For the 3rd year in a row, I traveled to New York to attend UN General Assembly side events. It is always a great opportunity to learn more about current developments and challenges in my fields of specializations. This time, I focused on nutrition, peace and justice, women and girls, all those issues being integral parts of the development agenda.
UN Decade of Action on Nutrition event - September 20
This side event on nutrition, held at the UN headquarters was supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) and co-hosted by Ecuador, Italy, Japan, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom. Ministers, diplomats, high officials talked about their countries and organizations’ actions towards ending hunger and malnutrition in all its forms.
In line with SDG 2 (end hunger), the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition (2016-2025) aims at strengthening national commitments for nutrition. A country cannot aspire to development if its population not fed properly. In this respect, Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, quoted an African Development Bank leader who said “Stunted children today, stunting economy tomorrow.” Not only is it necessary to put food on the table but also to make sure all stakeholders are seated at the table to move the agenda forward. When dealing with nutrition matters, a lot of issues come into play: food production and security as well as loss during harvest and transportation which leads to more impoverishment.
Global action is necessary to overcome stunting, chronic and non-communicable diseases, economic problems, and school failure. The statistics regarding the current situation of nutrition are sobering: the world has 800 million of chronically hungry people, but it also has country where over 70% of adults are either obese or overweight. That is the reason why the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN) and the SDGs clearly call for policies and programs to attain global nutrition targets such as ending malnutrition in all its forms. Good nutrition protects against disease and help people be active and productive. Scaling-up nutrition would cost about US$ 7 billion per year. There is a need for innovative forms of finance; every year US$ 4 billion are spent on misdirected agricultural subsidies.
While world leaders were speaking during the General Debate of the 71st session, I went on to attend another event on the premises of the UN headquarters.
Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies: UNGA 71
This side-event was co-hosted by NYU’s Center on International Cooperation (CIC), the Permanent Missions of Switzerland and of Brazil. According to Agenda 2030, sustainable development cannot be achieved without peace and vice-versa. The event dealt with examples of implementation of SDG targets for peaceful, just and inclusive societies and highlighted the links between peace and sustainable development. From the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste represented by its Prime Minister, Dr Rui Maria De Araujo, to Sierra Leone represented by its Minister of Justice, all the speakers including Canada’s Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, Jean-Yves Duclos, Qatar’s Special Envoy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Counterterrorism and Mediation, Mutlaq Majed Al-Qahtani, Antonio de Aguira Patriota, Brazil’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations all shared their countries’ experience and good will towards justice, peace and inclusiveness.
But I must say that I really felt engaged by the contribution of Bonian Golmohammadi, Secretary-General of the World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA), who mentioned the 16+ Forum and key priorities such as connecting global with local entities, showcasing collaborative efforts of member States and civil society organizations (CSOs). Gary Cohen, founder of Together For Girls, also spoke eloquently of his organization’s work on ending violence against children and more specifically, sexual violence against girls.
It was very interesting to hear ministers, high officials, representatives of research institutions and nonprofits share their experience and perspectives on peace and equality. But on the whole, even though public-private partnerships are necessary, over the years, I have noticed that nonprofits, development agencies, grassroots organizations and all the entities and individuals involved in advocacy work and technical assistance play an instrumental role in giving a voice to the voiceless in order to....
Leave no one Behind: Agents of Change to achieve SDG5 and the 2030 Agenda – September 23, 2016
SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
This goal entails ending violence against women, ending child marriage, ensuring adequate representation of women, and effective presence of women in the economy.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka Executive-Director of UN Women, Alaa Murabit, Gary Cohen (Together For Girls) participated in the panel discussion hosted by the Permanent Mission of Canada to the UN. They powerfully made the case for women’s participation in society and for an intersectional approach to invest in all the issues underlying the causes of inequality and violence.
UN Women's Executive-Director stated that “wherever a feminist movement is entrenched, democracy works”. Many countries, developing and industrialized alike, still have a lot to do to empower women and ensure that all girls get an education. This will, in turn, contribute to the increase of GDPs and help secure inclusive peace processes, as Alaa Murabit pointed out.
According to a World Economic Forum index, it will take 170 years for women and men to reach economic equality. It is time women and girls’ rights be considered and treated as human rights. To do so, men and governments, traditional authorities, societies need to be held accountable for their deeds whenever they violate those rights or perpetrate gender discrimination. Given the challenges that lie ahead, it is very inspiring to hear women and men who are fighting for women and girls' empowerment.
As a woman, I could not agree more with Alaa Murabit when she states that she dislikes the idea of being allowed to do something. We have to be agents of change. If we are going to be on the menu, we might as well be at the table to have a say on the gender agenda. Who else knows better than women and girls what is needed to improve our condition? We have to keep fighting and shaming those who purport sexism. Legislations may be a first step and a major one but to change mentalities, I honestly think that education, behavior change communication and involving men as partners are critical. I sincerely hope Antonio Guterres, the new UN Secretary-General will prioritize gender equality and women's rights.