Expectations were high for last week's London meeting on the future of international development.
The three-day meeting of the UN panel tasked with outlining a future development framework after the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015 was much anticipated by development charities and NGOs. Many were cautiously optimistic that the process has signs of being much more consultative than with the original MDGs and were looking forward to having their say.
I was no exception. I was representing Sightsavers at the event and in the days that have followed I've been reading reactions in the blogosphere with interest. Notable commentators, such as Claire Melamed, have suggested it may have been a missed opportunity to make more concrete proposals, given the diverse calls that we heard from NGOs last week on issues from climate change to breast-feeding, youth empowerment to sanitation. Critics instead argue that civil society should narrow down their priorities for a new development framework post-2015.
In my view, this was neither feasible nor the right thing to do. It was clear from the 250 people who attended the panel's outreach meeting on Friday afternoon that we are indeed a diverse bunch. And rightly so - we are meant to be 'civil society', and if our claims to represent the more than one billion who live in poverty are to be taken seriously, we need to represent that range of complex inter-related needs.
What is important is for the panel to decide what principles they will apply to the new goals, respecting that there will be issues outside the goals that are also essential, but may not be best managed through a post-2015 framework. Civil society can absolutely help with this process - identifying the purpose of the framework and the principles behind it. And it may be we can go further and, through listening to people living in poverty, come up with some priorities from civil society as a whole. But I won't be holding my breath.
On the day itself, I was one of ten representatives from EU civil society selected to attend one of six roundtables with members of the panel on Friday morning, alongside a further 20 from global civil society. Panel members on my table included Queen Rania of Jordan and Amina Mohammed, the special advisor to the UN Secretary-General on post-2015. Other civil society representatives included a midwife from Sierra Leone and a health and population researcher from Kenya.
My table was asked to address the issue of access to services: How do we ensure that vulnerable groups (such as people with disabilities) can access the healthcare, water, education and other vital services they need? It might surprise you to hear that we actually came to some agreement.
The key principle we agreed on is equality. One of the major criticisms of the current MDGs is that some countries and groups of people are being left behind. For example, none of the so-called 'fragile states', often characterised by weak governance or conflict, will meet a single one of the MDGs.
And within countries, evidence suggests that vulnerable groups, such as disabled people, are increasingly being overlooked. Despite one of the goals being universal education for all, for example, being disabled more than doubles the chance of never enrolling in school in some countries. Overwhelmingly, I think participants at last week's meeting agreed that a future framework must tackle the issue of inequality head on.
So what can the panel do to make this happen? Again, I think participants seemed to reach a consensus that the new framework must allow for much better collection, access and analysis of data, in order to see in more detail what progress is really being made. By breaking data down by specific groups (such as gender, age and disability) and by sub-national regions, we'll be able to understand whether inequality is really being addressed. I hope this is an idea that the panel can take forward at their next meeting in Liberia in early 2013, when they will discuss the issue of national development.
Of course, as panel members reminded us on Friday, the MDGs have a clear advantage in that they are simple: just eight goals, easy to understand, relatively straightforward to measure. The new framework will need to walk a fine line between simplicity, universality and comprehensiveness. Poverty, after all, encompasses more than just eight issues.
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