Interview with Dr. Joannie Marlene Bewa

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Dr. Joannie Marlene Bewa is a physician, researcher, global advocate for girls, women and reproductive health. She grew up in Cotonou, Benin Republic, and is now living in the United States of America where she conducts research and teach, while pursuing a PhD at the University of South Florida College of Public Health. Joannie Marlene Bewa has been fighting for decades in order to overcome gender inequalities and has become over the years a renowned consultant and speaker on many matters involving women’s rights, health and empowerment. Dr. Bewa is also the founder of a non-profit organisation: the Young Beninese Leaders Association (YBLA), supported by Michelle Obama, focusing on 3 areas : health, young leadership and entrepreneurship and gender equality as well as the novel Global Health and International Development Program (GHID), a virtual global fellowship to guide, connect and train leaders in global health, gender and international development.

 Part of the Benin Government official delegation during the Commission of Population and Development negotiation at the United Nations, alumni of the United Nations Secretary General Youth Envoy Young Leaders for SDGs, she keeps on being sought worldwide as an expert in her various fields of knowledge including by high level dignitaries such as Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on International Women Day 2017, the UN Secretary General and the President of the General Assembly at the SDG Summit 2019 and France President Emmanuel Macron at the National Humanitarian Conference 2020.You can learn more information about Dr. Joannie Marlene Bewa, on her website : https://www.joanniebewa.com/

“ In your opinion, how are the SDGs really being put in practice by governments?” (EWB)

The support received by the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda really depends on from which lens you are looking from. In my experience, being involved with the SDGs, I have seen a great alignment with national policies in some countries and real political commitment throughout the world. At regional and continental levels, there are mechanisms to ensure implementation, monitoring evaluation and accountability. According to the report of independent scientists shared in 2019, over 110 countries submitted a voluntary national review to share progress towards integrating the SDGs in their plans. To be specific, governments will put the SDGs in practice by prioritizing climate change, economic growth, gender equality, peace and security, social and wellbeing measures including education and universal health coverage. In fact, half of the world population still do not have healthcare coverage, 100 million people are being pushed to extreme poverty because they have to pay for their healthcare themselves and we are aware that these issues are not only prevalent in emerging countries. 

“Do you have any stories where someone’s life changed regarding healthcare?” (EWB)

My personal story: I almost died at 9 years old from health issues and was lucky enough to be treated and taken care of. Did I not have access to quality health care, I would probably have not been here today. But I also want to highlight the millions of live lost from preventable diseases and urge the international community to learn from the current pandemic, which has exacerbated the mortality due to other pre-existing diseases. We must invest in building strong health systems and access to universal health for all.

“Is working with people of all different backgrounds, abilities and influence the key to succeed with the SDGs?” (EWB)

This is definitely what we learnt from the transition from Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to SDGs. We need to build on the 3Ps: people, planet and partnership. Being inclusive is key. 

“How do you think that the UN have adopted the leadership mindset and integrating women? What do you think is the most difficult to implement, regarding what you are fighting for?” 

I have noticed tremendous efforts in appointing women leaders at the highest decision-making positions within and out of the UN. We need to continue such efforts at national and grassroots levels as well as across sectors.  This is a perpetual call to action. 

We tend to leave behind young professional women who might not be as visible  as the seniors, and we need to make sure they have visibility and are being recognized. This is why I truly believe in core leadership and intergenerational dialogue. 

“Why do such few people know about the SDGs?” (EWB) 

As you’ve noticed, this is a global framework and it might not be easy for everyone to know and understand it. Inclusive and extensive national  and regional consultations led to developing the SDGs goals and targets. This is an excellent start but we must do a better job to raise awareness, involve people, translate SDGs in all local languages.

“How do you think the governments could implement important things such as healthcare in school curriculums?” (EWB) 

Governments need to see how curricula can be effective in building the next generation of global citizen and leaders who acquire important life and professional skills needed to change and develop their countries and the world. Healthcare education can be either mainstreamed through existing or new curricula.

There is also an opportunity for out of school programs to tap into that gap, develop new initiatives and educate children left behind. Non-profits and other organizations need to identify knowledge deficiencies and figure out new innovative ways to involve children into becoming part of the solution. 

“Do you think if you had been a man your journey would have been different?” (EWB)

I will definitely never know because I will never be a man. I want to celebrate my gender, but I also want to acknowledge the journey isn’t necessarily easy for most women of color because we have to prove our abilities. I am optimistic given  the direction the world is heading to, because women are increasingly being recognized for their tremendous impacts and leading the world.

“Do you think new generations have realized the need for change and are more in favour of gender equality?” 

People are aware and recognizing the need for change. We know what works and how we can bring the pieces of the puzzle together. What we might need to focus on is defining and investing better and smarter in our priorities. We must continue to educate the current and next generation on gender equality, monitor government’s progress and funds allocated to SDG5 implementation. We need to make sure all stakeholders are on board and ready to execute steps leading to achieving the SDG5. 

“Do you think that people will change their attitudes regarding the SDGs because of the pandemic?” (EWB)

This pandemic might be a chance for the world  to recognize how much interconnected and equally vulnerable we are. We need to keep the momentum built toward reaching the SDGs despite the lost occurred during the pandemic. A stronger global coordinated response to pressing issues is necessary to sustain the gain and build forward together 

“What is men’s role in the fight for gender equality?” (EWB) 

They absolutely need to take part. We need male allies. Alike women, men have tremendous recognition and power. We need to see more vocal men supporting the cause because gender equality is  a human rights’ issue. 

“What do you think about the implementation of quotas?” (EWB)

We need to measure and have goals. How do we measure our progress? 

I believe it really depends on the context and local realities. Either a quota or any other mechanism can be used to measure our advances and hold people accountable.

Thank you so much Joannie for taking the time in your busy schedule  

You will find more information on Dr. Joannie Bewa on  https://www.joanniebewa.com/

You can contact Dr Bewa on Linkedin or HERE

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