The panel began by looking specifically at the 16th Sustainable Development Goal, which calls for the promotion of peaceful, just, and inclusive societies, as well as accountable institutions at every level of society. The starting level, the moderator noted, is the community level. She then posed the questions: Will these goals make a difference for rural women in poor communities? What kind of institutions will empower her?
The panel was titled “Women’s Leadership in Community-Led Development,” and was sponsored by two organizations, The Hunger Project, and the Movement for Community-Led Development, which consists of a network of 25 international NGOs. The panel discussed examples of women’s leadership in development at the community level, in contexts such as India and Ghana. Some of the positive outcomes of women in leadership included women’s empowerment, transformative leadership, and increased opportunities for relationships between women and their leaders.
A strong theme throughout the panel was the inclusion of women. “Women know what is best for women,” one of the panelists from Women Thrive Worldwide stated. A seemingly obvious statement, but often overlooked in all levels of global development. This was demonstrated as a panelist from the Ford Foundation asked us to reflect gender representation within the United Nations. The decision-makers leading the United Nations continues to be that of privileged Western men, and voices of women are not adequately represented at arguably the largest international organization advocating for gender equality. Another panelist from Save the Children International noted that development cannot be sustainable unless it is inclusive and participatory, supporting women and girls as agents of change.
If women in rural communities are the most disadvantaged and impoverished group of people in the world, the only way to support them is to talk to them, include them in conversation, and bring their individual and collective voices into the processes of decision-making and development.