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Notes From The Field For #IDW2020

By Judyannet Muchiri

This year International Development Week (IDW) finds me in Kenya. I am here examining the influence of safe spaces on young women’s civic participation. From this research, I intend to demonstrate that in the absence of safe spaces, both physical and otherwise, the extent to which young women can participate in political and non-political civic activities in the community is limited. To do this, I am having conversations with young women in different parts of the country, grassroot organizations, national NGOs, key actors such as gender equality advocates, activists, government representatives and professors in the development field.

As we take up the call to #GoForTheGoals, to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, I find the following insights from my conversations significant and instructive. Although these issues are specific to Goal 5, since my research is on gender equality, they are applicable to other focus areas as well.

Since their adoption in 2015, a lot of effort has gone into the SDGs, from raising awareness, to localizing the goals, and implementing them. Undeniably, there is progress, but a lot still needs to be done. The following questions point to some immediate concerns. Are we doing enough to meet the 2030 timeframe? Are there enough resources to finance all the goals? What does an imminent ecological collapse mean for Agenda 2030? Are we living up to the #LeaveNoOneBehind pledge? The 2018 UN report suggests this pledge will not work without addressing deep systemic issues. It is against this backdrop that we must re-evaluate our approach to the SDGs.

We can start by listening to communities at the grassroots around the following three issues:

1) Gap between policymakers and communities at the grassroots. Communities, and the young women that I spoke to, feel disconnected from actors at the policymaking level. Granted, sometimes they are included but this inclusion is often consultative or tokenistic which is problematic. This translates to policies that are not responsive to the needs of the communities. Consequently, this breeds mistrust from communities leading to apathetic community members. To bridge this gap, development actors need to reconsider their approaches when engaging communities. Here, feminist and participatory development approaches come to mind. These two approaches are fundamental in the way they centre the voices, experiences, capabilities and situated knowledge of communities.

2) Inadequate information on rights, policies and laws in rural communities and marginalized areas. Although the Internet has changed how we access information, there is a big gap because not all of us have equal access to the Internet. For young women in urban Kenya, for example, information is easily accessible via the Internet. This is not the case in the rural areas. In my conversations with young women in rural areas and grassroots organizations it is emerging that there is inadequate information on rights, policies and laws; young women cannot claim rights if they are unaware of their rights, they cannot seek legal protection if they are unaware of existing legal frameworks. Therefore, development actors need to ensure that information is accessible to marginalized communities. An effective way to do this is by use of existing structures in these areas such as local radio stations.

3) Inadequate resources. Predictably, this is a major problem. All the grassroots organizations that I have spoken to so far have mentioned resources as a challenge. Grassroots organizations are disproportionately positioned because of their size, location and structure. Often, these organizations are small, informal, understaffed and they rely on volunteers. This affects how they are resourced; sometimes they do not meet conditions for donor funding, they are not plugged into the civil society network to attract partners or they do not have the time and the capacity to spend hours scouting for funds. This is a shame given the proximity of these organizations to communities. To address this challenge we need to be innovative in financing for development; participatory grant making is a good start.

These are just a few of the many issues that we need to address but it is a good start. As we #GoForTheGoals I encourage us to think more about the people that development is meant to serve especially those in underserved communities and be more inclusive, ethical and participatory in our development activities.


Judyannet is a PhD student in Sociology at Memorial University of Newfoundland. She is currently conducting research in Kenya. Read more:


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