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Volume 7 | Issue 02 | February 2013 |


Original Forum

Unequal Bangladesh
Why we need an anti discrimination law
--Ishita Dutta

The Way to an Equitable Society
Interview with Meghna Guhathakurta

Social justice: An Unfulfilled Dream
-- Farheen Khan
Food Security and Social Justice in Bangladesh
-- Reaz Ahmed
Bringing Justice, Equality and Inclusion to the Global Development Agenda Beyond 2015
-- Dr. Faustina Pereira

Photo Feature

A Spiritual Respite

Eliminating corporal punishment:
A Far Cry for Bangladesh?

-- Md. Ashiq Iqbal and Aurin Huq

Social Justice and Ekushey February

-- Tawheed Rahim

The Disappearance
-- Sushmita S Preetha
Gang Rape in Delhi
-- Kavita Charanji
Rape and the law: The Post-Delhi Syndrome
-- Saqeb Mahbub
Rape of India: Statistics, slogans and the supporting cast
-- Ikhtiar Kazi
Pakistan: Death to the Apostates
-- Shudeepto Ariquzzaman
February in Bangladesh's History
-- Syed Badrul Ahsan
Dynamics of Valentine's Day Celebrations in Bangladesh
-- Dr. Zahidul Islam Biswas


Forum Home

Bringing Justice, Equality and Inclusion to the Global Development Agenda Beyond 2015

There is a long way to go yet, argues DR. FAUSTINA PEREIRA.

Understanding MDGs
Bangladesh has strong grounds to claim a prominent voice in the current debates that are influencing the global development agenda beyond 2015, which is the deadline for countries to deliver on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Bangladesh is on the list of developing countries that have delivered significantly on key goals. Going by an international score card on hitting targets, Bangladesh's list of gains is impressive. Satisfactory as this may be, Bangladesh and all other developing countries still have a long way to go. This article is about how the journey forward should take shape. First, however, a very a brief background on MDGs.


The MDGs are a set of eight targets, established by the UN in 2000, to mobilise national and collective efforts on critical development issues by 2015. These goals are:

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2. Achieve universal primary education
3. Promote gender equality and empower women
4. Reduce child mortality
5. Improve maternal health
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
7. Ensure environmental sustainability

8. Develop a global partnership for development A look at these goals show quite clearly that they are not equally relevant to all countries as thrust sectors; consequently, the progress of countries under the MDGs have been far from uniform. However, the fact is that no country has remained untouched by the influence of these global indicators of development. For some countries they have prompted unprecedented progress. Others have had greater challenges to overcome to show real results under this framework. In light of the various challenges faced, the UN has undertaken several consultative processes. The intention of these processes is to ensure that each of the 189 countries who are signatories to the MDGs can move forward together on a vision and set of core issues beyond 2015.

In July 2012, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, announced the formation of a High Level Panel on the post-Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agenda beyond 2015. The 26 Member High Level Panel (HLP) is co-chaired by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, and President of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. This High Level Panel, which is holding wide ranging consultations globally with various stakeholders, is mandated to hand over its final report to the UN Secretary General in April of this year.

Alongside the Post 2015 MDG process, the UN Secretary General also set up a process for consultations on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are to build upon the MDGs with a set of recommendations that will help embed sustainability into economic development. The push for taking sustainability concerns into account have gained ground since the Rio+20 Summit, which called for creating an enabling environment for job creation and strengthening global governance institutions to facilitate growth and economic and social stability.


The SDGs and Post 2015 MDGs consultations are among two of the most significant processes currently underway that have the power to shape how the world's architecture on growth, aid distribution and programmatic models of development will emerge beyond 2015. Several countries, thinkers and practitioners (particularly noteworthy of them being the Bellagio Group) are trying to influence the outcomes of these processes. Bangladesh by now has proved the utility of the MDG model strongly enough to push for a recognised role in these processes.

Bangladesh has been able to reach a reduction of extreme poverty by 2.0% a year over the last decade. It has increased the net enrollment ratio in primary education from 60.5% in 1990 to 94.0% in 2011. The share of women in wage employment has increased from 0.08 to 0.29, and the literacy rate of working age women and men has increased from 37% in 1990 to 58% in 2010. Infant mortality rate has been reduced from 92 to 42; the proportion of births attended by skilled birth personnel has increased from 5 to 24 compared to the target of 50%. Maternal mortality ratio per 10,000 women has reduced from 574 to 190 compared to the target of 144. The incidence of malaria per 100,000 population has reduced from 777 to 586 compared to the target of 310.

