The penultimate Goal of the new Sustainable Development Goals focuses on peace and justice, calling for the global community to “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”.
Targets that sit under the goal include significantly reducing all forms of violence and related death rates, ending exploitation and trafficking, promoting the rule of law at national and international levels and ensuring equal access to justice for all. There are also targets to reduce illicit arms flows, combat organised crime, and reduce corruption and bribery.
In the wake of recent global events, a world at peace may feel further from our reach than ever before. At the same time, striving for such a world has never felt so urgent. This month, a coordinated massacre unfolded throughout Paris and deadly bombs struck the streets of Beirut. This week, Brussels remains on high alert due to a ‘serious and imminent’ terrorist threat. Today, more than 43 million people worldwide woke up forcibly displaced as a result of conflict, and civil war continues to tear through Syria, Sudan, Iraq, Somali and Yemeni, amongst many others. Violence appears to saturate our world, and so how can a more peaceful world by 2030 possibly become a reality?
It almost goes without saying that high levels of violence and insecurity have a catastrophic impact on a country’s development, affecting everything from economic growth to personal relationships between communities. Sexual violence, crime, exploitation and torture are all more prevalent where there is conflict or no rule of law, and economic and social structures quickly crumble under the weight of bribery and corruption. For the SDGs to succeed by 2030, global institutions, governments, NGOs and communities must work collaboratively to create long-term solutions to conflict and violence. The path to these solutions starts with strengthening the rule of law, providing access to justice for all and promoting universal human rights.
Unsurprisingly, this is easier said than done. Persisting gender inequalities mean in today’s world, women are often less able to access justice than men, putting the progress of Goal 16 in immediate jeopardy. At a recent international conference, Snežana Samardžić-Marković, Director General of Democracy for the Council of Europe, said: “Access to justice is not only a fundamental right in itself, but it is also a right that is instrumental to achieving other – equally fundamental – rights”. Until gender inequality is addressed, our judiciary systems will remain too weak at their very core to adequately support citizens within the peaceful and inclusive societies that SDG 16 aims to promote.
Women’s access to justice needs to be increased from local to international levels. We need greater participation of women in the justice sector, and greater representation of women in court rooms. Informal justice systems should be analysed and reformed alongside institutional ones, and a more responsive system equipped to advance women’s equal rights and opportunities needs to be fostered.
In conflict zones in particular, there must be comprehensive justice and criminal accountability for sexual violence and crimes – women and girls are often systematically targeted in conflict and post-conflict countries through mass rape and mass sexual violence. The combination of violence and weakened societal protection structures is a devastating one, and reparation for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence is critical for countries undergoing transition from a conflict zone.
The task of promoting peace and justice in a world so seemingly full of violence sounds at first like an incomprehensible one. The focus of the global community needs to hone in on practical steps that can be taken to make our societies more peaceful, more inclusive, and more just. Ensuring that women and girls have equal access to systems and processes to allow this to happen has to be a priority from the outset.
Illustrations for the SDG campaign have been made for Girls’ Globe by artist Elina Tuomi.