UN must prioritise equality, urge world’s most marginalised people
Slum dwellers among citizens of Brazil, Egypt, India and Uganda offering vision for future of development before UN talks
- theguardian.com, Tuesday 6 August 2013 09.43 BST
Equality before the law, corruption-free government, inclusiveness, gender equality, and respect for the environment are among the priorities for any future set of development goals, according to some of the world’s most marginalised people.
The issues emerged during an exercise designed to provide a “reality check” before a special UN session on the millennium development goals(MDGs) and the targets that should replace them when they expire in 2015.
The meeting is scheduled to take place in New York next month. Four groups were consulted, each comprising 10 to 14 people, including urban slum dwellers, people with disabilities, nomadic and indigenous people, and those from remote communities.
The four “ground-level panels” under the Participate initiative mirrored the work of the 27-person UN high-level panel (HLP), chaired by David Cameron and the presidents of Liberia and Indonesia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Whereas the HLP brought together experts to discuss a future development agenda, the ground-level panels gathered grassroots views, canvassing opinion among those likely to be affected by such an agenda. The HLP submitted its report (pdf) to Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, in May, proposing 12 goals.
Indian panellists called for restrictions on the sale of alcohol. Photograph: AP
The report said the world should set the ambitious goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and go beyond the MDGs, which did not focus enough on reaching the poorest and most excluded people.
Respondents on the Participate panel in Uganda agreed with the report’s finding that no one should be left behind, urging a grassroots approach to policy. “We believe that bottom-up processes where the people decide what is to be done by their government must be a priority,” said the Ugandan group.
The panel also felt foreign investment should create opportunities for Ugandans, and external investors should respect local customs and culture.
Corruption topped the list of 15 goals devised by the Indian panel. “Establish a corruption-free society and state,” it said. “Corruption is all-pervasive. Even national-led movements on corruption have been sidelined by political parties.”
Caste was also a concern, with respondents calling for an end to discrimination and stigma based on class, language, disability, sexual orientation, gender, age and religion. The Indian group felt strongly about alcohol, advocating restrictions on the sale and promotion of alcoholic and other addictive substances and identifying a need to “sever the profit motive of the state in the sale of alcohol”.
In Egypt, which is in political turmoil, governance was seen as paramount. “When good governance is achieved, good policies will be set and the right calibre of leaders will be working in the right place,” the panel said.
The Egyptian respondents said the high-level panel should aim to bring to zero the number of people living on less than $2 a day. They also thought the HLP placed insufficient emphasis on self-sufficiency, arguing that Egyptians should own the resources needed for development and be able to secure enough local production of food, along with other basic items such as water and fuel.
The most radical vision came from Brazil‘s panel, which saw present patterns of development as tantamount to developing a “plan of death” for the planet. The group proposed a so-called plan for global life emphasising the importance of dignity. “We understand dignity as the complete fulfilment of human rights and basic security in terms of housing, access to land, health, nourishment, education, transport and leisure,” it said.
Brazilian respondents also spoke of “overcoming the dehumanisation produced by a system of consumption, and reinvigorating love in every human being’s heart. Union and harmonious interaction in diversity are the basis for the common good.”
Participate, an initiative from the Institute of Development Studies and the global campaign Beyond 2015, seeks to reach the poorest and most marginalised people – those without computers or mobile phones, or who are illiterate – in 40 countries.
As well as on-the-ground research through local partners, Participate has distilled the findings of 84 participatory research studies conducted in 107 countries over the past seven years. A key finding is that the MDG approach, focusing on universal access to services such as health and education, rarely benefits the poorest and most marginalised people.
The UN has held thematic and national consultations, supplemented by aMy World survey that has drawn responses from more than 800,000 people, with employment emerging as a priority.