By Jakeline Magalhães
(United Nations – July 17) – From Tuesday, July 9, to Thursday, July 18, the annual High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) took place at United Nations headquarters in New York City. The program attracted more than 2,000 participants, including some 100 government ministers. Over 40 countries have presented their Voluntary National Reviews.
The HLPF is the main U.N. platform for follow-up and review of the progress made toward the 2030 Agenda, consisting of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were set out in 2015.
The theme of this year’s meeting was “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.” Included in the program were an in-depth review of SDG 4 (quality education), SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), SDG 13 (climate action), and SDG 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions). In addition, SDG 17 (partnerships for the Goals) is reviewed every year.
According to Inga Rhonda King, president of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the entity that supports the HLPF, this event is a global platform to showcase experiences and forge partnerships, an “unprecedented opportunity to talk to each other and learn from each other.”
In this context, the Salesians, through Fr. Thomas Pallithanam, our representative at the U.N., proposed two side events during the main forum, on July 10-11, in partnership with other institutions, such as Misean Cara from Ireland.
According to the organizers, it is really important that whenever possible the Salesians make efforts to promote this kind of activities and actively participate in major U.N. events. Wojciech Mroczek, Don Bosco Network coordinator, stated: “When you participate in some structures and events, this is how to be heard. This is when you have an influence. This is a different type of missionary work. All the structures already exist, so if we don’t present our voice, there is no voice of the Gospel in these institutions.” In addition, these forums offer a great opportunity for networking and improving the public relations of Salesian Missions, which benefits all Salesian works around the world.
The first one side event, “Addressing Inclusion, Inequality, and Institutions,” had connections with almost all the SDGs under review this year, except no. 13. That Goal was discussed intensely in the second side event, “Youth Aspirations and Climate Urgency.” (See separate article, reported by ANS.)
For the first side event, the Salesians invited selected representatives from Salesian projects who have a capacity of advocacy in their realities at the local and national level and are part of the discussion about implementing the SDGs Agenda.
To discuss Climate Change, the protagonism was given to the young people, with the articulation and advisory of the Don Bosco Green Alliance. The young activists came to New York to share their concrete experiences and led the conversation about “hope and aspirations in a world that threatened by the adverse effects of climate change and threats to environment, ecology, society, and economy.” According to Fr. Savio Silveira, founder of the Don Bosco Green Alliance, “It was truly inspiring to engage with these young people, each of them from a different continent, all of them committed to the cause of climate action, because they feel strongly that climate change is threatening the aspirations of young people.”
All panelists, moderators, and organizers of side events were subscribed as participants of the whole HPLF. Since most of them were from Salesian works, the Salesians enjoyed a great representation during the event, especially through the young people, who had the opportunity for a special experience in their lives and were able to strengthen their convictions as activists and changemakers connected with the Salesian charism.
Addressing Inclusion, Inequality, and Institutions
The first side event, on July 10, was promoted in partnership with Misean Cara. The discussions and reflections of this session focused on the Voluntary National Reviews process in the participating countries and the possibilities for strengthening VNR mechanisms and the evaluation of the SGDs, in order to achieve them. The section was moderated by Eamonn Casey, project officer for human rights at Misean Cara.
The keynote was presented by Sandra Epal-Ratjen, international advocacy director of Franciscans International. She highlighted the need to promote accountability since the SDGs are voluntary. “They are political commitments, [but] there is no political obligation to the SDGs.” On the other hand, human rights are legal obligations and need to be monitored. So, according to Ms. Epal-Ratjen, human rights obligations can be used to hold governments accountable. “Because we have a record of complementarity correspondence, we can use human rights more effectively to attain and infuse this accountability and these legal obligations, which nations should declare will be put in place to implement and achieve the SDGs,” she argued.
Ms. Epal-Ratjen gave the example from Uganda, where she works; together with other NGOs and civil society colleagues, the Franciscans have decided to be engaged more in monitoring, which will enable them to call for more policies.
In general, she maintained that looking at the SDGs from the human rights perspective can be the best way to monitor more precisely and give visibility to particular issues and find solutions to attain the SDGs. Systems of measurement and monitoring of human rights and SDGs require more dialogue among participating governments and NGOs.
To complement the discussion, the panelists presented their own grassroots experiences and learnings. They were all from Africa, but different countries, projects, and realities, two of them from Salesian presences.
Benson Osei-Savio Boateng, coordinator of the Anglophone West Africa Salesian Province’s development office, showed what Salesian works in Ghana, especially Don Bosco Technical Institute, are doing to provide diverse educational programs that will meet the demand for skills training. The Salesians help youths gain the skills needed to find stable employment. Mr. Boateng’s topics directly related to SDG 8.
Samuel Thomas Bojohn, assistant director of Don Bosco Fambul, in Freetown, Sierra Leone, described how the Salesian work with the victims of trafficking and prostitution. This work corresponds with SDGs 4 and 8 and enables the Salesians to advocate for government accountability.
Finally, Colin Kenneth Northmore, director of Three2Six, a Marist program in South Africa, shared the experience and efforts to give access to education for migrants and refugee children, through action, advocacy, and sensitive work with the institutions and society to generate inclusion and justice.
The audience was really attentive during the session and interactive. After the panel presentations, many good ideas and perspectives, especially about minority groups and how to take them into account, and questions about relationships with governments helped to deepen the discussion and induced the panelists to bring forth more detailed information and ideas.
During the conclusions and recommendations, Mr. Mroczek highlighted the importance of networking and the necessity of inclusion, points that featured during the whole main event, and all the discussions.
An invitation to brainstorm produced more recommendations. Participants also have the possibility of sending additional contributions.
Fr. Pallithanam and the representatives of Misean Cara and Don Bosco Network commented that they were very happy to engage with other people and make the observation about how the concern with marginalized population pervaded all discussion. They also invited the participants to look forward to keeping in touch with each other.