By Patricia Suarez
At the core of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development is building peaceful, just, and inclusive societies. This is due to the fact that strong inclusive, transparent, and effective institutions are required to achieve all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As such, SDG 16 on “promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions on all levels” is a catalyst for the attainment of all SDGs. That is, to achieve all else, SDG 16 is integral and will lead to all the other SDGs.
Emphasizing the role of SDG 16 for the attainment of all other SDGs is the core objective of the Global Alliance for Reporting Progress on Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies. This coordinating platform is composed of 7 United Nations Member-States, Civil Society, and the Private Sector. Aside from generating understanding of the relationships between government entities and Civil Society, they also maintain that reporting leads to action which leads to progress in implementing the 2030 Agenda. Entitled ’Strong Institutions for Gender Equality and Poverty Eradication: How Reporting Promotes Partnerships, Peace, and Prosperity for All,’ this was the focus of the panel convened by the Global Alliance on July 19, 2017 during the High-Level Political Forum.
An underlying theme between all the panelists was the principle of indivisibility of the SDGs, with the panelists focusing on SDG 1 on the eradication of poverty and SDG 5 on gender equality, and narrowing in on the crucial role of SDG 16 on building strong and inclusive institutions. SDG 16 is needed as it ensures that the need for effective governance is fulfilled - that government institutions can provide the essential goods and services that the citizens require, so that citizens may be productive and shape the society in with they live in, leading to a better society for all wherein one community can relate to another despite diversity.
To achieve this, as Mr. Riadh Ben Sliman, the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of Tunisia to the UN, declared so eloquently: “There is no development without the equal treatment of women.” He emphasized the interlinkages of SDG 1, 5, and 16, saying that gender equality is the key to getting rid of poverty, and that the most feasible way to get rid of poverty is through having strong institutions that recognize the need to actively protect the rights of women, putting men and women on equal footing. The access to justice for women, the access to information (be it about the inherent rights of women as human beings as represented in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or in the access to information about reproductive rights), the active participation of women in decision-making positions - these all reinforce and strengthen each other. In doing so, they also help alleviate poverty as these women become more productive members of society.
The worst case scenario in a situation where there are no strong institutions is what Mr. Sliman briefly touched on - the people will take to the streets to voice their discord. When the Tunisian people, mainly the youth, took to the street, they were protesting poverty, they were protesting the failure of the Tunisian government to be there for them. This was despite Tunisia performing fairly well in the Millennium Development Goals - of which there was no SDG 16 equivalent.
Echoing this sentiment was Ms. Metter Gjerskov, a Member of the Danish Parliament. She sees SDG 16 as essentially about trust - do you trust your institutions? Do you trust your institutions to represent your will as a people? Do you trust your police officer and that he represents an institution that is there for you, to protect you? If there is no trust, then there is no strong relationship between the government and the people.
There is a need for strong institutions that also address and actively work for gender equality, and there is also a strong need to actively monitor programs and plans. Equal work for equal pay is a common sentiment carried across the world, but even when this is put into law, is it actually being done? The only way to know this is through the active monitoring and documentation. The data is there, as Ms. Michelle Breslauaer, the Director of the Americas Program of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), emphasized. The Positive Peace framework of the IEP is consistent with the 2030 Agenda, and the IEP already produces its annual Global Peace Index which can also be used to monitor the progress of the SDGs. From the Global Peace Index, the correlation between the multi-dimensional indicators of peacefulness and gender equality is easily seen. Thus, just as SDG 16 is an entry point to talk more broadly about the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, SDG 5 Is easily an entry point to achieve SDG 16.
A major emphasis was put on the importance of recognizing that if a woman escapes a situation wherein she is experiencing sexual and gender based violence, when a woman survives rape or other types of sexual violence, she needs a strong institution that will protect her and help her get justice. And yet, only 70 countries, out of the 193 Member-States of the United Nations, have human rights institutions. It is important to have an institution that focuses primarily on human rights as it allows this institution to narrow in on giving human rights centric recommendation, to concentrate on monitoring and reporting.
Finally, it is important to note that Global Gender Equality leads to 25% increase in world economy. And yet, only 23.4% of seats in national parliaments worldwide are held by women, less than one in three senior and middle management positions are held by women, only 52% of women married or in a union can freely make their decisions about consensual sexual relations and on reproductive health care. Additionally, 49 countries have no laws specifically for the protection of women from domestic violence. There are 37 countries exempt rape perpetrators from prosecution if they marry or are already married to the victim. This is unacceptable.