By Nyarai Kampilipili
Global efforts to promote and increase the use of science, innovation and technology in sustainable development should be inclusive to target both women and men.
This is the message from the Executive Secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax on Women’s Day.
Celebrated annually on 8 March, Women’s Day provides an opportunity for the global community to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, while taking note of the barriers that hinder the acceleration of gender equality.
The theme for this year’s commemoration is “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change”.
Dr Tax said the theme recognises the role of innovation in advancing gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.
It should be noted the participation of women in innovation and science still remains low, yet skills in science and technology are increasingly becoming an important part of basic literacy in the knowledge economy.
The gender digital divide and underrepresentation of women in the field of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and design has prevented women from developing and influencing gender-responsive innovations to achieve sustainable development.
“Women and girls globally, including in our region, continue to be less engaged and under-represented in technology and innovation, and this creates a missed opportunity in terms of their influence and ideas in transforming our society,” Dr Tax said.
“This calls for everyone to do things differently if we are to achieve transformative and better development outcomes for women, girls, men and boys in our society.”
Dr Tax said SADC has come up with various measures and initiatives to advance gender equality and women empowerment through innovation and technology as well as gender-responsive approaches to science, innovation and technology.
In fact, gender equality and empowerment is firmly rooted in the Declaration and Treaty that established the shared community of SADC, and member states fully realise that equality and empowerment of both women and men is crucial for the attainment of sustainable development.
However, the main guiding document on gender is the Revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, which provides for the empowerment of women, elimination of discrimination and attainment of gender equality and equity through enactment of gender-responsive legislation and implementation of policies, programmes and projects.
For example, Article 14 of the Protocol calls upon “State Parties to take special measures to increase the number of girls taking up Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects and Information Communication Technology at the primary, secondary, tertiary and higher levels”.
The protocol was revised in 2016 to align with the provisions of other instruments such as the Sustainable Development Goals, Agenda 2063 and the SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap 2015-2063.
Dr Tax said the approval of the SADC Charter on Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (WISET) in 2017 is another “significant step in ensuring women and girls’ participation in science and technology.”
However, she said advancing gender equality and equity is a collective effort that should be championed by both women and men to ensure sustainable socio-economic development.
Often, there is a perception that only women ought to be the main supporters and advocates of gender empowerment.
“Achieving transformative change through innovation and technology, requires active participation of all members of society and the establishment of strategic partnerships between key sectors in our communities, without leaving behind women and girls,” she said.
“As we commemorate the International Women’s Day, we call upon SADC Member States to intensify efforts towards advancing gender equality, and the empowerment of women and girls.”
This year’s Women’s Day commemorations echoes the theme of the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) scheduled for 11-22 March at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
The priority theme for the CSW63 is “social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, while its review theme is “Women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development.”
In this regard, the CSW63 is expected to discuss ways in which innovation can address barriers as well as accelerate progress for gender equality through encouraging investment in gender-responsive social systems, and build services and infrastructure that meet the needs of women and girls.
The CSW is a functional Commission of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) whose mandate is to take a leading role in monitoring and reviewing progress and problems in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. - sardc.net.