Meet Sonwabise Sebata: The woman fighting to make sure that Africans get equitable access to future COVID-19 vaccines

Sonwabise Sebata

This is the second part of “Inside Global Citizen”, a limited series this August. We pull back the curtain and highlight members of Global Citizen staff who are key parts of the organization’s advocacy, impact, and more. Be part of our community of outstanding women by joining today. 

 

“I went into public relations to help women realize their greatness. I saw PR as a way to drive women’s potential and to show the world that women aren’t fickle nor do they speak based on emotion. Women are intelligent, ambitious and their voices count.” – Sonwabise Sebata

 

Sonwabise is not your average PR girl. She is the Senior Manager, Global Policy and Government Affairs at Global Citizen and the (Acting) Chair of the Board of Directors for the South African Women in ICT Forum

Sonwabise is passionate about helping governments and companies bridge the global inequality gap through the use of technology. She attributes this drive and penchant for leadership to her background and how she was raised. 

 

“Being a firstborn Xhosa daughter, I [was] part of the elders in the family and got consulted on things that matter – big decisions within a family. And from a young age, I’ve had to make big decisions. I’ve had the opportunity for my voice to be heard,”  Sonwabise says.

The drive behind her quest on economic inclusion

“My life’s work is improving the ability, opportunity, and dignity of those disadvantaged based on their identity to take part in society. We cannot afford to leave anyone behind.”

-Sonwabise Sebata

 

Years after entering the workforce, Sonwabise was surprised to learn that a lot of women felt the need to have men validate their ideas and opinions. This realization sparked her commitment to fighting for equality and inclusion in all areas. 

She finds the exclusion of women in the workforce revolting and wasteful. A 2018 World Bank paper estimates that Africa alone lost $2.5 trillion in human capital due to gender inequality, and 11.4% of total wealth in 2014. 


Sonwabise says, “At the individual level, imagine the cost of exclusion – the loss of wages, lifetime earnings, and poor education. At the national level, the economic cost of social exclusion can be captured by lost gross domestic product (GDP) and human capital wealth, imagine that!” 

Exclusion robs individuals of dignity, security, and the opportunity to lead a better life.

As a continent, governments, organizations, and individuals must work towards “leaving no one behind” to help countries promote inclusive growth and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Sebata takes on COVID-19 issues in Africa

 

Thrust into the complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sebata explains that she finds that her work is even more important than ever. The pandemic has amplified existing systemic inequalities from gender-based violence to unemployment and systematic racism.

Focusing on access to good health care, Sebata and her team have been working to support the World Health Organisation’s efforts to make sure everyone has equal access to future vaccines.

 

“We ran the Global Goal: Unite for our Future summit. We were calling on world leaders to commit to equal access to treatments, tests, and vaccines for all. This was part of supporting the accelerator which was formed by the World Health Organisation, to ensure that all the global resources and finances are pooled into one fund so that there’s equal access and equal distribution when we finally do find a vaccine.” – Sonwabise Sebata

 

With kids out of school, families struggling to put food on the table, and some communities disproportionately dying, the most vulnerable people are losing the most in this pandemic. Sebata is hopeful that her work will help reduce the suffering of the most vulnerable.

 

“Ultimately, the campaign raised $25 million and the commitment by ECOWAS which will be used to develop resources and ensure all people in West Africa have the opportunity to reach their full potential,” Sonwabise states.

Sonwabise Takes the Fight to South Africa’s ‘Second Pandemic’

 

Globally, lockdowns have succeeded in “flattening the curve”. However, in South Africa, a frightening number of women have become victims of gender-based violence while locked in their homes. Not one to tolerate inequality and injustice,  Sonwabise rallied her team to create another campaign.



“We started another campaign where we got a lot of male influencers, male allies that support the fight against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) to take up pledges to say they will not keep quiet. That they will stand up to any sort of GBV and GBV activities that they see amongst themselves and amongst their friends, whether overt or covert.”

As a result of the campaign, the National Strategic Plan on Gender-based Violence and Femicide was completed and delivered to the President of South Africa. Sonwabise believes this milestone is a step in the right direction and hopes to see ground policing improve.

Advice on how women can fight daily systematic inequalities at work

 

As economies continue to try to wade through the effects of the global pandemic, Sebata warns that women should be prepared to deal with systematic inequalities at work more than ever. She advises that women collaborate and form mentor-mentee relationships to share intergenerational insights. 

 For women who are not yet in the workforce, she advises that “It is very important to go through some kind of either gap filler or internship between your graduation and the beginning of your career. Going through an internship program will take you through a real induction [so you can see] what the job is like, the corporate culture, communication, and the ways of working within corporate. An internship will help in educating yourself on laws and salary information.”


Sonwabise encourages young women to seek out mentors.  A mentor would be someone who helps put your career path into perspective and to see what milestones you hope to achieve.”Mentors are great! They guide you in terms of what to read, who to talk to and how to navigate certain challenges; as well as things not often spoken about like, ‘what do you do when you’re in a meeting and you feel awkward because your male counterpart is making you feel inferior?’ ”


Interested in making an impact in your community like Sonwabise? Learn more about how you can take action at globalcitizen.org or Global Citizen Twitter page.

About Munodiwa Bore

Munodiwa BoreI continuously seek to explore the intersection of different disciplines, challenging the status quo and introducing a young and fresh outlook on problems. I am passionately working on streamlining an interdisciplinary framework through which to understand the complex interactions of science, technology, business and the society.