Editorial: Are we governing for gender equality and peace? Or perpetual violence and conflict?
by Abigail Ruane, WILPF Women, Peace and Security Programme Director
On September 24th and 25th, world leaders met at the SDG Summit at the UN General Assembly to discuss strategies for implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. With growing inequalities, conflict, and climate catastrophe, the SDGs may be our last best hope for a livable future.
Yet governments are failing to do their job on the SDGs.
In 2018, the economic cost of violence globally was $14.7 trillion USD (12.4% of global GDP and $1,988 USD per person). Between 2007 and 2019, the number of forcibly displaced people increased by 66 percent, from 42.7 million to 70.8 million - numbers that can only be expected to further compound by climate-related migration in the coming decades.
Over the past four years, we have continued to see siloed policies that entrench the power and privilege of the 1%. Each year at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, governments rationalise narrow and short-term development projects, lament inefficiencies, and turn to the private sector for technical and financial solutions.
But inefficiency is not the main problem. Our current systems don’t need an upgrade: they need to be redesigned. We cannot keep systems that actively undermine peace, gender equality, and sustainable development.
The issue of conflict makes this very clear. Even though world leaders have committed to SDG 16 on peaceful, just, and inclusive societies, global military expenditure is on the rise, and exceeded $1.8 trillion USD in 2018. Military expenditure fuels violent conflict and undermines peace around the world, from inside the home to communities. Arms proliferation undermines the ability of countries to develop and the ability of people to thrive.
SDG 10 on inequalities calls for dramatic reduction of inequalities within and between countries. And yet, according to a recent Oxfam report, the world’s 26 richest people own the same wealth as the poorest half of humanity. Some of that wealth, along with the trillions stashed away in tax havens, could contribute to ending poverty, providing housing, and closing gendered and racialized wealth gaps. But around the world, governments instead are actively enabling the concentration of wealth, failing to crack down on illicit financial flows, and gutting their social protection systems.
The fact that the world is spending such sums on war and preserving the wealth of the super-rich reflects more than bad funding priorities: our governance systems are structured for violence.
Ultimately, it’s time to deal with the elephant in the room. “Quick fixes” are not the solution. We need structural change. If governments don’t plan to listen to women peacebuilders and promote structural solutions, they should give up the charade of “championing” the 2030 Agenda.
Read Abigail Ruane’s chapter on SDG 16 in the global civil society report, Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2019: Reshaping Governance for Sustainability.
Over 100 speakers, including Heads of State and other dignitaries and influencers came together on September 24 and 25 for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Summit in the margins of the 74th UN General Assembly General Debate to review progress and identify measures to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The SDG summit launched a political declaration, which commits to a decade of action for delivery on the SDGs (2020-2030). WILPF monitored the SDG Summit as part of our work to leverage the Sustainable Development Goals for action on Women, Peace and Security.
Overall, the SDG Summit made clear that the international community is failing to deliver on the 2030 Agenda, and called for urgent action in order to put “people and planet at the center”. However, despite repeated recognition of the need for coordinated and coherent action for sustainable development, there were divergent approaches for how courageously and how practically to take action. While some speakers raised issues related to development justice, there was a disproportionate focus on public-private partnerships and development aid as solutions for delivering the SDGs. Furthermore, continued disconnects between development on one hand, and peace and security on the other hand, with too often superficial approaches to gender equality posed major challenges to creating the “world we want” for people and planet.
As the Women’s Major Group has previously noted in their 2019 position paper, the international community does not need charity from corporations - it needs them to pay their taxes and pay workers fairly so that states have the resources they need to provide social protection as public goods. It cannot treat peace as a project -- we need systems redesign. Shifting toward demands for development justice and feminist peace is required if we are to go beyond tinkering and towards delivering the world we want that leaves no one behind.
Earlier this year, over 80 organisations signed on to an Open Letter by WILPF and partners to the Group of Friends of 1325, urging member states to commit to accelerating actions on the SDGs that also advance the WPS agenda. (Read the full letter here). By the SDG Summit, over 116 Acceleration Actions were registeredby member states, UN entities, and other organizations to scale up action on the SDGs.
So how did member states do?
Of the 116 actions, 24 commitments (21%) commit to actions that contribute to both gender equality (SDG 5) and peaceful and inclusive societies (SDG 16), which is a positive result for action based on the WPS Agenda principles.
One third (38 actions or 33%) of actions were registered as contributing to gender equality (SDG 5) more broadly, and almost half (52 actions or 45%) were registered as contributing to peaceful and inclusive societies more broadly. In addition, approximately half of actions on SDG5 and SDG16 cross referenced the other goal, which is a positive result for policy coherence across the goals (63% of SDG 5 actions cross-listed SDG16, and 46% of SDG 16 actions cross-listed SDG5). Despite this, commitments were restricted by a narrow focus on projects rather than structural shifts. Further, Sweden was the only member state who explicitly affirmed the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, which it did as part of a commitment to scale-up its Feminist Foreign Policy.
While this analysis provides room for hope, more is needed. As women peacemakers have continued to say, peace is not a project. Leadership on the WPS Agenda should not be the issue: As WILPF’s analysis of the April 2019 Germany WPS commitments event demonstrates, many member states are already committing to accelerating the WPS Agenda in advance of its 20th Anniversary in 2020. This includes commitments by Canada, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, and the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs on disarmament, and also Italy and UNODA on WPS inline with the SDGs. Member states just need to close the loop on policy coherence.
Read more about the Acceleration Actions in our SDG Summit Analysis.
A Political Declaration of the Sustainable Development Goals Summit was formally adopted during the Opening session of the UNGA, which committed to a “decade of action and delivery for sustainable development.” While the declaration commits to accelerating action, it was drafted before the July HLPF and therefore was restricted from effectively taking up July discussions on key 2030 goals -- including on peace (SDG16), climate (SDG11), and inequalities (SDG10). Due to support from member state allies, the declaration does address gender equality. However, it does not address key priorities continually raised by the feminist movement, including unpaid care work, sexual and reproductive health and rights, LGBTQI communities, disarmament, and women human rights defenders and peacebuilders.
As WILPF’s coalition, the Women’s Major group has affirmed: a rights-based approach to the SDGs is not an option, but an obligation. Public private partnerships should not be advanced unless they are accountable through a legally binding corporate accountability mechanism. Social protection rather than austerity is required. Consistent ex-ante, and post gender, human rights, and environment impact assessments should be taken on all economic and other policies.
Moving forward, the international community must increase their vision and take more risks to address systemic barriers and leave no one behind. We need a power shift for feminist peace and development justice, including distributive justice, economic justice, environmental justice, gender justice, and social accountability.
Read the political declaration and WILPF's analysis of the SDG Summit.