PEOPLE, with the inclusion of women and girls, must be central to any development frameworks if humanity is to end the persistent presence of inequality which sustains the enabling environment that allows societal scourges like extreme poverty and violence.
This inclusion will demand of us a fundamental shift in the way the participation and input from an ordinary person, in particular women and girls, are considered when countries are formulating development plans.
The centrality of people, especially women and girls, in development plans is critical for maintaining humanity in what is fast becoming a world system that revolves around commercial interests. One is not dismissing this very important sector but rather laments its dominance.
A recent study by an international non-government organisation, Oxfam, ascertained that the world’s 85 richest people own the same wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest people — this staggering manifestation of the global commercial oligarchy has very real implications on the rest of us.
When people are not central to development plans, the dollar not only drives economies but determines societies’ fate and we as humanity shoot ourselves in the foot, if we do not seriously look into this imbalance. It has never been so important to emphasize the centrality of people’s interests in our development plans.
In most countries around the world, governments prioritize the economic empowerment and employment of women over their political empowerment and participation, a global review of the implementation of the development framework that guides the work of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) that is the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action (PoA), found.
This finding should set shrill warning bells within all of us; it is a reality reflective of how humanity and its interests are secondary to commercial interests. The finding affirms that women are dangerously becoming “accepted” as mere production units, and not, in most cases, individuals who have the right to political engagement.
Women and girls are individuals with every right to enjoy every aspect of their lives, whether they chose to be politically engaged or not, whether they want to be career women or are happiest as housewives. It is about the protection and realization by all people of the crucial right to choose.
Reporting to the executive board of UNDP/UNFPA/UNOPS last week, UNFPA Executive Director Dr Babatunde Osotimehin appealed for the recognition of the fact that inequality, which excludes so many from the fruits of development is nevertheless increasing.
Unless these inequalities are addressed, the development gains we celebrate today since the ICPD in 1994 cannot be maintained.
UNFPA’s emphasis on the centrality of people in development plans is based on the belief that it would work wonders for efforts towards ending present global trends like 800 women who die in childbirth on a daily basis or how gender-based violence have reached epidemic proportions, with an estimated three women worldwide reporting they have experienced physical or sexual abuse, mostly by an intimate partner.
UNFPA conducted the ICPD beyond 2014 review in 183 countries and territories. The findings affirms the benefits of the paradigm shift at the ICPD in Cairo, 20 years ago which placed individuals, their human rights and dignity at the very heart of development, emphasizing that sexual and reproductive health is a fundamental human right.
The paradigm shift then which changed the very terms of development also recognized that empowering women and girls was the most reliable pathway to improved lives, for all and not just them.
It is no secret that allowing a girl to complete her education has a positive impact on her family and community.
Despite the horrific figures like 800 women dying daily during or after childbirth, there is evidence that fewer women are meeting their deaths in this manner, more women accessing education and political participation, more children especially girls attending schools, an estimated one billion people have moved out of extreme poverty and/or more laws have been enacted protecting and upholding human rights.
“It is imperative and we owe it to ourselves to address fundamental issues like inequalities because these are foundations of worldviews which continue to allow behaviour that robs individuals of their dignity, of their humanity,” UNFPA Pacific Sub-Regional Director and Representative Dr Laurent Zessler said.
This year, 2014, is a critical year for UNFPA in terms of preparing a post-2014 development agenda as the ICPD PoA 20-year program completes its cycle; preparation for this will also contribute to the post-2015 agenda, in relation to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG 5 covers maternal health, one of UNFPA’s core mandate areas).
In September, Pacific representatives will participate for the first time in a Commission on Population and Development (CPD) session; the 47th CPD session in New York is the culmination of global processes of prioritizing development goals, in the last two years.
“The UNFPA Pacific office continues to contribute to the region’s preparation with training of delegates next month. Pacific delegates will be sitting at a table where countries who may want to remove human rights language from the text of the session’s outcome document will have extremely experienced negotiators,” Dr Zessler said.
“At a post-2014 development agenda Asia and the Pacific preparation meeting in August last year (2013), a united Pacific delegation made its mark in ensuring human rights language remained in the document, which showed how central their people are to their development plan deliberations.”
Pacific island countries may be tiny but they could still be the crop of courageous leaders at that negotiating table who decide to place people in the centre of their development plans.