Intersectionality in Sustainable Development

Intersectionality is at the crux of human identity and plays a large role in societal inequalities. Grand challenges such as digital inclusion, adequate access to healthcare, and achieving universal primary education which are the focus of today’s global frameworks, are essentially intersectional. It is this intersectionality and inextricability  that introduces added layers of nuance and complexity to these grand challenges in international development. Issues of international development affect all sectors of the population, and thus require frameworks such as the Major Groups Framework, that incorporate and support diverse groups of the international community.

The United Nations Sustainable Knowledge Platform explains how since the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, it was recognized that achieving sustainable development would require the active participation of all sectors of society and all types of people. Following this conference, the Major Groups Framework took shape and now currently consists of nine groups  including Women, Children and Youth, Indigenous Peoples, Non-Governmental Organizations, Local Authorities, Workers and Trade Unions, Business and Industry, Scientific and Technological Community and Farmers.  In addition, governments expanded participation and invited other stakeholders, including local communities, volunteer groups and foundations, migrants and families, as well as older persons and persons with disabilities, to participate in United Nations processes related to sustainable development. The Major Groups framework recognizes that each of these multi-stakeholder groupings are able to  provide new ideas, challenges and information in regards to how the world’s grand challenges affect their specific communities, thus utilizing the intersectionality of these global issues to  enrich the  debate.

Acknowledging the inherent links between grand challenges leads to more effect policy frameworks and  overall progress. For example, the  WSIS-SDG Matrix draws direct linkages of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Action Lines with the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to continue strengthening the impact of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for sustainable development. The matrix reflects the connections and relations of respective Action Line with the proposed SDGs and their targets. The goal of the matrix is to create a clear and direct link and an explicit connection between the key aim of the WSIS and the post 2015 development agenda, so as to contribute to the realization of the latter. When the inherent intersectionality of  global frameworks is utilized in the  design and execution of solutions for global goals, the potential for greater gains is multiplied, and duplicated efforts minimized.

Inclusive Education

Many of the shortcomings that countries are facing in providing educational opportunities  to their population stems from the fact that inclusive education is being thought of as a stand alone issue, rather than a impediment to the social and economic advancement of the country as a whole. The World Report on Disability estimates that there are between 93 and 150 million school-aged children with disabilities globally, amounting to at least 10% of each every country’s population. Many of these students are excluded from educational opportunities and do not complete primary education, which was priority outlined for all nations in the Millennium Development Goals.

The Model Policy for Inclusive ICTs in Education for Persons with Disabilities document published by UNESCO outlines how access to appropriate inclusive education is hindered by a multitude of barriers.  The document touches on physical barriers in learning environments, such as cases when content and materials are not accessible especially when material are not available in a student’s primary language,  “cognitive barriers for some learners with intellectual disabilities or specific learning problems,  didactical barriers where teachers lack the skills to facilitate inclusive education; and financial barriers relating to the cost of devices with assistive technology to provide access.” There are also detrimental effects on student’s ability to achieve the necessary basic skills for long-term social, economic and digital inclusion in society. This damage then snowballs as it limits their access to further educational opportunities, as well as employment. If 93 million people be unemployed, and did not have the proper training and education necessary to work, the  social and economic costs to society would be catastrophic. The active participation of  students with disabilities is essential to increase their participation in all spheres of society to inform decisions with their valuable  insights and contributions.

The active participation of  students with disabilities in inclusive education is cost-effective in the long-term as it contributes to the elimination of discrimination, promoting wider social inclusion. The UNESCO document notes how inclusive education initiatives for students with disabilities, are also  applicable to any students who are vulnerable to exclusion from any sector of education beyond those who may be identified as having learning difficulties or experiencing different forms of social disadvantage. Inclusive education policies stand to benefit not only student with disabilities, but also students excluded from classrooms on the basis on gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and language, thus highlighting their importance as a policy priority at the local, national and international level.

Efficacy of Global Frameworks

Global frameworks represent grand challenges. The areas of focus that global frameworks such as WSIS+ 10 Outcome Document and the SDGs attempt to tackle are multidimensional, complex and far reaching issues that do not necessarily have a clear solution. Such technically complex societal problems can be addressed through a process of trial and error. If we take the example of the MDGS, we see how some of the Goals greatest strengths, were also its biggest sources of critique. With the expiration of the MDGs, the 15+ years of trial and error allowed for a  series of improvements to be made. Deepak Nayyar reflects on many of these potential areas for improvement in “The MDGs after 2015: Some Reflections on the Possibilities.”

