In wake of the UNESCO International Day for Universal Access to Information, Sibusisiwe Ndlovu-Bhebhe gave us some insight into information access and SDGs. Below is the chat with her:
- How can public access to information support the realisation of SDG 5: Gender Equality in Southern Africa?
SIBUSISIWE: Research has shown that an informed society makes better development decisions. Similarly, research has proved that women with an education or access to quality information make better choices for themselves, their families and communities. For many women however, formalized education is still a pipe dream due to entrenched patriarchal systems in Africa, poor economies which still do not support universal free basic education and other effects of poverty which force girls into unfavorable situations like child marriages, intergenerational relationships among other effects. In the end, increasingly publicized access to information through public media becomes important and government offices may assist women in getting the most important information which would otherwise be lost to them. Many women are not in formalized employment, so while their male counterparts will get information from institutional set ups like company meetings, workshops, company travel, or newspapers, many women still rely on public meetings by members of parliament, councilors residents meetings, and radio and or television or social media for the most basic information. This leaves a huge gap in how much advantage men and women can take of any communication made for their development. Therefore, if information is made public and easily accessible to all then both men and women can equally take full control of government (or other) programmes being availed to the public.
- What contribution can free, pluralistic and independent media (online & offline), underpinned by policy and activity to develop media and ICTs, make to the SDGs?
SIBUSISIWE: Free, pluralistic and independent media can help promote the SDGs to various members of a community relating them in their languages and to their contexts. Plural media will ensure various opinions and experiences and needs are expressed by communities on how each SDG can support them and be implemented in each community. Past development strategies have shown that a top to bottom approach is often unsustainable as it sidelines local communities who often do not have a buy into the strategy and therefore have little enthusiasm to keep such strategies going beyond donor support. However with free media, the bottom-up approach and involvement of the community is possible because such communities can discuss the implications of any strategies. Communities can also input into ideas, share resources and discuss future sustainability methods on varying media platforms. This gets word out faster and more effectively.
- What role should duty-bearers play to protect and promote the right to access to information, and media/ICT development?
SIBUSISIWE: Duty-bearers have a role of ensuring that they are accessible to the public through any possible means. This allows them to share the policies that are being discussed as well as tap into community views on how such policies affect them and how they can be improved. Furthermore, duty-bearers have to ensure that their constituencies each have free channels of receiving and sharing information be it through free distribution of parliament handouts (Hansards), community media like local newsletters or community radios, fliers and regular community meetings etc. Each constituency or ward must have an information hub center where members of the community can use free internet, access free newspapers and other important information that they may need.
- How can local rights-holders be encouraged to optimise and ‘own’ information about and for SDGs?
SIBUSISIWE: Local rights-holders need to be encouraged first to learn more about the SDG, identify how they are being promoted from the most basic levels of their communities and how they can monitor and evaluate how office bearers are promoting and implementing programmes with such in each community. This will enable wide spread community engagement and education.
Sibusisiwe Ndlovu-Bhebhe is the Editing Director at Women’s Media for Development Foundation (WMDF) which is an institution working with various media strategies and platforms to promote women’s development. They can be reached on their Twitter handle.