The Asia Pacific Civil Society Forum on Sustainable Development was subtitled defending the Environment and Redefining Resiliency: Our collective Actions for Development Justice and these terms were to be used frequently over the three days.
Representing Soroptimists at this forum was SISWP Programme Director 2016-2018 Di Lockwood.
The Forum focus was on sharing information to enhance participation in processes, to highlight interlinkages and showcase work, to look at UNEA-4 and to prepare for the High Level Political Forum(HLPF) with a joint statement and to reflect on the work of the Asia Pacific CSO Regional Engagement Mechanism.
There were over 300 participants, most of whom were from specific interest groups but also the audience into which Soroptimists fit – organisations across thematic areas revant to sustainable development. The forum was held in Bangkok 25 – 30 March 2018.
The first morning was given over to introductions and the establishment of the context within which work would occur i.e. knowing political contexts and how best to engage and being aware of the linkages between different events. The afternoon looked through Plenary Sessions such as cluster goals with particular reference to UNEA.4 and how to gain environmental justice and a series of parallel workshops examining Peoples Priorities for Sustainable Development. This provided interesting insight into the range of activities and issues.
These focussed on accountability and monitoring which are vital and the stories of country actions varied greatly. Some countries e.g. Bangladesh seemed to have made genuine efforts to involve all of society in awareness of the SDGs and had consulted CSO on progress and on problems whereas others, including my own nation , despite talk still seemed to have a silo approach and there did not seem to be widespread social awareness of Agenda 2030. The final session looked at accountability to the people and stressed how this was vital at all levels and how human rights, standards and actions were valuable tools to use.
Some key questions used would be useful for Soroptimists to consider in reviewing their interactions:
- What are CSO experiences with consultations on data collection and verification by government and other processes?
- How can Voluntary National Review (VNR) processes be improved?
- What are CSO roles in monitoring, reporting and accountability
- What are barriers to CSO involvement in accounting and monitoring activities and how can we overcome them?
The third day looked at people’s movements and possible partnerships. While sharing of information and action might be valuable the different context in which groups work and the diversity of legislation make united action difficult and complex and currently, the rigidity of the UN system makes it difficult for UN entities to be as supportive and effective as they might wish. The final workshops were concerned with drafting a statement to the ministerial and refining it. There was also planning of statements by CSO representing specific groups where invited by the Chair at the ministerial sessions.
I am uncertain of the effectiveness of these interventions. While it makes CSOs feel involved and that they have their information recorded many countries do not seem interested and often delegate seats are not filled. It seems a routine endured rather than a real involvement. The opportunity to ask questions would be more effective however unlikely to be accepted.
The Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development was held from 28-30 March and was attended by Ministers and/or Consulate staff, It also was focussed on Sustainable and Resilient societies in Asia and the Pacific as preparation for the High Level Political Forum in July in New York where a number of countries will present their Voluntary National Reviews on progress in SDGs 6, 7, 11, 12, 15 and17.
The first session followed the normal pattern of electing Chairs and Deputy Chairs The next session had quite detailed introductions and presentations by ESCAP Directors, and subsequent sessions included reports from a variety of nations on their progress or lack thereof in achieving some of the SDG goals. It was patently obvious that ,apart from political context and a country’s stage of economic development, political will was very significant. From a Soroptimist view point it was dis appointing that many countries had not taken the nature of the Voluntary National Reviews seriously and had not been particularly open, transparent and consultative in their development of a statement. It was also obvious that the UN provides a wide range of consultation and assistance to countries to do this thoroughly,
A very positive part of this forum was the wide range of secondary events put on by UN entities and committed countries. I attended a range of these “.Leaving no-one behind “ was a good event as it explored what was meant by this catch phrase which was intended to overcome one of the weaknesses of the MDGs. It means ending extreme poverty in all its forms and reducing inequalities. It means prioritising and fast tracking actions for the poorest and most marginalised. It recognises that the trickling down effect for progress is naïve and according to a country’s development it will be implemented differently. It may mean that people living below the poverty line attain minimum status or it may mean expenditure on closing the gap.
Another side event that was valuable was “Human rights and the 2030 Agenda: Unleash the potential of Goal 17’s focus on partnerships and participation to promote human rights and the realisation of the SDGs” Presented by the Government of Denmark and the Danish Institute for Human Rights it looked at some key questions:
- How can human rights frame and guide national and regional partnerships to leave no one behind through collaboration on SDG and human rights monitoring, data collection and analysis?
- How can human rights contribute to ensng an enabling environment to strengthen partnerships and participation of stakeholders in the implementation of the SDGs?
- What practical tools are available.?
A practical tool is available and was launched at the session.
Perhaps the most worthwhile session for me was on “CSO participation in the VNR Process and Follow-up Mechanism” particularly after listening to a range of “Show and Tell” presentations and panel answers from many countries. It provided presentations on VNR experiences from 2017 and 2018 countries. This was followed by presentations on the guidelines and lessons learned from an analysis of information at the regional and country level. It was not comforting and underlines efforts currently underway to revise these guidelines to get more effective consultation and reporting.
At the forum was a Pavilion of Learning or stalls with information and I had to stop myself from gathering all the useful information as there is a limit on the weight of cases on overseas flights. An innovation was the Learning Café where discussions on topics were encouraged.
Representation at this annual event is valuable in keeping us in contact with our region and what is happening in our member countries. Key learnings for Soroptimists are:
- The importance of listening to the authentic voices and requests of those we seek to help
- The value of using human rights treaties, conventions etc. for our advocacy
- The need to pursue effective partnership
- The importance of actively pursuing involvement in the Voluntary National Review process
- The desirability of being kept informed about changes to the Voluntary National Review process
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