One of the most common critiques that Nayyar identifies of the MDGs is that the goals specify an outcome, but then they do not set out the process which would make it possible for countries to realize the objective.  The lack of specificity in regards to means for achieving the goals stems from two issues. The UNDP recognizes that development is ‘characterized by specificities in time and in space,’ so outlining action items and coordinating  due dates for 193 countries seems impractical. The lack of specifying processes for achieving the goals may also be linked to the acceptance that each country may have its own idea of what the appropriate strategy of development would most effectively achieve the objective. Had the UN consulted its 193 members in outlining processes for achieving the goals it is likely  that a ‘political consensus on means would be exceedingly difficult if not impossible.’

Another critique suggests that the MDGs take a one size fits all approach to development, While the argument is a valid one, it takes the MDGs out of their stated context. The MDGS were meant ti be global norms, collective targets for the world as a whole, and countries were meant to contextualize the MDGs in terms of initial conditions and national priorities.There is a misunderstanding because global MDG targets are often used as a scale for assessing the performance of different regions or specific countries. In this context of course one could argue that targets may be set too high for some developing countries and too low for developed countries.

Although there may not be a  consensus on how to carry out a global development agenda, the MDGs are important in that they have imparted a focus to concerns about poverty and deprivation, as well as ‘galvanized support for the idea that it is imperative to improve the living conditions of such people in a stipulated time horizon.’ These initial frameworks have laid the groundwork for addressing the grand challenge of international development.

Multi-stakeholder Internet Governance

In our last  session we discussed how a transnational issue such as internet governance relates to the anarchy problematique in international relations. In an anarchic world system, with sovereign and equal states interacting without a global government, legal authority must be ceded by states in order to address issues such as internet governance. Transnational issues that goes beyond the level of any nation state thus necessitate a multistakeholder approach. No one nation, including the United States, should have an unproportionate amount of control over a public good such as the internet. The muiltistakeholder approach to internet governance services to advance ideals of equal treatment for internet access and net neutrality for all users.

Which is why the the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) transition is so important for strengthening multistakeholder internet governance. When many Internet Society members assembled in  2013 and  called for the transition of the IANA functions away from the US government’s control, the U.S. responded positively, soliciting  a plan for moving IANA’s oversight to the global, multistakeholder community. The plan was researched, debated and discussed by public and private sector organizations, technical experts, and civil society representatives from around the world, a reflection of the internet as a  globally distributed network. This is also significant in stakeholders realized that INANA functions could not simply pass from one state to another, but rather would necessitate a solution by all sectors of society. The Internet Society describes the importance of the endorsement of the IANA transition plan by all stakeholders in March of 2016, as a testament to the success of the multistakeholder internet governance approach. The process “worked to create a stable, secure, accountable, and transparent way to manage a critical Internet resource. Just as the Internet is a ‘network of networks’, so its global governance is a set of overlapping organisations with different roles and ways of working.”

Multistakeholder decision-making has proved to be successful for many reasons. Some of which include the fact that decisions on internet governance impact many actors, there are shared obligations across countries, and support for internet governance decisions directly impact its implementation. The Internet is a multistakeholder entity  by definition as it was developed by a group of diverse actors including  public and private sectors, academia, and civil society. Multistakeholders have been able  to capitalize on  the diverse expertise of the  global community and work towards finding the solution for the governance of this essential public good.

Digital Divides

The Macbride Commission report, Many Voices One World discusses systems of communication and their effectiveness. Networks of communication affect societal functions in terms of information, socialization, motivation and achieving collective aims, debate and discussion, education and the transmission of knowledge, cultural promotion, entertainment and integration of all persons groups and nations, facilitating mutual understanding. When there are divides in access to such systems of communication unequal development persists. In today’s world, communication has often become an exchange between unequal partners, allowing the predominance of the more powerful, the richer and the better equipped.

An estimated 1.2 billion people – 17% of the global population – did not have access to electricity in 2013, which is 84 million fewer than in the previous year. Many more suffer from a supply of electricity  that is inconsistent and of inferior quality. More than 95% of those living without electricity are in countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, and they are predominantly in rural areas. Progress in providing electrification in urban areas has outpaced that in rural areas two to one since 2000. Broadband Internet continues to fail to reach billions of people living in the global south, according to a new United Nations report that offers country-by-country data on the state of access around the globe. The State of Broadband, produced by the UN Broadband Commission reveals that 57 per cent of the world’s people remain offline.

What is alarming is the impact of such divides, which is not limited to a country’s economic development. In many ways the social impact of not having access to digital forms of communication can be seen to have just as lasting and devastating effects on a society. The fact that media presence is so heavily concentrated in the global north, and that populations of developing countries have little opportunity to shape their own narrative on the global stage or highlight key issues facing their countries being overlooked by mainstream media. Their lack of access prevents the diffusion of knowledge and unique contributions that these countries citizens have to offer, that could help to inform not only global development initiatives, but also improve reporting and implementation in countries which can benefit from it most. Frameworks such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the WSIS + 10 Outcome Document recognize the importance of striving to bridge the digital divide, but they are just the start. The digital divide requires solutions for developing countries by  developing countries to ensure equal access for all.

