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International Dialogue: Accountability to advance SRHR commitments

Delegates at International Dialogue

How can the use of follow-up and review mechanisms help secure the implementation of SRHR-related SDGs?

At the 14th International Dialogue on Population and Sustainable Development, which took place in Berlin on 10/11 November 2016, delegates called for the harmonisation of follow-up and review mechanisms as a key element in achieving the SRHR-related goals of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development.

The event brought together stakeholders from government, non-governmental organisations and multilateral institutions under the banner ‘Accountability to Advance Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: Delivering on Commitments Together’. Delegates tackled the complicated architecture of follow-up and review mechanisms and shared strategies for gathering, reporting and making smart use of data. They also challenged each other on divisive issues such as how to make an economic case for SRHR while remaining committed to human rights, and how to use data in political arenas currently perceived to be dismissive of facts.

Inge Baumgarten, GIZ: Governments need to respect their SRHR obligations

In her opening remarks, Inge Baumgarten from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) called on governments to respect, protect and fulfil their SRHR obligations “so that all people can live self-determined lives, free from coercion and free from discrimination”. She acknowledged the limitations on millions of people, particularly girls and women, to claim these rights, and highlighted opportunities for advancement of SRHR through better accountability. “We are faced with a complex and diverse landscape of international and national review mechanisms. These mechanisms provide policies and guidance but also a space for mutual learning, and adaptation.”

Klaus Brill, Bayer Health Care: Let’s use this 2-day dialogue to build alliances

Her comments were placed in context by Klaus Brill, Vice President of Corporate Commercial Relations at Bayer Health Care. Brill applauded the international community for securing access to modern contraception for 300 million women in the world’s 69 poorest countries. He encouraged delegates to use the two-day dialogue to build strong alliances, and to develop their ability to gather and analyse data, in order to achieve success on SRHR goals by 2030.

Laura Londén, UNFPA: We are accountable to girls worldwide

Keynote speaker Laura Londén, the Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), helped root the technical and analytical nature of the work ahead in the experiences of women and girls. “A girl who was 10 in 2015, when the SDGs were endorsed by the global community, will be 25 when the goals are to have been achieved,” she explained. “In many ways, the life trajectory of a 10-year old girl will be the true test of whether the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a success—or failure. We are, all and everywhere, accountable to this girl.”

Londén drew attention to communities where girls at the age of 10 are not seen for their potential, but rather as a commodity that may be sold, traded or trafficked – for marriage, bearing children, free labour, or sexual exploitation. “Achieving the SDGs and the ICPD Programme of Action is paramount to ensuring that this 10-year old girl reaches her full potential,” Londén told the delegates. “Countries cannot end poverty if girls are unable to make a safe and healthy transition from adolescence to adulthood and become productive members of their communities and nations.”

She went on to highlight the role of the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) in reinforcing country ownership for implementing and reporting on the SDGs, and outlined the challenges presented by the lack of statistical capacity for data collection.

Marianne Beisheim: Securing SDG accountability has been a hard fight

Delegates then turned to examining existing thematic and regional review mechanisms – and assessing the degree to which they are binding for states. In an expert talk, Marianne Beisheim from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs explained that while monitoring tends to be about assessing data for verification, follow-up and review is about interpreting and analysing data, determining causal relationships, identifying successes and failures, capturing best practices, addressing challenges and, finally, agreeing on areas for capacity development.

“This informs the change management we might need,” Beisheim explained. She continued that while accountability in the human rights context is about responsibility of governments as duty bearers to their citizens, it had been a hard fight to secure accountability within the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. A number of member states positioned themselves against peer-to-peer review and intra-state accountability, because of concerns about intrusions into state affairs.

Alanna Galati, Guttmacher Institute: This dialogue has provided useful points for follow-up

Following this talk, delegates broke into smaller rotating discussions, where they shared knowledge on mechanisms that aim at increasing accountability for the achievement of SRHR- related goals. Alanna Galati, a Senior Policy Manager at the Guttmacher Institute, said this exchange was particularly useful. “There was a lot of discussion about how to use human rights mechanisms to promote SRHR,” she said. “It was really helpful to hear about all the different processes where SRHR can be linked, as well as where we can advocate for a broad SRHR agenda. And because I do policy work, it gives me a lot of different touch-points to follow-up on and make sure SRHR is included.”

