Developed from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with the target year 2015, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have made tremendous strides in emphasizing inclusivity. As discussed in our first two class sessions, the MDGs had a one-size-fits-all approach to development that lacked consideration of cultural, political, and historical contexts as well as the lack of inclusivity in its goals, targets, and indicators. Ultimately, the MDGs did not specifically consider the almost one billion people in the world with disabilities in the conversation regarding development.
The SDGs, however, have expanded from 8 goals to 17 goals that include persons with disabilities. This expansion allows countries to customize their focus depending on their own needs and goals, which essentially allows more space for the expertise and engagement of non-profits and NGOs to enter the development conversation. With clearly defined goals, targets, and indicators that work to include persons with disabilities in development, the SDGs have been crafted with articulate language that can be easily read and understood by all persons.
This language is developed through the High-Level Political Forum with actors such as NGOs and interest groups of member states, national institutions, and the major groups. The UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), which was formed in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 is a highly inclusive and participatory forum of the UN that is responsible for overseeing the progress of the SDGs around the world. The HLPF meets annually for eight days under the Economic and Social Council and every four years under the UN General Assembly, which convenes with the heads of state.
Through these forums, the voices of the major groups are pushed to the fore front of the discussion. The major groups include women, children and youth, indigenous peoples, civil society, local authorities, workers and trade unions, business and industry, and the scientific and technological groups. Similar to Amartya Sen (1999) in his work Development as Freedom, the HLPF and the SDGs emphasize the importance of empowering the voices and agency of marginalized groups. The work of Sen (1999) has helped shift development approaches from a focus on GDP to a humanistic and inclusive approach that considers a person’s opportunity to live a long and healthy life, obtain knowledge, and have a decent standard of living. Without the individual at the center of development, it is difficult to truly understand whether development practices are aiding a country in an inclusive manner.
Sen, A. (1999). Freedom as Development. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.