Opportunities and Limitations in Global Strategic Frameworks

Undeniably, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) were a monumental step towards establishing a global framework for conceiving development and human rights.  With clearly defined targets and indicators of success for 8 goals, the MDGs were a revolutionary attempt to centralize and conceptualize how to eradicate poverty and uphold equality through the realms of education, environmental sustainability, poverty & hunger, gender equality, and more on the world stage.

In the aggregate, the MDGs were praised for paving major progress in many specific areas outlined by each individual goal.  In regards to poverty reduction, the proportion of individuals living off less than $1.25 per day dropped from 47% to 14% and the amount of people living in extreme poverty fell from 1.9 billion to 836 million (UN Millenium Development Report).  Moreover, in areas concerning environmental sustainability, primary school enrollment, and improving maternal health services, the proportion of individuals with access to the various tools, services, and resources outlined within the goals inevitably rose.  However, when data is disaggregated, the disparities in improvement and growth around the world become apparent. As a result of capacity, disparities in growth rates existed between developed nations and the developing. As a result, those nations who did not grow at the highest rate in the targets and indicators outlined in the MDGs were seen as less successful, despite the fact that much of their growth was monumental and targeted the most impoverished.

Moreover, the MDGs lack specific mentions to vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities.  This was a major source of critique during and after the 15-year period of the goals. In fact, the United Nations itself noted this inconsistency in its final Millennium Development Goals Report, outlining a specific need for targeting the,”millions of people [that] are being left behind, especially the poorest and those disadvantaged because of their sex, age, disability, ethnicity or geographic location” (UN Millenium Development Report).  Thus, specific allocations for vulnerable populations were outlined in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, a sort of supplement and enrichment of the MDGs to carry the world into 2030.

The power of global frameworks is apparent, as evidenced by the ability of the MDGs to perpetuate great change across 8 areas of interest.  However, there are major barriers that global frameworks and strategies such as this face. On one hand, actors in the creation process have differing ideas about what should be included and what should not.  This is evidenced by the struggle for a definition of human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). A traditionally more Western approach views political and civil freedoms as paramount and maintains the people’s right to be free from state intervention.  In contrast, the alternative view upholds the state as primary guarantor, valuing social and economic rights (Critical Review of the MDGs). As a result, overly contentious issues such as this, though they may be supported internationally, are subject to scrutiny should they not account for multiple perspectives.  Furthermore, with the realization of the importance of major stakeholder groups in many international processes, a failure to adequately include key voices in the production is a major oversight. As such, systems of civil society organizations, advocacy networks, and stakeholder partnerships have emerged to ensure their representation in formation processes such as that of the New Urban Agenda, Disaster Risk Reduction, Inclusive Education, and much more- all aspects of human development today.

In addition, many scholars maintain the importance of actor autonomy in the conceptualization process.  Thus, many facets of overarching strategies and frameworks such as this are contextualized once fully in action, whether to the detriment or advantage of international mandates.  This is apparent in a study conducted by Rachel Wahl in India where law enforcement agents adapt the language and global frameworks for human rights to inform their experience and practice upholding human rights.  Through a series of interviews, Wahl highlights how the police officers sampled in India adapt the language and structure of human rights to normalize and support practices of brutality and torture as a means of ensuring peace (Wahl, 2016).  This phenomenon is best encapsulated by the theory of localization which maintains the importance of context in broad, international mandates such as human rights, development, education, etc. At the local level, these frameworks serve the needs of the actors that utilize them, sometimes upholding their messages and other contradicting them (Wahl 2016).

Yet, the convening power of major framework processes such as this cannot be denied.  Despite obstacles such as the two outlined above, the MDGs and SDGs have bridged divides to bring consensus and structure across sectors to the daunting task of raising development levels worldwide.  Moreover, the MDGs were objectively impactful in terms of raising quality of life worldwide by providing more access to clean water, prenatal care, key medicines and treatments, primary education, and much more.  However, as argued by Su-Ming Koo in her piece “The Millennium Development Goals: A Critical Discussion” and the United Nations itself, a keen eye towards vulnerable groups in these processes is going to be key in ensuring development goals are met by 2030 and beyond.  Moreover, the agency of local actors cannot be ignored to ensure successful implementation. Moving forward, this may be something that the United Nations takes a more aggressive approach towards.


Additional resources:

  1. Millennium Development Goals Report
  2.  Learning World Culture or Changing It? Human Rights Education and the Police in India by Rachel Wahl