However gratifying a reading of this partial list of achievements may be, for Bangladesh and other developing countries similarly situated, there is absolutely no room to be complacent by the gains made. Rather we need to put our energies into sustaining current gains and hitting new targets. The only way to do this is by building on the present MDGs and then going beyond them. We start by taking stock of the progress already made and then we look for areas of significance which have been left out or not adequately addressed. In the next part of this paper I discuss three areas of human development which are almost non-existent in the current MDG framework. I also argue that if these issues are not given full attention in the development goals beyond 2015, they will at the very least have the effect of stagnating areas of current progress and open the door for a backlash on areas currently under challenge, not to mention the rolling back of global economic and social progress significantly.

The missing perspective
One of the main critiques of the MDGs, as they are currently conceived, is that they primarily address the symptoms of poverty and underdevelopment, but mostly ignore the deeper underlying causes. Critically, the MDGs lack a rights-based approach to development, which mask the causal linkages between lived reality and development outcomes. The current model confuses economic growth with progress in society.

Addressing this critical missing perspective may very well require choosing a radically different approach in the next set of MDG/SDG goals. It would need a full understanding of what the underlying causes are and what the factors are that stand in the way of real, sustainable development. I would like to underscore three areas which need to be brought into the ongoing process of developing a Post 2015 global development framework:

1.Recognition of human rights, gender equality, access to justice and empowerment of the poor as essential to any sustainable development strategy.

2.Recognition of the intersectionality of the human condition by adequately addressing how factors of inequality, discrimination, exclusion and diversity overlay factors of economic progress.

3.Recognition of the need for fundamental reforms of the international financial architecture so as to support developing countries achieve their economic and social development goals.

A good number of regional processes, especially South-South dialogues on the MDGs have more or less identified these as deficiencies as well. I would like to take special note of the Dhaka Declaration of December 2012 by Parliamentarians and Civil Society on MDG Acceleration and the Post 2015 Development Agenda. This Declaration hits all the right notes on how the Post 2015 Development Agenda needs to be shaped. Perhaps it may be wishful thinking to take this Declaration as an indicator that Bangladesh has its foot in the door of the global discourse on Post 2015 MDGs. But it would be a missed opportunity for Bangladesh not to pursue a role in this process which is going on in earnest around the globe. Each developing country which has shown progress on the MDG scale should put efforts to make its mark on the consultative processes so as to ensure that the goals and indicators negotiated and finally agreed upon are those that they can take ownership of. Hopefully, these negotiated goals will also be those that adequately address previously excluded issues of human rights, inequality and exclusion.

The Dhaka Declaration states, more clearly than many other such statements, that the formulation of a global development agenda beyond 2015 must be firmly based on critical lessons learned from the experience of the MDGs and other international development agendas including the ICPD+20 and CEDAW review, and must include the fundamental principles of gender equality as central not just to equality but also to human rights, democratic governance and sustainability.

Through this statement the Dhaka Declaration encapsulates a central defect in the existing MDGs, which is that they are primarily tilted towards economic empowerment and do not place enough weight on social and legal empowerment. Addressing this defect of course, must start with a shift in perspective: that there is more to human development than just meeting basic needs or being economically viable. The answer to the human condition must be found in a holistic approach which converges needs with rights, services with voice, and delivery mechanisms with effective access to them. Economic empowerment on its own loses meaning if we do not take into account the real factors of intersectionality that govern our lives. Factors such as gender, education, income, class, age, location, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and so forth are the real factors that determine how far or whether we benefit from economic empowerment.

Protection of one's legal right to an identity or ownership of a piece of land or exercise of one's choice of mobility cannot come at the cost of a pure economic model of development intervention, but one that is integrated with the lived reality of the citizen who is entitled to enjoy any one or all of these rights.

The perspective that needs to be roundly brought into the ongoing MDG/SDG negotiations is the centrality of the human person in all development efforts. More specifically, the centrality of the agency of the self-actualising human person needs to drive development designs. What we need to push for is a crucial paradigm shift from treating the individual and the community as objects of development to treating every person as a subject of development.

Gender justice: The entry point to reforming the post 2015 development agenda
There are important evidence-based studies that have shown, not least through the work of BRAC and Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, that by investing in and focusing on women as the centre of development interventions we achieve multi-layered levels of progress which rapidly spread from the household to the community and to the State level. These are also the interventions which have the most long lasting impact. When a woman is helped to recognize her own agency, and when her own justice seeking behaviour increases, the behaviour of the whole household changes. When we analyse Bangladesh's achievements of being “on-track” in several key MDG targets, we see that placing women at the centre of an integrated multi-sectoral plan has worked best. For example, when analysing Bangladesh's remarkable achievement in case of maternal mortality reduction under the MDG framework, we see that investment a decade ago on retention of girl children in secondary schools has paid off.