ICTs and Sustainable Development

There is extensive literature supporting the role of Information and Communication Technology (ICTs) in development, but less on its role in inclusive sustainable development and benefits of technological innovations for persons with disabilities. There is a need for socio-technical infrastructure for persons with disabilities, and  technology  that can effectively help all of a country’s population, with the understanding that  additional provisions or forethought may be necessary in ensuring equal access to such technologies.  

Reports such as the Maitland Commission Report contain a very relevant message  which is the fundamental importance of equal access to ICTs for the social and economic development of any country and all of its citizens. The Maitland Commission Report explained how in most developing countries the telecommunications system is not adequate even to sustain essential services and that in many areas there is no system at all, and regarded this disparity unacceptable. While much improvement has been made since 1985, disparities in technological access to essential services continue to affect persons with disabilities in the developed and to an often greater extent the developing world. The report also described the free exchange of information as a leveling of the playing field, and so by not ensuring equal information and communication technology access, a sector of a country’s population or say 15 percent,  would be disadvantaged.
These challenges highlight the extreme importance of continuing the work of organizations such as The Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs which works to promote the rights of persons with disabilities in the digital age. The  G3ict relies on an international network of ICT accessibility experts to develop and promote good practices, technical resources and benchmarks for ICT accessibility advocates around the world.  One of the ICT innovations in support of this work is the Disability Inclusive Development (DID) Policy Collaboratory. The Collaboratory leverages accessible cyber infrastructure and cyber learning environments to enhance the participation of persons with disabilities in global governance processes.With the creation of the Collaboratory, ICTs will play an increased role in facilitating disability-inclusive contributions to the UN Habitat III process and the New Urban Agenda. Because the  Collaboratory is an online work space,  it allows for increased human interaction between practitioners all over the world. These kinds of online tools are also instrumental in providing access to announcements, briefings, discussions, and reports from pertinent international conferences that many participants of the global disability community may have otherwise been excluded from.  

Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda

An important point that came out of the discussion on smart cities, Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda was the concept of the “Right to the City”. The Right to the City is a concept that  works to ensure that each inhabitant of the city space should have equal access to what the city has to offer, and prevent the leaving of people behind.

In the Habitat III New Urban Agenda Draft Outcome Document there is one explicit mention of the right to the city that comes in the first paragraph under the subheading of “Our Shared Vision”. The paragraph tells of a “vision of cities for all, referring to the equal use and enjoyment of cities and human settlements, seeking to promote inclusivity and ensure that all inhabitants, without discrimination of any kind, are able to inhabit and produce just, safe, healthy, accessible, affordable, resilient, and sustainable cities, to foster prosperity and quality of life for all.” The paragraph concludes by noting the efforts of some national and local governments to enshrine the aforementioned vision, referred to as right to the city, in legislations, political declarations and charters.
During the October 15th meeting of Habitat III General Assembly of Partners in 2015, Aromar Revi, co-chair of SDSN Thematic  Group 9 offered interesting remarks on the the right to the city in relation to the SDGs. He mentioned the importance of  cities and the intersectionality  in the SDGs, highlighting Goal 11. He emphasized that fact that sustainable urbanization in all  its complexity offers multiple opportunities for partnerships.  In looking at SDG 11, Making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, there are two targets that speak for the right to the city of persons with disabilities. Target 11.2 aims to  provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities by the year 2030. Similarly, target 11.7 aims to provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities by 2030. The language in these specific targets in SDG 11 represent a tremendous achievement for persons with disabilities, as does the addition of  persons with disabilities GAP Partner Constituent Group, highlighting the progress this stakeholder group has made moving forward with Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda.

The HLPF and the SDGs

When looking at  the  High level political forum as a body for monitoring and implementation for the Sustainable Development Goals, a notable aspect that should be highlighted is its inclusion of the Major Groups Framework (MGOS). The Major Groups Framework served to formalize the participation of the nine major groups and other stakeholders in the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals. The inclusion of MGOS not only created a more inclusive and participatory forum, but also encourages the other stakeholders, such as persons with  disabilities, to autonomously establish and maintain effective coordination mechanisms for participation in the HLPF at the global, regional and national  levels, ensuring effective, broad and balanced participation by region and by type of organization.

