After our participation and engagement at the 2017 HLPF, Biplabi Shrestha, our Programme Manager for Building new constituencies for SRHR shares her reflections on the overall forum and the state of member states’ commitment to universal access to SRHR.
On 10-19 July 2017, the second High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) was held under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council, with the theme of “Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world”. The forum concluded with the adoption of a ministerial declaration that reaffirmed the commitment of the member states to effectively implement the 2030 Agenda, ensuring that no one is left behind. The ministerial declaration will provide political leadership, guidance and recommendations on the 2030 Agenda’s implementation and follow-up. This year’s HLPF brought together 77 government ministries and nearly 2500 registered stakeholder including civil society, business sectors among others, for follow up and review of the implementation of Sustainable Goals (SDGs) 1, 2, 3, 5, 9, 14 and 17 on poverty, hunger, health, gender, infrastructure, life below water and means of implementation respectively.
The commitment towards the implementations of the SDGs were readily apparent as the number of member states who signed up for the review increased from 22 to 44, and as emphasis was put on effective monitoring systems based on data for a more holistic approach both at the Expert Group Meetings (EGM) and at the ministerial segments. Gender, as part of goal 5 as well as a cross-cutting issue, was featured as one of the highlights in the ministerial declaration with a clear ask from the member states to urgently address structural barriers to gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls; barriers such as discriminatory laws and policies, gender stereotypes, harmful practices and negative social norms and attitudes. Furthermore, the challenges in ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health care was acknowledged, and the need for investment in that front was recognized.
Despite these gains, there were some serious concerns in regards to both the approach and content of the HLPF.
Gaps remain in the effort to achieve comprehensive approach to address gender inequality and universal access to SRHR
Despite 41 of the 44 countries mentioning goal 5 in their review and plan, it is evident from the presentations – especially those from the Asian region – that narrow interpretations of gender limited the narrative of gender equality to economic empowerment of women and gender-based violence. While meaningful participation of women in decision-making spaces remain in focus, there is a lack of comprehensive approaches that recognise the heterogeneity of women’s experiences, context and gender diversity.
SRR and SRH to a certain extent remain contentious in the region, as demonstrated by the attention paid to the issues in country plans which, while present, remain inadequate – even in the ministerial declaration. The lack of a holistic approach to SRH for most of the countries in the region means that actions are limited to only a few aspects of health, such as maternal health and HIV prevention. Until countries are willing to realize that these health issues must be viewed through a rights-based lens, whatever progress made in this front will remain worrisome, and our work as SRHR advocates will continue.
Concern over shrinking spaces for CSOs
Despite claims that the 2030 Agenda is people centric, the rhetorical commitments made in the HLPF – often lacking context – remains untranslatable in lived realities; this is a direct result of the unwillingness on the part of member states to ensure meaningful participation of CSOs who works directly with the people on the ground. The CSOs at the forum experienced difficulties every step of the way; being denied access to the main conference venue due to limited number of passes issued, lack of space for interventions at the VNR sessions (with an exception of Denmark who had a CSO representative presenting their report), lack of avenue to present shadow reports, ineffective processes for the collection of CSO inputs for the ministerial declaration and inadequate attention to recommendations by CSOs which were hardly reflected in the ministerial declarations.
While the above represented an effort to ‘stifle’ the voices of CSOs, it was still encouraging to share the struggle with fellow organizations whose passion and energy pushed us to work at every opportune moment, including through side events, to make our voices heard.
We need to continuously demand for the accountability of member states to their 2030 Agenda commitments. Despite its non-binding nature, the SDGs and subsequent ministerial declarations are crucial documents that provide roadmaps for development at all levels. The engagement and consultation of CSOs in review processes at sub/national levels is imperative to ground the outcomes in reality, preventing it from being mere rhetoric.
SRHR is at the core of human development; now more than ever, especially in the wake of religious fundamentalism and conservatism, the commitment towards universal access to SRHR must be upheld. Gender equality should be at the heart of the 2030 Agenda implementations. Member states must be held accountable for their promise to – as quoted in the ministerial declaration – “ensure women’s full, equal and effective participation and leadership at all levels, in all areas, and in all efforts aimed at the eradication of poverty and promoting prosperity, including through financial literacy and inclusion.” Implementations of the SDGs should also take into account other international commitments such as the International Conference on Population and Development – Programme of Action (ICPD-PoA), Beijing Platform for Action and Human Rights Council resolutions pertaining to SRHR. As part of a larger CSO community, we must push for interlinkages between SRHR and other developmental concerns to be reflected not only in future HLPF endeavours, but also at the regional review mechanisms such as Asian Pacific Forum for Sustainable Development (APFSD) and at the national review processes of SDG implementations. We need to ensure that the HLPF allows for inclusivity of participation and interventions from a diverse range of CSOs for it to be truly people centric.
We may then hope that the subsequent HLPFs will be more productive, meaningful, and effective.