When I arrived in New York on the 9th July 2019 to join my colleague for the High Level Political Forum (HLPF), I did not realise that I would have such an intense week ahead of me. The second week of the HLPF is usually occupied by country voluntary national reviews (VNR) and the ministerial declaration, but I also found out that it was a week peppered with numerous side-events. Given the fast approaching Nairobi Summit that marks 25 years since the International Conference of Population and Development’s Programme of Action (ICPD PoA), there were additional events parallel to the HLPF main sessions and its side-events.
This was also the week when I finally met in person contacts with whom I had been communicating over email. The various major groups of the HLPF are made up of activists and advocates from regions around the world.
Participating in the strategy meetings of stakeholders and the Women’s Major Group was a great way to connect and learn about the SDG progress in various regions and talk about the key issues that currently threaten the rights of women, girls and activists worldwide including conflict, climate change, harmful traditional practices, migration – reflecting the persisting social, economic and environmental challenges.
These meetings also served as a space for each of us to reflect on the HLPF process and the gaps, which if left unaddressed would leave many behind as we move closer to 2030. It was also eye-opening to watch how the Women’s Major Group mobilises itself and used creative mediums to highlight the energetic and vibrant campaigns that exist on a regional level to raise awareness and advocate for change.
VNRs were presented by 47 countries during the Ministerial Segment this time, with seven countries presenting for the second time. During the country voluntary national reviews, it was interesting to see the way the entire review was carried out. There were spaces for civil society to speak within one or two minute slots, and I noticed how many civil society statements appealed to either increase the duration of speaking slots or review the HLPF process altogether to maximise the space for civil society participation and ensure diverse representation.
There were also recommendations for the HLPF to have a meaningful outcome document rather than an outcome document that is pre-negotiated and agreed through intergovernmental consultations, which fails to capture the discussions during the annual and regional fora, and lacks the capacity to be used as a tool to follow-up action. During the High-level segment, “What are regions telling us about implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs?”, recommendations included the scope for interim VNRs to be presented at the regional level, before being presented at the HLPF.
Although this was my first time in the HLPF space, I could sense that youth participants, representing civil society, were vocal and critical about SDGs, and whether countries while prioritising it, were investing enough to include youth and their wellbeing in their national agendas. The statements delivered from the youth participants during the session touched upon a number of global concerns from climate change, reduced pace of economic growth, rising inequalities and the fact that youth in most countries were still facing discrimination in many forms preventing unrestricted access to opportunities, information and services.
Three youth advocates representing our partners from Indonesia and Pakistan were able to make oral statements. Both countries were up for their VNRs and it was a proud moment to see them setting out their country context and leaving questions for their government through their statements, especially around their sexual and reproductive rights (SRHR). These definitely were precious moments as we at ARROW have been working on strengthening their capacity on advocacy around their work on SDGs, SRHR and youth, starting from regional review processes namely the Asia Pacific Forum for Sustainable Development (APFSD) and the Asia Pacific Population Conference (APPC). The Pre-APFSD Youth Forum, precedes the main APFSD every year, and it is within that space that youth activists/advocates are annually brought together from across Asia Pacific to talk about their country experiences and draft a call to action with their recommendations especially around SDGs 4, 5, 8, 10 and 13. The asks from this regional call to action is also reflected in the national level SDG coordination process before it all feeds into international processes for SDGs such as the HLPF enriching its content, through the addition of a regional youth perspective on SDG progress.
The 2019 HLPF ended with visible concerns and doubts from civil society about whether countries can truly fulfill their commitment to the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. The sentiment was unanimously echoed by activists from all regions of the world. It remains to be seen how things will unfold during the upcoming SDG summit and during the Nairobi summit, which marks 25 years since the world committed to the ICPD PoA (24 years since the Beijing Platform of Action) and to SRHR. Most importantly, what remains to be seen is what all of this will mean for young people, and whether we are on track to build an inclusive and sustainable world, upholding the rights and choices of each and every individual.
by Naz Chowdhury