At this time last year, the progress of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was being analyzed as their 15-year stretch was coming to a close. As I contribute to the Girls’ Globe coverage of the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) this year, I think back on an article I wrote about MDG 4: Reduction of child mortality.
The MDGs were launched in 2000, and projected to be accomplished by 2015. Last year, I wrote about how we failed to meet the targets for MDG 4 . The UN update on MDG 4 explained that, “Despite determined global progress in reducing child deaths, an increasing proportion of child deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. Four out of every five deaths of children under age five occur in these regions.”
A few questions arose for me upon hearing about the roll out of the SDGs: “Are we just throwing the MDGs by the wayside?” and “Will the SDGs be treated in the same way; if they fail, they will be forgotten in 2030?”
Through reading about the SDGs via Girls’ Globe and other media outlets, I found that the SDGs are not forgetting the MDGs, but learning from them and reevaluating them to include what is relevant now. In June 2012, the Rio+20 Conference, began developing the SDGs, and was dedicated to continuing the momentum of MDGs through the SDGs.
There a few fundamental differences between the SDGs and the MDGs. First, the SDGs are universal, meaning “all countries – as well as aid agencies, businesses and the public, working in collaborative partnership – will implement this bold agenda”.
Additionally, the SDGs are “zero goals”, which means that unlike the MDGs that sought to get us half way to the goal of ending poverty and hunger, the SDGs are designed to completely eradicate poverty and hunger. World Vision mentions that a, “deliberate effort will be required… to reach those living on the extreme margins of society.”
One good example of how the SDGs include items that should be prioritized in 2015 is through looking at SDG 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. Access to energy was not covered by the MDGs previously.
We know what it is like to experience a power outage in the US: food may go bad, lights are out, heat or AC is off, and of course no Netflix. Losing energy means losing productivity or leisure time, but in brief and rare instances it is a tolerable annoyance. In other places a lack of energy can have a significant impact on someone’s life. Lack of energy access is also a highly gendered problem, that disproportionately affects the lives and well-being of girls and women.
When I was in South Africa in 2011, I learned that many people rely on generators because power outages are common, and those who have generators are those who can afford them. This economic disparity affects opportunities to succeed or move out of poverty. When you lack energy, you or your children may not have a place to do homework or work after dark, lack well-lite and safe access to bathrooms located outdoors, and have no method to store or cook food.
An article from The Atlantic eloquently summarizes how women’s empowerment and access to energy are linked.
“Empowering women within those communities (lacking energy) to be more efficient in their household duties, make further gains in education, enter the workforce, and start businesses. Not only will (access to energy) provide opportunities for those often disenfranchised, but it will also help accelerate economic growth in developing countries… Access to energy could spur 50 percent of a labor force to be more productive and more engaged. A gender lens approach to energy access programs can be beneficial all the way around—for women, for local communities, and for emerging nations.”
As the energy gap closes, opportunities for women are likely to increase. Because women are the ones typically responsible for household duties in many nations, increased efficiency in the home (i.e. a place to store food or a washing machine) reduces time constraints and provides new opportunities for women to earn an income outside the home. Although there are other underlying issues involved with women being restricted by their household responsibilities, improving economic opportunities for women will help them gain more power in their household, and hopefully lead to more equitable expectations of men and women in their communities.
Unfortunately, a report by Development Progress projects that SDG 7 will not be reached by 2030. The report expects East and South Asia and Latin America to achieve the goal, however, the number of people without electricity in sub-Saharan Africa is projected to increase by 2030.
The SDG Fund is one mechanism created to work as a bridge from the MDGs to the SDGs, and alongside governments, private sector, activists, and individuals, will work towards the realization of the new agenda. We can help ensure that these goals are reached through putting pressure on the decision makers and key actors at local and global levels to focus on improving communication and infrastructures especially in places of extreme poverty. The inception of the SDGs is an exciting and hopeful time, but also a time to learn from the past so we can make a bigger impact this time around.
Illustrations for the SDG campaign have been made for Girls’ Globe by artist Elina Tuomi.