Early this morning, I woke up suddenly thinking about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and specifically of SDG Target 16.7: “Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels”. Maybe I’m weird to think of this before sunrise. Perhaps I’m suffering from severe repetitive jargon syndrome provoked by an overdose of hearing the SDGs’ mantra “Leave no one behind”. It constantly reverberates down from those at the top of the UN and its Agencies such as the WHO, UNICEF, UNDP and a dozen other organizations.
It seems that they have overlooked Target 16.7 of the SDGs. It appears that most of these UN Agencies do not allow the participation of the millions of some of the most ‘left behind’ — poor folks living with life-threatening or life changing diseases or disabilities, nor support the development of systems for accountable representation to assure that they are included in decisions that concern them.
Maybe those at the top just don’t understand the meaning of “… inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels”. Or perhaps they can not see the value of having the most affected communities having a ‘seat at the table’ with other stakeholders. Have they not read the SDG declarations that they agreed? Have they forgotten that they have signed the Common Understanding between the UN Agencies in 2003, and committed to advancing the meaningful participation of those concerned by their policy decisions and processes?
Clearly, when we look at the recent UN note on the progress of SDG 16.7 (Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels), the only mention is about the further inclusion of Member States (governments), without a word about affected communities or even civil society:
“Efforts are under way to make national and international institutions more effective, inclusive and transparent. Over the past 10 years, nearly two thirds of 144 countries with available data were able to plan their national budgets effectively (where final expenses remained within 10 per cent of original budgets). Voting rights assigned to various groups of countries in international institutions is one indication of inclusivity at the international level. For example, while developing countries account for 63 per cent of voting rights in the African Development Bank, this figure is only 35 per cent in the International Monetary Fund and 38 per cent in the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development of the World Bank Group.”
It appears that the UN thinks that SDG Target 16.7 applies first and foremost to governments, not to the people that these same governments have been leaving behind for decades.
What’s going on? Where’s the meaningful participation of affected communities that the UN agencies say they are committed to?
It’s time to find out exactly what is going on, and to see what the UN agencies are doing so that SDG Target 16.7 is achieved. To answer these questions, a dynamic group of activists, academics and health professionals are now collaborating on ‘All Aboard’, an innovative community-driven research project to assess the current state of meaningful participation in global health governance. The research includes interviews with the senior officials at the leading global health institutions, including WHO, UNAIDS, UNICEF, UNDP and UN Women, and questions about SDG Target 16.7 will be raised with these leaders.
We believe that the health-related SDGs and the UN’s 2030 Agenda will not be achieved without the meaningful participation and accountable representation of affected communities and the marginalised. The All Aboard research will hopefully inform and accelerate the process to “Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels”.
Then I can wake up without SDG Target 16.7 on my mind, and enjoy the sunrise and a new day dawning.