Thomas Silberhorn, BMZ: Poverty still has a female face

In the evening, delegates attended a public panel on national voluntary reviews at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF), which was hosted by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). In his opening comments, Parliamentary State Secretary Thomas Silberhorn explained that Germany fought hard for the inclusion of SRHR in the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Poverty has a female face,” Silberhorn told the audience. “One lever for progress is gender equality – a key human right! That is why we, in our development cooperation… explicitly empower and support girls and women in order to improve their economic and social role.” This set the stage for a vibrant discussion of first experiences with reviews at the HLPF, specifically the health and gender goals.

Juan Antonio Perez III, Executive Director of the Philippines Commission on Population shared some of his country’s experiences, as they were among the first, alongside Germany, to report to the HLPF.

When reflecting on the lessons learned, Perez told the audience, “We’re looking at political commitments to the SDGs and that means identifying the champions at the national and local levels. That is where the action will be.”

Mangala Namasivayam, ARROW: Voluntary reviews let governments off the hook

The second day of the dialogue placed delegates at the centre, creating spaces for an exchange of knowledge as they looked for ways to harmonise mechanisms for greater accountability. This started with a fishbowl discussion led by the delegates themselves. As part of this, Mangala Namasivayam from the Asian Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW) outlined some of the reservations of civil society in the region where she works, including concerns that voluntary reviews “let governments off the hook”. She continued with examples of how civil society groups were working together to ensure better use of review mechanisms in the hopes of strengthening linkages between the Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) and the HLPF, which have been lacking so far.

Stuart Halford, UN: Human Rights Council fosters accountability on human rights issues

Meanwhile, Stuart Halford, Senior Representative to the United Nations in Geneva at The Sexual Rights Initiative, highlighted the strengths of the Universal Periodic Review at the Human Rights Council, particularly its effectiveness in holding states accountable on human rights issues, especially sexuality, gender and reproduction.
A major point of concern among delegates was how to communicate and use data in political spheres where facts or the voice of experts are not currently the main reference point for decision- making. Delegates identified countries where populist parties are advancing and discussed strategies for dealing with the expected export of political ideologies that directly compromise SRHR globally.

Tikhala Itaye: Overemphasis on reporting can compromise implementation

In the final hours of the conference, delegates were encouraged to breakaway and create their own workshops and discussion groups and develop strategies for better use of review mechanisms to improve accountability. “There are so many commitments and review processes,” said Tikhala Itaye from the African Youth and Adolescents Network on Population and Development. “We’re failing to implement commitments on the ground, because governments are overwhelmed with reporting and this has compromised implementation,” she said.

Marc Engelhardt, KfW: Let us reduce reporting burden by harmonizing indicators and review mechanisms

This point was recognised in the closing comments delivered by KfW Entwicklungsbank’s Director for Development and Climate, Marc Engelhardt. “You raised, rightly so, the concern that the reporting and data collection requirements related to most of these mechanisms increased substantially the burden on countries which already have weak capacities,” he said. “Therefore, we have to call urgently for more harmonisation on reporting and indicators set across different mechanisms. In addition to national states, we – the development community – need to improve and harmonise our monitoring and reporting systems.”

Rineke van Dam: We have to use accountability mechanisms to improve SRHR for the people

As she was leaving the two-day meeting, Rineke Van Dam, an international advocacy officer at Rutgers, said she now sees a solution to this problem in learning how to use and switch between mechanisms. “I’ve learned here that accountability has to happen at the national level. It comes down to a dialogue between governments, civil society and other actors in countries,” she said. “We have to become more literate in the scope of accountability mechanisms.. and use them to improve SRHR at the country level, for the people.”

Saroja Coelho, November 2016

Earlier International Dialogue conferences:

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