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Can the SDGs really leave no-one behind?

by Martha Witt

Today sees the end of the High-Level Political Forum, which included a three-day gathering of government ministers from across the world for an in-depth view of progress on the Sustainable Development Goals on empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.

As the meeting concludes, Martha Witt – Christian Aid’s International Advocacy Youth Volunteer -  reflects on what it would take for the SDGs to really ‘leave no-one behind’.

Martha is a teenage secondary school student, interested in studying geography at university, who recently finished her placement at Christian Aid’s London office. Here, she shares some of what she's learned about what’s at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals.

SDGs

As we embark on this great collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind. Recognizing that the dignity of the human person is fundamental, we wish to see the goals and targets met for all nations and peoples and for all segments of society. And we will endeavour to reach the furthest behind first.

                                              2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Leaving no-one behind is woven into the fabric of the SDGs. But for the goals to be truly transformative and successful, they have to have a positive impact on everyone, to give everyone’s voice a chance to be heard. This needs to be at the heart of the targets.

Across different global contexts, there are many social groups at risk of being left behind – from refugees to indigenous populations, from women to children. Many live at the intersection of multiple forms of oppression, based on gender, race, class, sexuality, ability or religious identity. Forgetting or ignoring them excludes valuable points of view.

The commitment to leave no-one behind means centring the voices and experiences of those who the current economic system forces to live on the margins of society.

Pledging to leave no-one behind – some challenges

There is no clear, single approach to the difficult task of making the Leave No-one Behind pledge real. Accessing every invisible population is difficult. There is no single strategy likely to work for the inclusion of all people.

Instead, different stakeholders are working on implementing the goals and moving to an improved future do so at different scales – from rural villages to High-Level Political Forums. They also have a spectrum of approaches, from proactive to reactive. Getting them to work together effectively, at the right time and in the right places, seems really difficult.

The question of how to resource the SDGs is also critical too. A combination of taxes, international aid and loans were expected to be the instruments for financing the delivery of the SDGs.

But, as Christian Aid’s Financing Injustice briefing shows, the private sector – including multinational corporations – has become the dominant ingredient in the financing mix. But are private sector actors – many of whom, as a recent Christian Aid blog explains, are associated with environmental and rights violations – legitimate funders of goals which have leave no-one behind as their enshrined principle?

So how can the SDGs best be transformative?

It is important to ensure that we stick to and reach the SDG targets. This must be based on a continued understanding of Agenda 2030 as an interconnected set of goals that should be articulated in a comprehensive way, intrinsically linked to human rights.

For SDGs to be transformative, they must ensure the representation of truly diverse voices from different backgrounds in decision-making.  Simply having a well-planned agenda will not allow goals to be reached.

Christian Aid and its partners do a lot of work on representation. For example, early this year, our partner the Bolivian Climate Change Platform offered technical support to a group of Indigenous women. They prepared a 'shadow report' on the current situation regarding women’s rights in their country, and  travelled to an international human right policy space in Geneva to present it.  Their unique voices - usually unheard - offered an alternative view to the official government report.

Shadow CEDAW report cover

We need to step up and apply this kind of approach to the SDGs, to bring marginalised voices in. We can't fully meet the goals until it’s clear that the successes and changes they bring are for everyone. Only a big push towards inclusion and representation, and continuing to ask questions about SDG financing, will ensure that no-one is left behind.