Bringing the SDGs into the Mainstream in Namibia

Nashilongo Gervasius is the co-founder of the Internet Society Namibia Chapter, where she focuses on policy and development of the internet and related issues such as addressing the digital divide, and enhancing women’s access to a safe internet. In our SDGs on the Ground series, Nashilongo describes the challenges with raising awareness around the SDGs in her country, and how to address them.

Photo by DISRUPTIVO on Unsplash

Tell us about your current work driving momentum on the SDGs in your community. From an SDG perspective, what are the most immediate needs specific to your community?

I am currently working on promoting online safety for women and girls in Namibia. While official data is largely missing on online violence in Namibia, the issue has become increasingly prevalent in the country. COVID-19 lockdowns and stay-at-home guidelines have pushed everyone online, resulting in more people using the space to socialize, and in many cases, an increase in negative behaviors targeted at women.

This online safety work builds on research I started in 2019 with the Internet Society Namibia Chapter. That year, we held a Women Digital Leadership Forum with the goal of empowering women in political spaces to shape and own their narratives — especially during election periods when women politicians are frequently targeted with online violence. As a result, we published a report with the World Wide Web Foundation outlining the status of women’s rights online in Namibia, and found that a key concern was the extent of non-consensual image sharing, and the lack of data protection laws to help victims seek recourse. Some women in Namibia are starting to speak up about their experiences with online harassment. Recently, for example, Namibia’s first lady spoke about the abuse she faced online, saying she will no longer be silenced.

Online violence leads to digital inequality which ultimately leads to women leaving the online spaces. When women are offline, they then lose their ability to voice their opinions, to access learning and other opportunities, including accessing invaluable information.

Do you feel that your community/ region/ nation is invested in the SDGs, and do you believe they are making progress?

There is a certain level of commitment to the SDGs in my nation. The UN community has played a key role in raising awareness about the SDGs. In 2019, the UNDP launched an SDG Accelerator Lab as well as a youth development initiative to brainstorm national solutions to key challenges in Namibia.

The challenge with these initiatives is that they tend to benefit only a few people who are located in cities. There are rarely media reports reflecting SDG work outside of cities, which makes it difficult to contextualize the full investment and involvement in SDGs. However, earlier this year, the Environment Investment Fund launched the Sustainable Development Awards that brought more attention to the SDGs in the country. Many development partners in the country are also increasingly focused on innovation in finding local solutions to local challenges.

How has COVID-19 impacted SDG implementation in your community/ region/ nation? As some countries begin to focus on recovery from the pandemic, do you notice a greater emphasis on the SDGs or using the SDGs as a roadmap for recovery in your community, and if so, how?

With our country currently going through a third wave of COVID-19, there has been a halt in what was already invisible work in implementing the SDGs at a national scale.

Among the Namibian community, there have been some calls to implement the SDGs in the COVID-19 recovery, however it is unclear whether private and public institutions will make the necessary efforts to do so.

Beyond COVID-19, what are the main challenges you’ve experienced in your work to advance the SDGs in your community/region/nation?

The main challenge is aligning existing work in the communities to the SDG indicators, and reporting on them regularly. The private sector, for example, is driven more by profit than by the SDGs. Stakeholders in the country should also do a better job of reporting the realities of SDG implementation and gaps on the ground. Cross-sector collaboration in SDG implementation is also challenging in a donor-funded context where competition is rife.

Can you point out some successes you’ve had in your work to advance the SDGs in your community/region/nation?

We recently brought together over 45 stakeholders representing gender, technology, and public interest groups across government, civil society, and academia to discuss how to develop a framework to ensure gender equity and equality online. This includes protecting women and girls online; empowering women through technology and ICTs; and ensuring equal access to basic services for all women and men by 2030 (SDG 1.4). It also means achieving universal, affordable Internet access in the least developed economies by 2020 (SDG 9c).

This past World Press Freedom Day, I also organized a digital rights and online safety training for 25 journalists aimed at empowering them with skills and education on how to protect themselves online. Topics included the importance of creating strong passwords and a digital footprint that ensures privacy. Additionally, the journalists also learned about human rights online and how to protect online users in their reporting. .

Do you feel that there is still a gap in overall awareness of the SDGs and collaboration on tracking progress and implementation in your community? If so, how could these gaps be addressed?

Language barriers have made it challenging to raise awareness about the SDGs and their relevance. From our perspective on the ground, it also feels that reporting and awareness about the SDGs only reaches the public when there is UN funding involved or when mentions of the SDGs are explicit. This association increases the misconception that the SDGs are somewhat only the responsibility of the UN with assistance from one or two government agencies. We should make the SDGs accessible and relatable to all of society, and help the public understand that their existing work is already helping advance the Goals — now, the step is to frame it within the SDG framework and global conversation.

What SDG solutions have you seen in your community that could be scaled up either regionally, nationally or globally?

One area that has been promising is climate change awareness. We’ve seen messages around it resonating well because the issue is multisectoral and relatable as everyone is living with the effects of climate change — from the remotest villages to the largest corporations in the country. The messaging around the issue — from community wildlife management to policy articulation should be replicated in implementing all of the other development goals.