The new development goals: why the ambitions must be maintained and turned into action

20th July 2015

By Priya Nath, Global Policy and Advocacy Advisor (Post-2015), VSO.

Esther VSO

Women leaders that VSO works with. (Photo credit Adriane Ohanesian)

The UN has now released its eagerly awaited ‘zero draft’ document, outlining how the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) could look, in their final form. The good news is that the zero draft still displays a high level of ambition in terms of what needs to be achieved by 2030 in order to eliminate poverty. The goals are ambitious in that they address issues of sustainable development and climate change. The new goals will be applicable to all countries - not just developing countries, like the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It’s essential that this ambition does not waiver over the next few months, as the details are finalised.

Making volunteers visible

VSO strongly believes that the focus of the SDGs should be driven by what matters to people, not by governments or politics. Communities need to be able to help set the solutions to the challenges they face. The draft alludes to it being a people centred agenda way down in paragraph 43, by stating that this is “an agenda by and for the people” but we call for these seven short but vital words to be at the top of the agenda.

As a volunteering organisation, VSO is passionate about the role volunteers can play in facilitating these bottom up solutions, in the implementation of the new development goals. We must use this opportunity to recognise and support these vital, yet often invisible individuals. It’s very encouraging to see that volunteering is mentioned twice in the draft. “Successful implementation will also depend on the resources, knowledge and ingenuity of business, civil society, the scientific community, academia, research institutions, philanthropists and foundations, parliaments, local authorities, volunteers and other stakeholders.”

Gender equality is a right

Across the world, women suffer the most from poverty, but have the least say in the decisions that affect their lives. It’s significant that this draft recognises gender equality and women’s empowerment not just as a way to eradicate poverty, but also as a basic human right. In paragraph 18, the draft says that “the achievement of full human potential and sustainable development is not possible if one half of humanity continues to be denied its full rights and opportunities.”

I was pleased to see the inclusion of Target 5.5 on “women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life.” VSO knows from experience that women often have the least say in decisions that affect their lives, and that more women in leadership and decision making positions means better decisions for all. Take the example of Hon. Esther Murugi Mathenge from Kenya, the mother of two was the only female politician in Kenya when she started in office. Esther has now implemented changes which have benefitted the whole community, including women.

On the downside the draft is lacking a reference to the structural barriers to gender equality. Gender inequality cannot be ended without addressing its root causes – social norms and attitudes. Esther stated that becoming a woman in power hasn’t been easy, she says, “unfortunately, Kenyan politics is still seen as a man’s world and you are a trespasser.” If the root causes of inequality are not addressed women will continue to be deprived of the ability to live full and free lives.

Women need to be involved in decision-making at all levels of society, including within the community. Female community leaders are also important examples of women participating in decision-making. Female activists and community leaders such as Binti Ali Kiza, have to overcome many social barriers. Binti has been accused of being a home-breaker who doesn’t respect Kenyan culture. The fact that women like Binti are community leaders is significant. This is why it’s essential that Target 5.5 target is backed-up by indicators that measure women’s participation and influence at all levels of decision-making, as opposed to just counting the number of women in national parliaments, as is currently proposed.

Translate into action

What really matters is how these words translate into action. The zero draft has yet to nail the ‘how’ question: How will governments be held account in a meaningful way? How will resources be directed? How do we ensure that people themselves, especially those experiencing poverty and marginalisation, have a say in assessing the progress of this agenda?

There needs to be open and inclusive dialogue during the remaining UN level negotiations and at the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa. Both forums need to work hard to agree a set of implementation, accountability and measurement plans that match the ambition of these goals and targets, so that we get the best deal possible for people and the planet.

Suggested reading

Zero draft of the outcome document for the UN Summit to adopt the Post-2015 Development Agenda, United Nations

Volunteerism and the Post-2015 Agenda, VSO

Women in Power: beyond access to influence in a post-2015 world, VSO

A Lone Ranger: Hon. Esther Murugi Mathenge’s story, VSO

International Women's Day: Grassroots women's groups going it alone, despite rhetoric on gender The Guardian 7th March 2015