The 2023 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) summit took place earlier this month at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). At the summit, there was a shared consensus that the UN’s most ambitious initiative will likely become its biggest failure. UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized this in his opening address as he described a world that has grown “unhinged” and its leaders utterly incapable of rowing together to address a list of existential challenges.
Last year the World Bank emphasized the steep hill ahead for the SDGs, declaring its longstanding goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030 unlikely. The Gates Foundation and Equal Measures 2030 estimated that the world won’t reach gender equality until at least 2108. And earlier this month UN Women said that the world was “way off track” to meet the gender targets included in the SDGs, blaming a “lackluster commitment” for this limited progress and claiming that an additional £290 billion a year would be needed to achieve gender equality by 2030. The call to #Act4SDGs has never been more urgent.
At Women for Women International, we know this only too well – and our own monitoring and evaluation data shows us that it is the most marginalized women survivors of war who are being left furthest behind.
This data highlights the realities for women before they enroll in our Stronger Women, Stronger Nations program and their progress at graduation one year later. Even with our holistic approach to programming, marginalized women living in conflict affected contexts continue to be disproportionately impacted by the compounding impacts of challenges such as conflict and insecurity, climate change, rising poverty and gender inequality.
When women enroll on our program, we see the unlikely prospects of achieving the SDG’s reflected in their lived realities. For example:
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where the climate crisis continues to impact farming, the number of women reporting that their household has enough food to eat when enrolling in our program has not been above 17% for the last three years.
We have seen similar trends in Rwanda where since 2020, less than 39% of women have reported having sufficient food at enrolment.
We also see that, at enrolment, very few women can save a portion of their earnings, with less than 21% of women across Nigeria, South Sudan and the DRC, reported being able to save and build their resilience to economic shocks.
Similarly, prior to engaging in our program, women are largely excluded from family decision-making - with less than an average of 19% of women reporting being included in decisions on having more children across South Sudan, the DRC, Rwanda and Nigeria. And across all the contexts where we work, less than 26% of women feel able to discuss these issues with other women in their community, meaning that often the challenges they face are compounded by social isolation, exclusion and a lack of support.
But the picture isn’t entirely bleak. By situating our data in the framework of the SDGs and centering the experiences of the most marginalized women living in conflict-affected countries, we can demonstrate, year on year, just how impactful it can be to prioritize taking and sustaining a holistic approach to women’s power.
After graduating from our program, women’s ability to save increased in the DRC, South Sudan, and Nigeria to from an average of 21% at enrolment to 97% at graduation. Women’s access to decisions about having more children increased and the proportion of women building and sustaining community with each other skyrocketed to an average of above 60% across every context we work in.
As acknowledged by the Goals themselves, the lived experience of marginalization or extreme poverty is multidimensional and interlinked – it is not defined by earnings alone. In that respect, our data reflects the complexity of leaving no one behind and how marginalization affects the women we work with in every aspect of their lives. Building an enabling environment for women’s rights, especially in conflict settings, must be inclusive of every dimension of a woman’s experience, considering a range of issues – from food security and education to economic power and violence prevention.
Women are working to uphold their rights across the contexts we work in, but there is a danger that their realities will continue to be missed at future forums that address the SDGs. We are reassured to hear the ongoing commitment to inclusive data from António Guterres at the UN data forum. Guterres recognized that “data when used responsibly is the bedrock of a sustainable future”.
With time running out for the world to deliver the SDGs, commitment to inclusive data from world leaders, is absolutely necessary to demonstrate global commitment to turning words into action and accelerating critical progress on the SDGs – especially for marginalized women affected by conflict.