Millennium Development Goals
In 2000, 189 nations came together and agreed upon 8 goals: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, and develop a global partnership for development. These goals are the most widely agreed upon and supported goals in the world’s history, and the commitments include measurable targets and timelines. Now there are five years left until the 2015 deadline, and according to experts, we have the knowledge, money, resources and technology to achieve the goals.
This September, the UN will hold a high-level plenary session to review the world’s progress on the Millennium Development Goals and to discuss the next five years. The UN Member States hope this MDG 2010 summit will rally support and encourage collective action in reaching the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. To prepare, the UN Member States asked the General Assembly President to organize informal hearings to give NGOs and CSOs an opportunity to provide input. On June 14th and 15th, non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations gathered to discuss human rights, gender equality, youth empowerment, and indigenous people’s concerns. We discussed best practices and lessons learned as well as the constraints of structural and systemic factors.
I was twelve when the General Assembly agreed to the Millennium Development Goals, but I didn’t hear about them until I was fourteen when Jeffrey Sachs, my hero at the time, headed the Millennium Project to develop an action plan for the world. I remember reading through the website, and I remember downloading a pdf file full of photographs, stories, and information detailing the importance of the 8 goals. I remember I was excited, and at the time, I believed the goals were achievable.
Now I’m twenty-one and I’ve spent enough time working in developing countries and communities in the United States to know that change is not easy nor quick, no matter how necessary. People trying to create positive change face a myriad of obstacles. It is difficult to know where to begin and to find support. Others constantly question one’s legitimacy, motives, and knowledge. But the biggest obstacles arise from within: self-doubt and burn out. These are only a few of the challenges, but they are many more.
So when an e-mail went out about the informal hearings in preparation for the summit in September, I knew I wanted to attend to hear the successes and failures, and the outlook for the future. Here’s my takeaway from the two day meeting.
A Different Kind of World Cup
“I would like to start with a formal complaint,” Irungu Houghton from Oxfam International began. This was the last session, and up until this point, no one had said anything controversial except the representative from Tunisia. Yesterday, he advocated encouraging early marriages to prevent homosexuality and the spread of HIV/AIDS. In my notes, I drew an arrow and included a large question mark with, “Did I hear that right?”
Later a woman from Zimbabwe and a woman from Zambia answered this question for me before I even said a word. From across the room, their beautiful, colorful dresses had caught my eye, and I made my way to sit with them to look at the designs more closely. One of the woman turned to me, smiled, offered me a mint, and asked, “Did you hear the man from Tunisia?” I nodded. “Imagine,” she continued, “a MAN bringing that idea to the UN of all places!!” I just nodded again. The other woman chimed in, “It made me ask what are we doing here?” I didn’t get a chance to ask her to explain what she meant because the next event started.
So when Houghton began with a formal complaint, I sat up and leaned forward in my seat with the rest of the audience.
“We have all this technology, and two screens here focused on my face, but no screen to watch the game!”
He was talking about the World Cup taking place in South Africa, obviously, but it still took a second for me to register the reference.
He continued, “If we had a TV set to the game, we might have a few more ambassadors present here today.” Around the room, people nodded. I laughed along and exchanged grins with my neighbors. We were sitting on the General Assembly floor at the final session of the Informal Interactive Hearings, and it was nice to hear some humor amidst the serious discussion.
However, his tone quickly changed as he talked about people losing hope that we may achieve any of the goals. He calls this pessimism, instigated by the current financial crisis, “MDG fatalism.” But he quickly changed tone again as he started sharing stories of men and women and children from around the world, stories of confidence, hope and purpose, and he wondered out loud: if they were in the room, would they allow for this pessimism or fatalism?
After speaking about the right to health and agriculture, he answered his own question, “No. We must shun pessimism, it is a luxury people must do without.” Pessimism is an excuse to not take action, a blanket to cover one’s eyes from the truth that we all make a difference, and pessimism is a luxury we can’t afford right now.
Houghton continued, “Now we are reaching the quarterfinals of another world cup. If governments and people do not develop comprehensive five-year plans and budgets to meet their commitments, the final outcome will not be worth watching. 2015 is not pre-determined. 2015 will be constructed collectively by our actions or inactions. 2015 could be a moment for celebration if we make the next 1660 days personal and if we make them count. Together we can make the final outcome worth watching.”
I agree with Mr. Houghton. In this world game, there are no spectators. We are all players and we must decide which team we are on. While I do not know any tangible outcomes to the meeting, we did get to hear stories from around the world about people changing things. For me, it’s always encouraging to hear these stories.
The two days reminded me of something I thought of doing last year while taking a class on genocide: highlight heroes from around the world who create positive social change, stand up for what is right, and make the world a better place for all of us. As soon as I get this website design figured out, I will start on that. 🙂0