts of our everyday realities,” says Cikes.

With the crisis expected to remain for the foreseeable future, these behaviours are anticipated to become further entrenched and remain even as the crisis eventually ebbs.

Shopping:  an altered reality

Shopping is no longer a leisurely, sensory-filled experience.  Instead, retailers have replaced sampling of beauty items or delightful food temptations with an antibacterial touch averse world of hand sanitizers and plexiglass barriers.  

This interaction or rather fear of interaction is driving new shopping behaviour, with consumers opting for the safety and convenience of eCommerce. And retailers are hastening to adapt to what they view as lasting changes in the way that people choose to shop as millions of consumers choose online as their preferred medium of shopping.

Epidemics’ impact on retail

According to a Global Shopping Index published by Salesforce, the number of unique digital shoppers rose 40% year-over-year for Q1 2020. 

In a South African context, 29% of online consumers say they are doing far more shopping online than before the coronavirus outbreak while 65% say they are visiting physical stores less, according to a Nielsen study of 10 markets in Africa and the Middle East, including South Africa. 

“The pandemic has fast-tracked trends that were already budding in the eCommerce space including digital and alternative payments. The 40% increase in shoppers and 25% increase in eCommerce merchant sign-ups to our platforms highlights this monumental shift towards digital as an increasingly preferred avenue of shopping and transacting,”  says Cikes.

Cikes says the increased availability of click-and-collect models, digital payment models like buy now pay later platforms and other alternative payment options,  as well as faster delivery models, are anticipated to further fuel this online revolution. 

Global players wake up to eCommerce opportunity

Major tech and retailer stores are waking up to the huge potential of eCommerce as millions of consumers choose online space for their shopping. Facebook is making a major push into e-commerce with the launch of Shops, a way for businesses to set up free storefronts on Facebook and Instagram. 

While Zara-owner Inditex recently announced plans to close up to 1,200 smaller-sized stores, and to invest 3 billion dollars in digital commerce. 

“Retailers and tech companies are recognising the significance, need and value to move online in order to accommodate consumer behaviour and sentiment for safer, seamless shopping alternatives.  It will be interesting to see the kind of personalised, targeted spin they can put on it based on their collected user data around interests and geolocation,” says Cikes.

How SA retailers can harness this opportunity

The consumer mindset has changed in terms of their relationship to eCommerce.  Online has become an accepted, go-to shopping alternative with the digital environment providing consumers with convenience, safety and access to a wide range of shopping options.

And while hygiene and safety concerns have provided the initial impetus in driving consumers online, shoppers have now experienced this environment as a feasible option with its accompanying convenience and benefits. This is entrenching the shift to online shopping, extending its impact to long after the pandemic has passed.

“We’re reaching a tipping point for eCommerce.  Standalone bricks and mortar are no longer sufficient as consumers demand more rapid digitisation solutions.  The fact that more people than ever are relying on the internet to shop for their everyday needs makes it imperative to have an online shopping model in order to remain competitive and viable.

The eCommerce revolution is here.  Those that will survive will be retailers who have a multichannel approach to sales that provides customers with an option for a seamless shopping experience from the comfort of their own homes.  This is no longer a luxury. It’s critical,” concludes Cikes. 

– Paul Behrmann, Founder & CEO of Payflex

Continue Reading

Trending