The U.N. MDG Summit ~ 20-22 September 2010
(July 2010 Update)
SUMMARY & OUTLINE
During the Summer this year the monthly issues will the light and keep track of the preparations for the United Nations MDG Summit to be held 20-22 September 2010 in New York. The UN Secretary-General has made a formal invitation to all nations to participate in this summit on the MDGs. Gender equality is one of the goals (MDG3), and one that is generating much resistance from some institutions, both secular and religious.
The patriarchal mindset still prevails worldwide, and radically so in some institutions. Resistance to MDG3 may be the best case example of the nefarious influence of patriarchal institutions on sustainable development and other significant issues of social and environmental
justice. Full partnership between men and women is a prerequisite for sustainable human development.
It is anticipated that MDG8 -- creating a global partnership for development -- will be another hot topic for discussion. At the moment, there is stagnation in generating the international political will required for making significant progress toward the 2015 targets. The future of sustainable development worldwide hinges on the success of this summit.
Planning information and some of the working documents are already online at the UN MDG summit web site. This issue provides a roadmap of this online documentation, with emphasis on opportunities for participation. The outline for page 1 is as follows:
This issue includes updates of the two supplements:
Supplement 1: Advances in Sustainable Development, is a monthly snapshot of significant recent contributions to in-depth understanding of the sustainable development process in general and integral human development in particular. This supplement includes the following items:
The UN MDG Summit Web Site was recently launched in anticipation of the summit meeting to be held 20-22 September 2010 in New York. The eight MDGs remain the same, and the 2015 targets are not moving, but the world has changed a lot since the Millennium Declaration was approved by the General Assembly in 2000.
Target 1: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day Target 2: Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people Target 3: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger
Target 1: Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS Target 2: Achieve, by 2010, universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it Target 3: Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases
Target 1: Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources Target 2: Reduce biodiversity loss, achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss Target 3: Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation Target 4: By 2020, to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers
Target 1: Address the special needs of least developed countries, landlocked countries and small island developing states Target 2: Develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system Target 3: Deal comprehensively with developing countries’ debt Target 4: In cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries Target 5: In cooperation with the private sector, make available benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications.
"Our challenge today is to agree on an action agenda to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. With five years to go to the target date of 2015, the prospect of falling short of achieving the Goals because of a lack of commitment is very real. This would be an unacceptable failure from both the moral and the practical standpoint. If we fail, the dangers in the world — instability, violence, epidemic diseases, environmental degradation, runaway population growth — will all be multiplied." Keeping the promise: a forward-looking review to promote an agreed action agenda to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 12 February 2010, section 4.
In the May 2010 issue of this journal, a few recommendations were offered pursuant to facing this challenge. These recommendations are structured around the "guiding principles" proposed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Keeping the promise, section 99, and are reiterated here with a an added sense or urgency:
"1. National ownership and leadership complemented by supportive global programmes, measures and policies that align with national priorities and respect national sovereignty are essential."
Since global solutions are imperative, and solutions must be consistent with national priorities, it follows that national priorities must be supportive of global solutions. Managing the circular feedback loops between global and national needs is unavoidable. Iterating around
these loops requires that all nations agree on the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity, and sustainability. The principle of subsidiarity is especially critical if global and national interests are to be mutually supportive. It is indispensable if some form of global governance is eventually required -- and it is hard to envision global solutions to global problems without global governance. Even if global governance could somehow be avoided or postponed, the principle of subsidiarity must be applied to all sustainable development initiatives ate the local, national, and global levels. Else, MDG8 becomes an impossibility.
"2. The interdependence of human rights, gender equality, governance, development and peace and security must be recognized to attain success and sustainability."
Respect for human rights and the need for governance, development, and peace and security are already acknowledged (at least in theory) by all nations. This is not the case with regard to gender equality. In this sense, gaining a universal commitment to gender equality should be a pivotal goal of the "MDG summit." It is reasonable to anticipate universal secular support for this commitment. But universal religious support will be harder to achieve. In fact, some religious institutions will actively try to sabotage any such commitment as being (for some "divinely revealed" reasons) contrary to the wellbeing of humanity. These are the same institutions that persist in excluding women from roles of real religious authority due to the inordinate attachment to the "phallic syndrome." If the religious dimension of gender equality is not addressed, MDG3 will never come to pass, and MDG8 will never come to pass either.
"3. The need to look at the Millennium Development Goals through a gender lens is critical, since women and girls typically face the greatest burdens of extreme poverty, hunger and disease. All of the action areas need to include specific strategies for tackling challenges faced by girls and women. On top of this, critical actions are needed to focus on overarching priorities for gender equality, including challenges of women’s political representation and the intolerable reality of violence against women."
Indeed, "a gender lens is critical." But when it comes to issues that pertain to vested interests and/or ancient prejudice, the lens must be really transparent; else, various interest groups will see only what they want to see. This is especially true with regard to gender equality.
