Richard Dzikunu, a Youth Power Accountability Advocate, shares his story of using data to achieve gender equality in Ghana.

While world leaders gather to talk the talk at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) this week in New York, young people are pushing to make sure the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are being delivered by governments on the ground.

I am one of those young people, and this year I will be at the UNGA to share my story about how young people, including myself, are gaining ground in the fight for gender equality in my country, Ghana.

It’s worth remembering that this is the third UNGA since the SDGs were agreed in 2015. In 2016 I attended the High Level Political Forum, a similar event where I felt a sense of urgency and commitment from member states to do more to achieve the SDGs.

But while some progress has been made, the goals are stalling.

These spaces have served as a platform for governments and organisations to share their experiences, progress and challenges. However, there seem to be more talks and assurances from governments in developing countries than real action. Governments are committing little resource at a national level.

Goal 5 calls for more action

A lack of progress is felt no more acutely than when we consider gender equality.

In particular, young women, trans youth and non-binary youth face barriers in shaping development programmes that are trying to respond to problems they experience. And this isn’t helped by the persistent gap in data on young women, trans and non-binary youth, which puts them at risk of being left behind.

Gathering data from the ground up

I am one of three Youth Power Accountability Advocates living in Ghana. We gather vital data tracking gender inequality issues in Ghana such as maternal mortality and teenage pregnancy. By tracking the causes of maternal mortality we aim to help reduce the deaths amongst expectant mothers.

Our findings, published in this report – focus mainly on rural mothers, health workers, traditional birth attendants, as well as adolescents both in and out of school, across seven of the country’s 10 regions.
Sometimes we have to travel for over eight hours by bus to rural areas in Ghana, reaching communities where we often face cultural barriers interacting with mothers and traditional leaders. But eventually, through discussion groups with mothers, local leaders and community nurses, trained Youth Power Accountability Advocates can break down those barriers and gain vital data.

For example, more than half of mothers in our focus group reported that they would rather have their delivery assisted by a traditional birth assistant than attend a health clinic. They also reported other barriers to accessing safe health care, such as husbands threatening their pregnant wives and preventing them from attending pre-natal sessions because they were too expensive, and problems with poor roads and lack of transport to get them to medical facilities. In one case, mothers without access to transport were advised by a local nurse to find someone in the community with a tractor so that they could travel on damaged roads.

What our data has made clear is that Ghana needs to redouble its efforts to lower maternal mortality levels by revitalising existing health and family planning services available.

Fortunately the evidence we have produced is a significant step towards convincing the government to take action on maternal deaths and teenage pregnancy. We have developed new ‘indicators’ to measure the success of Global Goal 3 (Good Health and Well-being) and Global Goal 5 (Gender Equality), such as an indicator aimed at increasing training provided to traditional birth attendants.  And we have fed these into the Ghana Health Service’s new Adolescent Health Policy and the Ghana family planning programme.

Our local action needs global recognition. At this year’s UNGA, we need our leaders to engage with young people who are already turning the global rhetoric on the SDGs into local action in communities around the world.  Together we can explore more radical approaches – like youth-led data driven accountability – that will help fulfil the promise of the SDGs to leave no one behind.

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