Social Exclusion, Inequality and the SDGs
Wada Na Todo Abhiyaan and Oxfam
Wednesday, 23 Sept., 2:30-4PM, UN Church Center, New York
On 23 September, in preparation for the UN Sustainable Development Summit, Wada Na Todo Abhiyaan (India) convened a panel of activists from the Global South to discuss how the SDGs fall short in addressing social exclusion and what can be done to address this. The lack of a “social justice and dignity for all” framework guiding the 2030 Agenda is a missed opportunity, particularly for the global south. The aim of the event was to empower civil society to utilise the SDGs despite this deficiency.
The panel included Emilia Reyes of Equidad de Genero (Mexico) who spoke about gender issues and Latin America, representatives from Indian NGO 9 is Mine who provided the youth perspective, Secretary General Danny Sriskandarajah of Civicus (South Africa) giving the African perspective, and speakers from Wada Na Todo. They advocated for groups that could be left behind by the SDGs due to the structural barriers in place which the 2030 Agenda does not address.
Youth representatives from 9 is Mine discussed their campaign to push the Indian government to allocate 6% of GDP to education and 3% to health (the “9”) in light of the 25th Anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. They disputed the rhetoric that children’s rights are valued because they are the citizens of the future, rather children’s rights should be protected because they are valuable now.
Mr. Sriskandarajah provided an African perspective and expressed concern that governments often lack the political will to tackle social exclusion and inequalities. He called for an “accountability revolution”in which the public will impose a political price on governments who do not meet the commitments they’ve made in the SDGs. Civil society and activists can be crucial in this revolution by raising awareness of the responsibilities of governments.
Annie from WNTA spoke about the importance of intersectionality. She emphasised that social exclusion and inequality are particularly important topics in South-East Asia where the two biggest sources of inequality are caste and ethnicity. However caste and ethnicity often overlap with gender, language, age, religion etc. and the way that they are addressed depends on the country context.
Emilia Reyes, a member of the Women’s Major Group, reiterated the importance of intersectionality. Policy makers often want to treat women as a vulnerable group but gender cannot be separated from other vulnerabilities, there are women who are elderly and women who are indigenous and women who are disabled. Everyone needs to be included in decision making, states need to make the goals work with their own populations and diversities present in their countries.
The discussion prompted many important takeaways civil society must keep in mind moving forward with the 2030 Agenda. First, the Agenda must reach everyone, “no goal will be achieved unless it is achieved for each person.” Intersectionality is extremely important, vulnerable groups should not be treated as if isolated. There is a huge divide between private sector and civil society, with the private sector and governments focussed mainly on growth. However economic growth can be a source of even greater inequality. Structural issues of exclusion must be addressed in the formation of indicators. Social exclusion and inequality can be a “political issue”so civil society must raise awareness and keep pressure on governments to hold them accountable. Civil society needs to build power by organising and mobilising people to ensure everyone benefits from development.