Gender equality is a visceral issue. In the secular world, people with a mindset that gender inequality is "the natural order of things" often display visceral reactions to any proposal in favor of gender equality. In the religious world, it is even worst as visceral reactions are exacerbated by religious fanaticism about obeying "God's will." Of course, men and women are genitally and psychologically different -- and, as the French say, Vive Le Difference!. And of course, it is also generally recognized that gender inequities (economic or otherwise) are morally wrong.
But the issue of gender equality transcends differences in genitalia and/or equity. Gender equality is about the equal dignity of men and women as human persons who share one and the same human nature. And gender equality is about fostering the integral human development of both men and women, boys and girls, without artificial restrictions imposed by primitive thinking, some of which persist as "sacred traditions" in many religious institutions. It is hoped that the "MDG summit" will be unequivocal in calling for gender equality in all nations and human institutions, both secular and religious; anything else would be a disservice to humanity and a sabotage of the MDGs.
In this regard, it is noteworthy that the Vatican and the Islamic Republic of Iran - both of which are rigid theocracies - are among the few states that have not yet ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), a process that started in 1979. Given the persistence of secular/religious opposition to gender equality, it is a sign of hope that the United Nations has created (resolution of the General Assembly, 2 July 2010), a unified agency - UN Women - to carry forward the struggle to overcome patriarchal cultures worldwide. Women's development is a pivotal dimension of human development. The press release is reprinted below:
UN Women Born: Civil Society Celebrates Creation of Gender Equality Entity After Four Years of Advocacy
New York, July 1 2010 – The Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR) Campaign celebrates the United Nations General Assembly resolution, agreed to on 30 June and to be formally adopted by the General Assembly on Friday, 2 July, to establish “UN Women”—the new gender equality entity at the UN. This move has been sought by women’s organizations and other civil society organizations around the world since the UN established a System-Wide Coherence Panel for UN Reform in 2006.
Charlotte Bunch of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutgers University, a founding member of the GEAR Campaign, stated, “We have high expectations for this new agency to be a solid foundation for advancing the human rights of women as central to global policy efforts to reduce poverty and move toward greater realization of peace and democracy in the world. The coalition of women’s groups and other social justice, human rights and development organizations that played a pivotal role in this effort will now turn its efforts toward ensuring that the new body has the human and financial resources necessary to succeed.”
Particularly notable in the resolution are the paragraphs regarding the importance of civil society participation in the new entity. The body must have increased operational presence at the country level including engagement with women’s groups and other civil society organizations invested in gender equality and the empowerment of women. The GEAR Campaign’s global, regional, and national networks will be contacting UN representatives at all levels to work with the transition process and the new Under Secretary-General, once appointed, to ensure they are connected with organizations on the ground ready to provide their expertise and support.
As Patricia Licuanan of the Philippines, GEAR focal point in Asia and previous Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women at the time of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing says: “The new gender equality entity will assist countries in their efforts to carry out commitments made in Beijing. Working through the One UN system, we hope to see UN Women taking the lead in engendering the programs of the UN at the country level.” As the new entity is developed, GEAR supporters will continue to advocate for four major elements critical to its implementation:
Meaningful, systematic and diverse civil society participation at all levels
Strong, country-level operational capacity and universal coverage
Ambitious funding with stable and predictable resources aimed at reaching $1 billion within a few years
Strong leadership at the top with an Under Secretary-General who combines a global vision with gender equality expertise on the ground
“We know that this is only the beginning,” stated Rachel Harris of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO). “We must continue to ensure that we are building a United Nations that really works for all women!”
Background The GEAR Campaign is a network of over 300 women’s, human rights and social justice groups around the world that have been working for four years to gain UN Member State and UN Secretariat approval for creation of a larger more coherent coordinated UN agency that can advance further the UN’s mandate of working for gender equality as a crucial component of development, human rights, humanitarian concerns, peace and security.
The new Gender Equality Entity to be headed by an Under-Secretary General, will consolidate the four existing UN bodies on women, increase operational capacity at the country level and have gain increased funding for work on women’s empowerment and advancement. The UN currently has four separate entities dedicated to women’s issues which will be combined in the new entity: the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), and the Office of the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI). Bringing these together and coordinating their work more with gender mainstreaming throughout the UN system should the UN and governments to deliver more effectively on their obligations and many commitments to advance gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s human rights.
"4. The norms and values embedded in the Millennium Declaration and international human rights instruments must continue to provide the
foundation for engagement, in particular the key human rights principles of non-discrimination, meaningful participation and accountability."
Specifically, what is needed is a worldwide commitment to end all human rights abuses, all discriminatory practices, all exclusivist organizations, and all secular and religious structures in which the authorities restrict participation of all stakeholders in governance and make decisions (or evade making them) under the privilege of secrecy. Lord Acton's dictum remains prophetical: "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Now we also know that secrecy corrupts, and absolute secrecy corrupts absolutely; and this applies to both secular and religious institutions.
"5. The need to empower the poor through scaled-up efforts focused on citizen monitoring of Millennium Development Goal delivery, capacity building and improving access to financial and legal services remains crucial."