Worldwide as well, we are able to tag national progress with the closing of the gender gap in girls' enrolment in primary education and increase in women's participation in the labour market. Now what is required is to go beyond meeting women's basic needs to amplifying their voices as rights-holders to those development interventions.

Women's rights advocates have been claiming for over a decade now the centrality of gender equality to any development framework. It is crucial that this message of approaching the post 2015 MDG formulations from a gender lens is understood adequately. Overwhelming evidence already tells us that despite decades of development interventions, it is women who continue to be the majority of the world's poor. There is also evidence to show that the greatest barrier to progress on development goals has been gender inequality. The critical link between women's empowerment and their equal access to education, work, health care and decision making to development outcomes is already well established. Such evidence and ground realities should be the driving force behind the framing of global development goals.

Justice, equality and empowerment: Issues that go beyond “smart” indicators
There is a common argument that issues of justice and equality cannot be measured, and that even if some measurement indicator can be worked out, they are neither “smart” enough to make scientific and statistical sense nor tangible enough to determine impact. Being “smart” here means, of course, satisfying international development model requisites that an indicator should be specific, measurable, achievable in a cost effective way, relevant for the programme, and available in a timely manner. This sounds like a very reasonable tool to proceed with in a development project. But in reality, applying this tool to every project does not bring about the desired goal.

For decades we have been pushed to come up with “smart” results and indicators in social, legal and cultural program models which have all along been premised on scientific metrics which again look at parameters or measures of quantitative assessment. It is not a surprise therefore, to have less than “smart” indicators when we are trying to gauge a social outcome through a mathematical tool.

For post 2015 MDGs and especially SDGs, it will be necessary to reformulate the way performance indicators are devised for programmes on access to justice, equality of opportunities and empowerment of communities. I would like to recommend that we track progress on these issues through a set of process indicators in addition to outcome indicators. Not all sectors of development can be straight-jacketed into pure outcome or performance indicators. Process indicators are much better suited to picking up the differences and nuances of development in issues of justice, gender equality and inclusion of diversities. As the saying goes, “Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.”

A lot more work has to be done in the Post 2015 development goals process to make a tangible link between pure development language and rights language. One way to go about this is to change the definitions of development and to give new meanings to concepts of rights, entitlements and empowerment. For developing effective indicators on equality and access to justice in the MDG/SDG framework we can look at CEDAW's (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) definition of discrimination.

Looking at CEDAW will help development outcomes to be based on the recognition of existing inequality and the cumulative effect of past discrimination. CEDAW prescribes a redistribution of opportunities and resources as part of equality measures under Article 4.1, which deals with Temporary Special Measures (TSM). As an indicator, among other things, MDGs and SDGs could use this framework to help countries identify how TSM can be incorporated in the law and find numbers of women in that country who have benefited from TSM and in what ways. This can be further disaggregated by bringing in intersectionality of class, age, education, religion, ethnicity, physical and mental ability, income, location and other realities.

Going beyond 2015
In a 2010 think piece titled “Millennium Development Goals for the Rich?” David Sogge of the Transnational Institute strongly and rightly critiques the United Nations and developed countries which lead the global aid industry to have done very little or nothing at all to be held accountable under MDG Goal Eight, where such countries are required to contribute a percentage of their GDP to a global partnership for development. If the aid industry continues to push developing countries to deliver on descriptors of poverty, health, education, water and sanitation and economic development while largely avoiding crucial matters like inequality and discrimination and haemorrhaging funds from them, then, Sogge warns, trying to achieve the MDGs will be like trying to walk up an escalator going down.

Developing countries such as Bangladesh, which have already shown that the MDGs provide an important framework for development, must push donor countries on the materialisation this last goal. If not pushed and prioritized on goal 8, the materialisation on the preceding 7 goals will be jeopardized. This is not to say, however, that developing nations are to push for a charity agenda. Rather, we can look to the example of Bangladesh which has shown that an MDG-based national development strategy complemented by development assistance is the best way to back up each nation's human development ambitions.

Dr. Faustina Pereira is a human rights lawyer and Director, Human Rights and Legal Aid Services (HRLS), BRAC. In October 2012 she argued before the UN High Level Panel on the crucial need for inclusion of Rule of Law and Legal Empowerment of the Poor in the Post 2015 MDG framework.

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