23 September 2010

How Was It For You? The MDG Summit Outcome

It is of course too early to tell how "good" the MDG summit outcome was, but there was at least a welcome commitment to support citizens to do the "telling".

I have not had time to have a detailed look through Ban Ki Moon’s Keeping the Promise, released in advance of the much anticipated UN MDG Summit in New York, nor to scrutinise whether the $40bn pledged in New York is new or not. But the section on “The Way Forward” certainly strikes all the right notes: national ownership and leadership; the interdependence of rights, governance, security, gender inequality, development; and the need to live up to the norms and values in the original Millennium Declaration.

But two additional notes are particularly welcome: (a) the need to view the MDGs through a gender lens and (b) the need for more citizen-led monitoring of MDG delivery.

This is a bit new. Looking at things through a gender lens (not just a mother and child one) should open up spaces within the MDG narrative for discussion of power and politics. The commitment to citizen-led monitoring also promises the strengthening of relationships between citizens, states and businesses.

Inequality is mentioned 5 times in the 30 page document (twice in relation to gender). This is disappointing. As my IDS colleagues have argued, the MDGs are a politics and inequality-free zone. Naila Kabeer’s report, launched by IDS and the MDG Achievement Fund in New York during the Summit, shows that despite gains made to tackle global poverty, the measurements used to calculate countries' performances are disguising evidence of uneven achievement. Because the goals do not address the social justice agenda, argues Naila, many vulnerable people are simply left behind. A week before the Summit IDS’ Martin Greeley argued in his new report that the UN-wide Task Force's MDG progress papers clearly showed that the MDGs are achievable but only if the ambitions and resources of the international community are used more effectively. Yet again ‘inequality’ looms large, with one of the main recommendations of the report being to invest in public services that will tackle inequality.

UNICEF is showing the way with its equity focus, but donors and governments don’t much like talking about inequality. The focus on gender will force them to, but there are other forms of inequality that also need to be addressed.

Perhaps the most stark demonstration of the need to address inequality to accelerate progress on the MDGs is the new data analysis from IDS Fellow Andy Sumner. It finds that three quarters of the world’s poor do not live in “low income” countries any longer. The figures show that poverty is as much about inequality within countries as an absolute lack of resources in a country.

Other reflections?

The Summit has produced some impressive-sounding aid commitments, but only the UK has really shown the global leadership, underpinned by cross party support, to actually pledge putting aid commitments into law.

We also need to remember that much of the inequality and poverty in this world is generated by policies that have nothing to do with how much aid money there is: trade, energy, narcotics, finance, and security are the big ticket items. Citizen-led monitoring of the commitments of governments—high, emerging and low income—in all these areas needs to be a priority.

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