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New Global Development Agenda Lacks Accountability, Activists Say

A young Cambodian woman rides a bike near slum homes on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, file photo.
A young Cambodian woman rides a bike near slum homes on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, file photo.

A new global plan for sustainable development was adopted at the United Nations in New York earlier this month, but questions are already being raised over whether goals intended to help raise people in countries like Cambodia out of poverty will be effective.

The new Sustainable Development Goals are the cornerstone of the post-2015 global development agenda, which looks to replace the Millennium Development Goals that expire next month.

The 17 new goals have been celebrated as taking a more long-term approach to development and addressing issues that were overlooked in the previous 15-year goals.

But women’s rights advocates say that the way the new rules have been set up may allow governments to get away with failing to improve their performance on gender equality and other issues.

The Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law Development, a network of 180 women’s rights organizations, has issued a statement stressing that while the goals were “welcome and include some critical commitments,” they were also lacking.

Kate Lappin, regional coordinator for group, told VOA Khmer that the Sustainable Development Goals do not include a commitment from governments to actually finance the new agenda.

“The three fundamental pillars required to transform the development agenda are missing: financing, accountability and reform of the global financing system,” she said by phone from Malaysia.

The new agenda does not include sufficient measures to hold governments accountable for their progress, instead relying on a voluntary system for checking performance, she said.

“They have not set up the system that allows people to check whether the governments have done what they have agreed to do,” Lappin said. “If they cannot hold government to account, if [there] is not going to be any money, and if they do not change the systems, the whole plan cannot be affected.”

Cambodia had some success on meeting Millennium Development Goals, especially those related to health issues like HIV/AIDS and malaria. However, the country failed to meet goals intended at promoting the role of women in government.

The Cambodian government has not yet officially adopted the new goals, and officials at the Ministry of Planning declined to comment on them.

Ros Sopheap, executive director of nongovernmental organization Gender and Development for Cambodia, told VOA Khmer that she agreed that the new goals lacked the backing of strong accountability.

Some of the new goals may be unrealistic, she added, increasing the likelihood that governments like Cambodia’s may not make serious efforts to meet them.

“They just [sign up to it] and are not serious about it,” Ros Sopheap said, adding that it was not clear where the funding would come from to meet the new goals. “I think there is no hope to achieve the goals if financial agenda is weak.”

The statement said that governments attending a major development financing meeting in Addis Ababa in July had signaled a lack of commitment to the new goals. No new financing was committed at the talks, and countries pulled back from previous pledges to address imbalances in the global financial system, the group said.

“The concern for all women aound the globe is with the weak finance plan of the governments behind the SDGs,” Ros Sopheap added. “And if it is not clear enough, it will impact to the process of achieving the goals or empowering women.”

Nik Sekhran, director for sustainable development in the UN Development Program’s bureau for policy and program support, disagreed with the criticisms.

Speaking from New York, he told VOA Khmer that gender equality and women’s empowerment were a key part of the SDGs, since countries where women are excluded from development tend to have higher inequality, which impacts on economic growth.

“I think we are all committed to ensure that women’s rights and gender parities are fully addressed in pursuing the new Sustainable Development Goals, and we are trying to ensure that women have equal rights and access to job employment, receiving equal rights, and ensure that the women’s contribution can share to the development,” he said.

The global population is expected to grow to more than 11 billion by the year 2100, posing a growing challenge to provide for the world’s basic needs, create jobs and reduce inequality. In order to reach that challenge, it is important to have support and engagement with the private sector and governments around the world, Sekhran said.

“It is a very ambitious agenda, and the achieving will require to be able to mobilize everybody, the entire global citizens to make their own contributions, we need to start from local level, and we need to transform whole economy,” he said.