Popstar Yemi Alade champions gender empowerment in new UN role

Alade joins a growing list of celebrities working with the UN to raise awareness of gender inequality and poverty

Having risen to the top of a male-dominated industry, Nigerian singer-songwriter Yemi Alade was has been appointed as the latest Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Kicking off her new role as the COVID-19 pandemic surges around the world, Alade has called for coronavirus recovery plans to focus on the disproportionate impact of the crisis on the poorest and most vulnerable people, who are often women, especially in developing nations.

Impact of COVID-19

“Women are among the four billion people who are trying to survive COVID-19 without any form of social protection,” said Alade.

“I want to lend my voice to these women and other vulnerable people who make up half of the world that’s struggling to make ends meet. They don’t have the luxury of working from home and are putting their health at risk just to put food on the table.”

She stressed that recovery from COVID-19 needs to go hand-in-hand with climate action. Joining the conversation from her home in Nigeria, the musician explained that climate change and the degradation of the environment is very real in her home country.

“In Nigeria, we have to stop the deforestation. We need our trees. We need our green. And even though we are located in a part of the world that’s very hot. Every year gets hotter and hotter. And even the regular seasons for rain keep fluctuating,” Alade said. 

“If we do not take this one opportunity that we have right now, I don’t think that an opportunity like that might come again soon,” Alade said. “Going green at a time when we are trying to help the world economy to recover would actually help everything recover better.”

“Climate change and poverty go hand-in-hand, and neither is gender-neutral. Women in developing countries, such as my homeland Nigeria, are disproportionately affected by both.”

Alade, 31 joined a list of celebrities, including footballer Didier Drogba and actor Antonio Banderas and actor and producer Connie Britton as a goodwill ambassador for the UNDP to raise awareness of inequality, poverty and climate change.

Gender inequalities

Her appointment was announced at the start75th United Nations General Assembly week September 21- 25th, during which Britton spoke on challenges of parenting, gender equality and how women are bearing the brunt of the pandemic.

Juggling work and potty training, having meetings interrupted by kids, and dealing with reluctant remote learners are some of the topics that came up in conversation with Anjali Kwatra, Acting Director of Communications at UNDP.

 “As I anticipate going back into production, I have to think about how I’m going to juggle my son’s education, quarantine, any trouble, logistics, how I’m going to make sure that he is taking care of, and learning while I’m working. That’s a huge challenge for me that I never had to confront before. But at least I have the internet and access to the technology we need,” said Britton, a single mom to a school-age boy.

She pointed to the fact that not everyone has been equally affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Its socio-economic impact has hit women who are struggling to make ends meet and lack any social protections the hardest. UNDP reports that the pandemic will push 47 million women and girls into extreme poverty by 2021.  


Global Goals

Britton pointed out that women are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response, including as healthcare and service industry workers, and are playing a pivotal role in ensuring the well-being and resilience of their families and communities.

“Globally, 70% of health and social sector workers are women. And in addition to that, the preponderance of domestic responsibilities globally fall upon women,” Britton said. 

“We are trying so hard with the Global Goals to achieve gender equity by 2030, and this is taking a substantial toll, particularly on women, economically.”

“Fifty per cent of men think that in times of crisis, men have more right to job opportunities than women do. So we really are still facing difficult cultural norms. It’s a steep uphill climb because these ideas are so deeply entrenched in our ways of thinking and our culture that we don’t even realise that they are there,” Britton said, referencing findings from UNDP’s Gender Social Norms Index released earlier this year.

Britton addressed some of the gender bias she has encountered throughout her career. “We see some progress, but still most roles and stories are mostly written by men for men,” she said, adding that “inequity in terms of pay is still very extremely prevalent and problematic in my business.”

New opportunities

“In this time of crisis we need to think more expansively on how to address these issues,” Britton said. “My hope is that we will continue to build strength for women around the world, as when women are empowered economically, we all prosper and benefit. I want that trend going.”

Alade feels strongly that responses to the pandemic also provide an opportunity to build back better and greener. She will advocate for transformational changes towards a sustainable future and a new normal: one where all people can live in harmony with nature. This includes lending support to The Lion’s Share, a UNDP initiative dedicated to protecting biodiversity, which Alade feels is critically important as we battle a global pandemic and strive to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

With four albums and many hits under her belt, Alade is one of the biggest Afro-pop female artists on the African continent, and the first African female Afro-pop artist to hit over 100 million views on YouTube.

Alade’s UNDP CV

Having participated in the launch of UNDP’s Mission 1.5 Climate Action initiative earlier this year and promoted UNDP’s COVID-19 response efforts, Alade has already proven to be a valuable and powerful voice for UNDP.

Most recently, she joined UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner in delivering opening remarks at UNDP’s High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) side event focused on the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on those without any social protection.

Alade joins UNDP during a milestone year that marks the UN’s 75th anniversary and the launch of a Decade of Action for the world to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

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