The United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) convened this year from July 10-19 to assess progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the halfway point between their adoption and 2030 deadline. The SDGs are a collection of 17 interlinked objectives designed to serve as a “shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future,” ranging from ending poverty, gender inequality and hunger, to promoting clean water and sustainability.
As HLPF came to a close, we spoke to four feminist activists from the Women’s Major Group about their experience at the convening—and their work fighting for gender-just implementation of the SDGs.
Ranjana Giri, Nepal
Program associate, Feminist Development Justice at the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development
One thing that has struck me is how many people here need help understanding the grassroots struggle.Ranjana Giri
I am from Bajura, Nepal—which lies in the far west, rural region. I’ve been working with APWLD for nearly three years. I have experience working with networks across the Asia Pacific region to organize collective demands that shift power from big corporations to the people. I had learned about and engaged with HLPF in the past online, but this is my first time joining in person.
Applying for a visa and preparing for the logistics was not easy. Being a young woman and coming from a less developed country (and a less developed region within the country), I was finally given the green light to attend HLPF, on the condition that I stay within 25 miles of the U.N. headquarters in NYC.
One thing that has struck me is how many people here need help understanding the grassroots struggle. I wonder how just and fair it is to discuss the issues of women, rural women, migrants, workers (formal/informal), Indigenous peoples, youth, farmers, etc., without them at the table.
In addition to increasing diverse representation, one of our priorities is to address systemic issues and barriers to sustainable development. Since these forums don’t discuss the root causes, we ensure we push for it.
We are also here to promote development justice as an alternative development model and challenge false solutions—such as public-private partnerships (PPP). For example, the fact that we pay such a high price for safe and clean drinking water—which should be universal—is due to a PPP. The alternative model of development that we advocate for puts people at the center and ensures women’s rights are fully realized.
At the midway point for the SDGs, we are still far from achieving them. This should be a severe concern to the U.N. and all governments. Governments with historical responsibilities should be held accountable for the multiple crises we face, including the debt crisis; inflation; austerity measures; rising inequalities in wealth, resources, and power; trade injustice, and the climate crisis.
Rather than confusing people by creating another new framework of development—which will also go unachieved if implementation is not prioritized—we collectively demand development justice now!
Mabel Bianco, Argentina
We don’t want leaders in the U.N. to jump to thinking about creating a new framework without advancing the one we have. We have six and a half years left and must advance this agenda to the last day.Mabel Bianco
This year, I’m participating as one of three co-chairs of the Major Groups and Other Stakeholders (MGoS) while representing the Women’s Major Group. I’m happy to say that I’ve been a part of this process since the MGoS and WMG were created in 1992 at Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The Women’s Major Group did a great job fighting for SDG 5—our standalone goal on gender equality—and now, we continue fighting to improve women’s and girls’ access worldwide to their full spectrum of rights.
This year is particularly important as we work to prepare additions to the report that will be presented at the SDG summit in September, which is intended to mark the beginning of a new phase of accelerated progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals. We organized two sessions to share civil society inputs with governments and emphasize that the SDGs must not only respond to economic development goals but also be grounded in human rights and gender equality.
While many governments have reacted positively to our messages, we have also seen pushback—for example, from governments that don’t want to work on SDG 5 on gender. This is a big concern for us because we have regressed due to the pandemic—on SDG 1 and 2, for example—and we need to invest a lot to recover what we’ve lost. The pandemic has also brought new roadblocks, such as visa and vaccine issues, limiting our access to this space. So we are here fighting to advance our agenda and ensure our rights as civil society organizations to participate meaningfully.
We don’t want leaders in the U.N. to jump to thinking about creating a new framework without advancing the one we have. We have six and a half years left and must advance this agenda to the last day.
Aanu Rotimi, Nigeria
Executive director, Center for Accountability and Inclusive Development (CAAID)
I wanted to see how countries and governments hold themselves accountable—but it seemed that they were more into promoting themselves than listening and engaging with feedback.Aanu Rotimi
My participation in HLPF as a first-timer aimed to amplify the importance of ensuring that every system works for the people—especially women, children, Indigenous peoples, and other members of the various communities—and to be part of making decisions that shape and affect their lives and development.
As a social advocate working to advance the needs of citizens through system strengthening and accountability actions, my perception of this year’s HLPF is that it leaves much more to be desired. The perspective of putting people at the core of development has been relegated as diplomacy, leaving the actual beneficiaries behind. Translating “leaving no one behind” requires the meaningful and effective participation of CSOs and others and repositioning their commitment and actions to work for the people.
I wanted to see how countries and governments hold themselves accountable—but it seemed that they were more into promoting themselves than listening and engaging with CSO feedback.
At this midway point, I hope for governments and the U.N. at the forthcoming SDGs summit to enact a sustainable culture of accountability. There should be greater engagement at the national level and gender and women’s issues should be seen as critical to attaining all goals. Without goal 5, there are no SDGs. There is no development without the people being at the core.
Emilia Reyes, Mexico
Program director of policies and budgets for equality and sustainable development, Equidad e Género
We are working to envision an economy that is not extractive and that does not go beyond planetary boundaries.Emilia Reyes
I work for a Mexican organization called Equidad de Género (Gender Equality), and I’m also a co-convener of the Financing for Development (FFD) CSO mechanism. I’m here working to support the FFD CSO mechanism because we have a mandate on Goal 17 oriented around transforming the global financial architecture to deliver for people and the planet.
One of the reasons I’m here is to highlight systemic obstacles to achieving any commitments to global justice. Suppose we don’t shift the system as it is now. In that case, we have a very unfair dynamic that benefits Global North countries concentrating wealth and enriching themselves at the expense of populations in the Global South. This has negative consequences for women, for example, through unpaid care work, but also for Indigenous peoples, workers, and others who have seen their rights violated.
This is also a political opportunity to raise awareness amongst social movements about our demands and issues related to economic justice and to discuss with governments why we cannot keep doing business as usual. For instance, we are advocating for a U.N. global tax convention to tackle illicit corporate tax abuse in a multilateral space, where even small countries can have a seat at the table. We held a session during HLPF challenging the unfairness of the current global tax dynamics and how detrimental it is that multilateral development banks insist on giving loans and keeping countries in debt.
Ultimately, we are working to envision an economy that is not extractive and that does not go beyond planetary boundaries.
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