ARROW Executive Director Sivananthi Thanenthiran addressed the United Nations General Assembly on the 21st of April 2016, during the High Level Thematic Debate on Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
We welcome this exciting dialogue on implementing the SDGs, because indeed, the world today, with all of its current chaos and conflicts, calls upon us to embark on strategic action, and that is to focus our parameters on sustainable development.
The UN and all of its member states have recognised that inequalities have become an undeniable facet of all our lives, we see it everywhere, and we live it every day. From the Open Working Group thematic dialogues in 2014, to the inter-governmental negotiations in 2015, governments, UN agencies and civil society worked hard to find solutions to these inequalities, and the Sustainable Development Goals were crafted as a response to reducing and eradicating these inequalities. As such, governments should embrace all of the goals as a seamless package to commit to, and start work on. All of the goals, affect and impact each other and it is not possible to have sustainable development at national, regional and global levels if we are to take a siloed approach, and pick and choose specific goals to work on.
From ARROW’s work on the ground, I would like to posit certain trends we have noticed. The goals on health and gender equality need the commitment of all member states. Goal 3 and Goal 5 help build an enabling environment for the achievement of all other goals. From the region that I come from, investments made by governments such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, China in their public health system, and ensuring universal access and coverage to health – and their commitment to reduce maternal mortality, infant and child mortality, provide access to contraception, reduce adolescent pregnancies were vital ingredients of success for national development. These countries have scaled the development ladder, and provide good practices from the South for all countries. More importantly, most of the resources for health come from domestic resources which indicates a high level of political will to achieve universal access to health. Similarly countries in Asia such as Cambodia and Nepal, have shown strong political will, and adopted progressive policies such as providing access to safe abortion and reduced maternal mortality dramatically.
Providing universal access to health is one of the great social levelling policies, to reduce inequalities. Investing in primary health care, good data monitoring systems, monitoring and reviewing data frequently, being open to new ideas including ideas on sexual and reproductive rights, ensuring accountability in order to achieve outcomes within health has born fruit for these countries.
Gender inequality is one of the most prevalent, and the most persistent inequality of our time. Nations cannot claim to have sustainable development for its people by discriminating against half of their citizens. When we look at the countries which have been able to progress along the development trajectory – they have also had to change social norms by legislation and investment in programmes such as ending child, early and forced marriages, ensuring access to education, reducing violence against women, ensuring labour force participation of women in their economy. Ensuring women’s rights, human rights and gender equality is vital to sustainable development, because sustainable development cannot be built upon oppressive systems. Human rights principles seek to transform oppressive systems and must be part and parcel of Agenda 2030.
Civil society and governments often have difficult relationships. But enabling and ensuring critical voices to participate in decision-making spaces is essential because there is much for us to learn from each other, and civil society is able to show the significant gaps that exist and areas of improvement which are necessary. Civil society is a crucial partner in the development process, and ensuring civil society participation in the follow-up, monitoring and review of the SDGs, at the national, regional and global levels is necessary requirement of any accountability mechanism.
In all of our countries, strife and conflict are evident. Difficult times, call upon us to act with courage, with creativity and in collaboration. Let us be able to put aside parochial interests and try to work together for the larger good and help create a more equal, a more just world for everyone especially for women and girls.
Photo from http://www.unmultimedia.org/photo/