by Siham Kadri, former WEDO Fellow in Sustainable Development

The fourth session of the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development goals convened last week with a focus on both ‘employment and decent work for all, social protection, youth, education and culture’ and ‘health and population dynamics’. I was especially interested in the topic of health as it relates to sustainable development and I had the privilege of attending some side events related to the High Level Report and the role of health as well as a session of the Open Working Group.

One of the side events I attended featured a discussion on the Report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda and was organized by the Secretariat of the High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Some of the critiques of the Report mentioned at the session by delegations and members of Civil Society included issues with language in the document that spoke to securing land for ‘business’ in the same context as securing land for vulnerable groups (indigenous, women etc.).  I wholeheartedly agree with the criticisms as there are legal mechanisms in place for the protection of land/property in the private sector and these laws are usually used to unjustly displace indigenous peoples, women and rightful landholders.  Therefore, it is imperative that we ensure that there are other mechanisms in place that protect the rights of vulnerable groups, especially to land which is more than often the major source of their livelihoods.  If a United Nations HLP Report speaks to securing land rights for the private sector in the same breath as protecting vulnerable groups, we are simply recreating the same problems without rectifying the injustice which continues to be a deficit to the hopes of sustainable development for all.

The Open Working Group session spoke directly to the issue of population and health and was especially informative as there were many speakers in attendance that gave a unique insight into the issues. A representative from the UNFPA highlighted the importance of the relationship between population and development as they affect issues of consumption, production, access to education, health etc.  Population dynamics were highlighted, but the emphasis was on expanding rights for women since restricting rights and coercive measures have been found to be counter productive.  The key to enlarging rights for women includes education, voluntary family planning, age appropriate sex education and rights/gender-based policies.  This emphasizes the need for a major shift towards gender equality and gender sensitive policies as overarching principles in the Post-2015 development agenda.

Finally, there was much discussion about Universal Health Coverage (UHC) as it relates to sustainable development.  A representative from the Rockefeller Foundation spoke to UHC as a commitment to health as a human right and spoke to it being the ultimate goal for all as rights and equity are key issues in the sustainable development agenda. It is well known that health is socially determined, so the conditions that we are born, live, work and age in play a major role in our health; these conditions are often determined by our political system, leaders and the distribution of wealth. Therefore, it is the responsibility of governments to ensure that health systems be well integrated rather than vertical so that access is for all persons and all services and must not be a financial burden for anyone.  This can often be a politicized issue for many countries, but the key message is that health care must be available to all those who need it and cannot afford it as it is an issue based on human rights and key to sustainable development.

Overall it is clear that we are all aware of what’s at stake for the Post-2015 development agenda and what needs to be done, the one thing left is for our governments to act in accordance with our interests as we have tasked them to do.

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