By formalizing multi-stakeholder partnerships, and giving the major groups a formalized space to make contributions and recommendations, the MGOS framework has laid important groundwork for achieving Sustainable Development Goat #17, to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development. Many of the multi-stakeholder partnership indicators for goal 17 align with the roles and responsibilities of representatives of the major groups.
Indicator 17.16 focuses on  mobilizing and sharing knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources, to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in all countries, in particular developing countries. The MGOS framework works to fulfill this indicator as all representatives and stakeholders attend all official forum meetings where they  have access to all official information and documents, can intervene in official meetings, submit documents and present written and oral contributions, and make recommendations all of which facilitate the aforementioned knowledge sharing and exchange of expertise.  Indicator  17.16.1 addresses the number of countries reporting progress in multi-stakeholder development effectiveness monitoring frameworks that support the achievement of the sustainable development goals, thus incentivizing  individual state support for the MGOS framework at the domestic level.  Lastly,  indicator 17.17 encourages and promotes effective public, public private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships. This indicator is mirrors the multi-stakeholder partnerships at work in the MGOs framework as their are major groups such as local authorities representing public sector, business and industry representing the private sector  and non-governmental organizations representing civil society. UN DESA acknowledges the importances of the MGOS within the HLPF as major groups and other stakeholders have played a significant role in the process to formulate the universal and transformative 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 SDGs that are at its core.

Mr. Sen and Mr. Soe

In our second session we opened up the discussion by looking at three different approaches to development. The long-term process of structural change in the international system, the short to medium-term poverty reduction and MDGs and lastly development as discourse or a set of ideas that shapes and frames reality. The idea of development as discourse and ideas that frame reality seemed to be most related to our Amartya Sen reading, as well as to the philosophy behind the work of our guest speaker, Nay Lin Soe.

Sen wrote about the role of freedoms of different kinds in countering  afflictions imposed upon us, and how fostering greater individual agency is central to addressing these deprivations in our lives. Mr. Soe’s organization, the Myanmar Independent Living Initiative -MILI, is a nongovernment organization that works for equal rights, inclusion and independent living of  people with disability in Myanmar.  Mr. Soe’s organization seems to adopt this philosophy in their organization, which  promotes the individual agency of persons with disabilities in all aspects of life, and to work as agents of change in their own lives. Sen explains that one of the impediments to development is that our individual agency is inescapably qualified and constrained by the social, political and economic opportunities (or lack thereof)  that are available to us. Mr. Soe explains that many of the impediments he and his organization face stem from the legal, cultural, and religious barriers imposed by his country. He spoke about the absence of funding in Myanmar’s government for disability organizations, discrimination that disabled persons face in the professional sphere as well as negative stigma against disabled persons stemming from some of the country’s religious traditions.

Sen expresses that the expansion of freedom should viewed as the primary and principal means of development, consisting of the removal of various types of unfreedoms that leave people with little choice and little opportunity of exercising their reasoned agency. This is exactly what Mr. Soe and his organization have taken upon themselves to do. One of the organization’s major achievements include the creation of accessible and disability friendly polling stations that were implemented at four locations in the country, to serve as models moving forward. They have made remarkable progress in removing unfreedoms in the electoral sphere, by increasing disability access in Myanmar’s elections, thus giving disabled people the agency to cast their own private  and secure votes and a voice in their countries elections.

Grand Challenges

Today’s grand challenges are exactly that. They are multi-dimensional, complex and far reaching issues that do not necessarily have a clear solution in sight. Louis Branscomb suggests many of these technically complex societal problems that have stubbornly defied solution should be addressed with a series of improvements or  by making processes more effective. Often times the emphasis is put on defining a solution to the grand challenges without necessarily giving credit to the discoveries, innovations or improvements that come out of the crucial brainstorming process.

Branscomb illustrated the importance of process rather than outcome in the context of solving the cancer problem. He explained that in the long-term process of diagnosing this grand challenge of finding a cure for cancer, the biomedical research community made discoveries in fields of immunology, cellular biology, genetics, yielding new ways of diagnosing and treating cancer that would never have followed from focusing on a more short-term, clinical research approach. There are benefits to looking at these grand challenges more as frameworks to be implemented and tested over time,  rather than issues that need resolving before an expiration date. Branscomb recognized the potential of  an this kind of intellectual environment that allows for curiosity  to light  new ideas for making the grand challenge easier and quicker to master.
It is important to remember this approach to grand challenges when we look at recent world development agendas such as the MDGs and the SDGs. Although much progress has been made leading up to 2015, the MDGs were not achieved in their deadline. Millions continue to be affected by grand challenges such as  hunger, aids, and lack of access to education after this 15-year development agenda. With the conclusion of the MDGs in 2015 we saw the expansion of the SDGs from eight goals to seventeen goals.The expansion and specification of the new development agendas goals could be seen as a result of the increased knowledge gained in the successes and failures of the MDGs. With the incompletion of the initial eight goals, and  processes of trial and error, people were able to better understand the complexity of these grand challenges facing our world today. They gained valuable insight into what strategies for evaluation and implementation worked and didn’t work, and recognized the need for a longer timeline. Although we did not complete the MDGs, the implementation process allowed for informed revisions to the way these grand challenges are approached in the SDG framework.