First draft of sustainable development goals exposes gaps, warn NGOs

NGO stands at the European Development Days (4 June) [Georgi Gotev]

NGO stands at the European Development Days conference.Thursday (4 June). [Georgi Gotev]

The new set of development goals that will address global poverty, inequality and climate change over the next 15 years are strong on vision, but weak on the methods to make them a reality, NGOs warned this week.

After months of negotiations among UN member states, the first official – “zero” – draft of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) was published on Tuesday (2 June).

As widely expected, the number of goals (17) and number of targets (169) have not changed since they were first proposed by a UN open working group last year. Some of the targets have been recommended for revisions.

The SDGs will replace the current millennium development goals, which expire at the end of the year. However, concerns have been raised about how the new goals will be measured.

WaterAid is concerned that while there is a target to reach everyone everywhere with sanitation and hygiene, there are presently no indicators to measure whether, for instance, homes or healthcare facilities have soap and water for handwashing,” said Margaret Batty, the NGO’s director of global policy and campaigns.

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“Without these indicators, the sustainable development goals will not succeed in the goal of leaving no one behind.”

Helen Dennis, Christian Aid’s senior adviser on poverty and inequality, added: “We have yet to see strong enough plans for how the ambitious vision will be achieved. It is clear that the sections of the document on financing and implementation, and on follow-up and review, need to be beefed up before September. Achieving the vision will also depend on an ambitious, legally binding climate deal later this year.”

Ahead of this week’s publication, worries were voiced about the possible removal of a proposed indicator for the target to eliminate female genital mutilation (FGM).

The indicators – roughly two for each target – are currently being reviewed by an expert group. Each indicator is being assessed for its feasibility, suitability and relevance.

A target contained under the proposed goal number five calls for the elimination of all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and FGM. However, while the indicator for child marriage – the percentage of women aged 20 to 24 married before 18 – was seen as a good fit in a recent survey among member states, the FGM indicator – the percentage of girls and women aged 15 to 49 who have undergone the practice – was regarded as too difficult a measure.

A decision on the indicators for all goals is not expected until March next year.

However, the goals and targets will be adopted at a special summit at the UN general assembly in September and will come into force on 1 January 2016.

Related: ‘Women need the same rights as men, because development needs equality’

The zero draft suggests revisions to 21 of the targets, including those on building resilience among poor people, reducing pollution and on child labour.

The draft declaration accompanying the goals calls for a global plan of action for people, planet and prosperity, that promotes peace, the rule of law and human rights.

Dennis said the draft offered a “welcome vision of a more equal and sustainable world”.

Jacqui Hunt, Europe office director at Equality Now, said she welcomed the commitments to end violence and discrimination against women and girls, adding: “We also note the report’s proposal that strong legislation is vital to ensure that gender equality can be realised and hope that all governments adhere to this requirement immediately.

“Without sound in-country laws and policies, which can be effectively implemented, we may not be able to achieve this specific goal as quickly as we need to, for the betterment of all society. We do not want to be calling for the same thing in 15 years’ time and urge all governments to move quickly.”

But, with more than three months to go before the goals are adopted officially, women’s rights activists warned that nothing can be taken for granted in the negotiations.

“The current zero draft outcome for the post-2015 summit in many ways reflects the successful and tireless advocacy efforts of women’s rights and feminist organisations,” said Alejandra Scampini, lead advocacy coordinator at the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (Awid).

“The document highlights women’s rights and gender equality prominently, and it is critical that this focus remains. Nevertheless, we are concerned and staying alert to the fact that women’s rights are often used as bargaining chips, to be traded as if they are optional, rather than obligations, especially as negotiations continue.

“Our engagement will seek to ensure that there is no roll back at the international conference on financing for development [to be held in Ethiopia in July], and in relation to decisions on the indicators that will measure progress on the SDGs. While pleased with the prominence of gender equality within the document, we are concerned that there is very little that is transformatory in terms of economic and financial governance.”

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