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UNGA69: Human Rights and Financing for Development in the Post-2015 Agenda

FRIDAY FILE - Discussions on the new development agenda to replace the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when they expire in just over a year (with many goals not yet achieved), are reaching crucial stages. United Nations head Ban Ki-moon recently stated that the post-2015 development agenda will be a key part of the 69th UN General Assembly Session (UNGA), starting this week. We look at some of the ongoing concerns with the debates and negotiations ahead of the 69th UNGA.

By Susan Tolmay and Nerea Craviotto[i]

The outcome document of the 2010 High-level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly on the MDGs requested the Secretary-General to initiate thinking on a post-2015 development agenda and include recommendations in his annual report on efforts to accelerate MDG progress. The outcome of the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development initiated an intergovernmental process to prepare a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but which has largely been confined to conference rooms and corridors at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. There is broad agreement on the need for close linkages between the two processes to get to one global Post-2105 development agenda, with sustainable development at its centre and this confluence will start to happen at the current 69th UNGA.

Among Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), including feminist and women’s rights organizations, there is brewing skepticism about whether the new development framework will bring any real transformation of the global governance and economic system because of, among others, unwillingness to take on bold proposals towards structural transformations that could meaningfully address poverty and inequalities by member states.

A 30-member Open Working Group (OWG)[ii] set out in the Rio+20 outcome document was established and have had regular meetings to discuss and agree a proposal for the SDGs. Women’s rights organizations, who have participated throughout the meetings, raised several red flags following the conclusion of the OWG, saying “The adoption of the Open Working Group final outcome document is a significant step, but SDGs still lacking real ambition for urgent transformational change the world needs to achieve gender equality, women’s human rights, sustainable development in harmony with nature, and end inequalities"[iii]

Means of implementation is key

Important analysis is available on key components of the SDGs emerging in recent debates around Means of Implementation and Financing for Sustainable Development, the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing (ICESDF) and the road to the Addis Ababa follow-up International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD) in July 2015. CSOs including women and feminist organizations and human rights activists across regions are advocating for strengthening the proposed SDGs by putting human rights at the centre.

Issues around means of implementation can and should not be disassociated from questions around major macroeconomic questions including global economic governance and reforms. CSOs are urging leaders and all development actors, gathered at the UN General Assembly (UNGA 69) from 16 September to 1 October 2014, to embrace the spirit, vision and mission of Rio +20 and commit to bold changes to the current unsustainable and inequitable financial and trade systems to ensure the non retrogression, progressive realization, and use of maximum available resources to achieve human rights for all.

Human rights and justice for all

One of the consistent messages from civil society throughout this process has been that any new development agenda must be grounded in the principle of human rights and justice for all. Human rights commitments are legally binding universal values aimed to promote human wellbeing and should be the benchmark for any financing for development (FfD) framework post-2015. Furthermore the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966 and ratified by more than 160 countries clearly gives grounds to connect resources to people’s lives. Thus, development actors must ensure human rights based policy coherence, including on issues related to trade, investment, aid, tax, migration, intellectual property, debt, monetary policies and financial regulation. On top of this governments and international financial institutions must conduct independent and periodic public assessments of the human rights and sustainable development cross-border impacts of their policies and agreements.

The enjoyment of women’s rights and advancement of gender equality must be a central and well-funded objective in the post-2015 agenda. It must include specific indicators to measure not only the realization of women’s rights and wellbeing, but transformation of the entrenched power imbalances, patriarchal norms, social and cultural change, economic inequalities, and multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that perpetuate gender inequalities. Funding for women’s rights must not shy away from advancing meaningful access, including financial access, to quality sexual and reproductive health information and services and full sexual and reproductive autonomy as a pre-requisite for the fulfillment of women’s human rights. Furthermore, leaders must ensure that women’s rights organizations’ are at the forefront in guiding and shaping funding strategies for long term transformative change.

Fiscal justice, innovation and caution regarding new actors

A financing for development framework for the post-2015 agenda must have a focus on public funding for sustainable development. Domestic resource mobilization is essential to strengthen universal social protection floors that support the most at need through income redistribution.

While donor governments should meet their obligations that Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) constitute 0.7% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a bare minimum, new innovative mechanisms for financing for development need to be put in place, replacing the problematic aid and debt system with one based on respect, solidarity, equity, inclusion, non-subordination and justice for all.

While the private sector must play a role in achieving sustainable development and the post-2015 development agenda, we caution against the outsourcing of development cooperation and the implications for the lack of accountability. Private sector financing, including Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) must come hand in hand with compulsory evaluations, accountability, transparency in compliance with human rights norms and standards ensuring return on people’s rights, not profit.

Strengthening regulation of financial markets must be a top priority, including eliminating illicit financial flows, speculation with commodity prices and tax havens. This regulation of the financial market must must ensure that the private sector does not take with one hand what it gives with the other and include binding obligations for banks, foundations and rating agencies to fully respect human rights, in particularly not to violate or undermine the basic right to food, water and housing, the right to education, health and social security.

Well-designed, progressive fiscal policies are key policy levers to ensure non-regression in economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR). Responses to the financial crisis in 2008 highlight the catastrophic and inequitable impacts of so-called 'austerity measures', including those of fiscal policy aiming to lower public expenditure, on the poorest and most vulnerable. Learning from those lessons, civil society calls for counter-cyclical fiscal policies that allow a more balanced sharing of the costs of the crisis while ensuring universal social protection floors for all.

International governance and practice reform

Reform of the governance and practices of International Financial Institutions (IFIs) is imperative and urgent so that fiscal and monetary policies are in line with human rights standards, including particularly economic, social and cultural rights and women’s rights. It is important to ensure that IFIs are accountable for violations of human rights resulting from harmful policies and to strengthen stability of the international financial system.

The design and implementation of an independent and fair sovereign debt workout mechanism is imperative. Such a mechanism should address also the cancelation of the debts of low-income countries, provide immediate debt relief for severely indebted middle-income countries, and cancellation of the illegitimate debts of all Southern countries so that foreign debt is no longer an obstacle for governments to fulfill human rights obligations and design development-focused fiscal policies.

Out of the 69th UNGA, AWID, together with many other development, environment, trade union, feminist and human rights organizations worldwide, hopes Member States will commit their existing human rights obligations as essential and non-negotiable frameworks for delivering an inclusive, action-oriented and accountable sustainable development agenda. This spirit must set the stage ahead of the discussions and negotiations leading up to the September 2015 Summit[iv].

[i] With contributions from Ana Inés Abelenda and Alejandra Scampini.

[ii] With this OWG, Member States decided to use an innovative, constituency-based system of representation that is new to limited membership bodies of the General Assembly. This means that most of the seats in the OWG are shared by several countries.

[iii] In a statement released by the Women’s Major Group

[iv] The final phase of the Post 2015 intergovernmental negotiations will culminate in this summit, with a level of Heads of State and Governments.