Specifically, this should include supporting development in geographical areas that lack basic necessities and compensating this by an equivalent reduction of extravagant consumption in the overdeveloped areas. In all countries, it should include enhancing human development opportunities for girls and women to bring them into balance with those available for boys and men. This is not reverse discrimination. It is simply a matter of distributive justice.
These recommendations are difficult but not unfeasible. All the recommendations are interdisciplinary. Everyone who wants to make a contribution can have a piece of the action. Politicians will have to rise to the occasion. Let's hope they will. If the "MDG summit" meeting is successful in achieving the necessary national commitments, then the collaborative/integrative work could be accomplished via the National Sustainable Development Strategies. These national strategies might eventually be integrated into a Global Sustainable Development Strategy to be approved by the General Assembly. This will take time. Structuring some appropriate form of global environmental/climate governance will take time. Let's hope that Gaia is patient and kind.
Finally, a note of caution: Leveling the playing field between the two halves of humanity (male and female) may eventually require a critical examination of the MDGs and MDG targets as currently formulated. The patriarchal mindset is so pervasive that it may be necessary to exorcise the "phallic syndrome" from the definition of MDG targets. I am indebted to Japanese scholar Miwako Kamimura for convincingly bringing this point to my attention in recent correspondence. Further research is urgently needed to ensure that the MDG targets actually mark the right direction to achieve gender equality as opposed to simply paying lip service to it. For the time being, however, the MDG targets as presently defined should be pursued with every resource at the disposal of the UN and the member nations.
Clarification: The preceding paragraph might give the impression that the "phallic syndrome" is Ms. Kamimura's terminology. It is not. She uses the more nuanced phrase "male-centered model of citizenship" to argue that an explicitly feminine perspective may be lacking in the MDG definitions and targets. Habitual readers of this journal will recognize the "phallic syndrome" as a term we use to describe situations in which a "male-centered model of citizenship" has become so pervasive as to degenerate into a form of social pathology. It is based on "phallagocentrism", a term coined by French philosopher Jacques Derrida to describe the propensity to favor masculine terminology in the articulation of meaning.
3. General Consultation and Opportunities for Participation
In preparation for the September Summit, there are several ways to participate by providing your input in a consultation process (open to the general public) that is already underway. You can choose one or more of the following options:
CoNGO, the NGO Working Group on UN Access was created to address ongoing concerns about increasing restrictions on NGO access – physical and political – to the UN. Your concrete examples of access issues are imperative to the success of the work of the Working Group. You are thus invited to submit such to firstname.lastname@example.org
The new body - UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) - will merge four of the world body’s agencies and offices: UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues (OSAGI), and the UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW). Set to be based in New York, UN Women will become operational on January 1, 2011.
Working documents for the MDG summit as of 4 July 2010:
The MDG Summit will be comprised of 6 plenary meeting and six interactive roundtables over the course of the three days (20-22 September 2010). The six round-table sessions will have at least 50 seats each and will be co-chaired by two Heads of State or Government. The six round-table meetings would have the overarching objective of "Making it happen by 2015", and each one will focus on one theme, as follows:
Round table 1 — Addressing the challenge of poverty, hunger and gender equality
Round table 2 — Meeting the goals of health and education
Round table 3 — Promoting sustainable development
Round table 4 — Addressing emerging issues and evolving approaches
Round table 5 — Addressing the special needs of the most vulnerable
Round table 6 — Widening and strengthening partnerships
It is noteworthy that gender equality, poverty, and hunger are conflated in the first round-table. Indeed, gender equality is the only way out of the poverty cycle and the hunger that is endemic to extreme poverty. This round table will be a critical turning point for the MDG summit. If gender equality is shown to be the highest priority, then the effectiveness of round tables 2 to 6 will follow as a series of waterfalls. If, on the other hand, opponents of gender equality are able to dilute the fundamental gender equality issue, then round tables 2 to 6 will become rather meaningless discussions; for gender equality is the pivotal issue that runs as a common thread through the six themes.
In fact, gender equality is the most fundamental and universal social issue confronting humanity. In a recent presentation at the UN, actress Geena Davis touched on the importance of fostering gender equality, especially in the early education of children and via the media:
Surely, the media is not the only culprit. Day after day, week after week, so many children see domestic violence in their own homes. These children grow up thinking that "real men" hit and rape. But there are other, more insidious ways to indoctrinate children and make them think that boys are better than girls. Week after week, month after month, year after year, children who attend religious services in most churches, mosques, synagogues, and other temples see only men presiding -- and perhaps boys assisting, but not girls. The psychological harm done by this lack of gender balance in religious services should not be underestimated. And the religious institutions that perpetuate gender inequality (and other forms of sexual misbehavior) are hurting themselves to the point of becoming both victims and transmitters of the phallocentric syndrome. It is hereby suggested that this syndrome, readily observable as the characteristically patriarchal addiction to male hegemony, is the root cause of spiritual bankruptcy and the greatest obstacle to the Millennium Development Goals and other sustainable development initiatives.