Intersectionality Until it Hurts

Any development scholar, policy maker, parent, or elementary school student requires an understanding of intersectionality to develop an accurate understanding of almost any domestic or international problem. The interactions of different identities for a single person or a population shapes every behavior of that entity to some degree, and without an understanding of these identities it is impossible for an outsider to fully understand the entities motives or goals. While I cannot exaggerate the importance of keeping intersectionality at the front of your mind regardless of who you are, when intersectionality becomes an impediment to progress, it must be seen as an impediment.

Let me clarify what sounds like a harsh perspective with an example. The site that I propose in my website will only being available so a relatively limited number of people. First, use of the site will require access to electricity and internet. Anyone who cannot afford internet access or transport to a place with access, they cannot receive the project’s benefit. Additionally, limits to my personal knowledge will keep the site only in English, and only in written text. This will prevent any non-English speaker, anyone who is illiterate, and any blind person from accessing the site without help from another person.

These limitations are substantial. It can be argued that my project does not help those suffering from learning and seeing disabilities, or those people who lack literacy. I would not contest any of those criticisms, but I will advocate for the project for years, regardless. The goal of universalizing internet access and electricity is a central focus of the UN and other international organizations. There are plenty of people who can translate a text and there are organizations working to make websites accessible to those who are illiterate of living with impaired sight. They can be brought in to the project at a later date, but immediate implementation of the project can help some people today. To ask one method to solve even one issue for every person limits any actor from enacting a new idea sometimes regardless of its strength. It is imperative that an actor create this website and the accompanying profiles quickly. Any member of any of the aforementioned stake-holding groups has a clear incentive to create the site. It is important to understand that whomever creates the site will have control the accreditation system and the site’s access costs. Each group will benefit from the site to some degree regardless of who creates it, but the creator of the site will be able to use their control to make it disproportionately beneficial to their interests. Intersectionality should be incorporated into every project as soon as possible, but total intersectionality should not stop good policy from helping people in need. Intersectionality

Inclusive Education: Band-aids Now, Reconstruction Later

Despite serious progress made during the reign of the Millennium Development Goals, Sustainable Development Goal 4 was created to push forward to universalizing access to equal and sufficient education for all. Obviously, the world failed to meet the 2015 deadline of the Millennium Development Goal of achieving universal primary education. In 2013, the latest year for which the SDG website has verified data, fifty-nine million children of primary-school age were not attending school, nor were they being schooled in the home. The United Nations estimates that, among those fifty-nine million children, twenty percent of that group had dropped out. The Sustainable Development Goals clearly recognize that this gap must be closed, and I agree. The problem with the mission to universalize education is a mistake in prioritization for development organization. Many education-centric organizations focus on increasing the number of teachers in an area or founding new schools with inclusive language in their founding documents. These both are admirable goals but essentially incorrect. They are missions that seek a sustainable, long term improvement in infrastructure in the region while what children need is direct access to education as soon as possible. Target 4.c of SDG 4 says that the United Nations will “by 2030, substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and Small Island developing States”.  The mistake here is that the UN and other Education NGOs are trying to build the infrastructure for a viable education system and ignoring those kids in primary education right now. By 2030 an eight-year-old girl in primary school will be a twenty-four-year-old adult who is surviving without furthering her education. She will have passed through the system without any aid from any of the frameworks we have covered in class.

When people in this class read about inclusive education, they think about young girls out of school or people suffering poverty who need to enter the work-force of their country without secondary education. These people are suffering, they do need help, but it is a little shocking to me that all of these genuinely admirable programs, no group seems to be focused on the kids in school today or the very recent graduates who need the help of programs to supplement their minimal education. Parents and older peers were the individuals who showed me the value of education; it surprises me that more groups do not try to duplicate that means of motivation.

Understanding Global Frameworks with Private International Law

I know that my work on this blog has referenced international law extensively, but I have included another version of my argument from my final paper here with the hope that any peers reading this will ask me questions that will help challenge my project’s validity. The efficacy of global frameworks relies on their being operational. The operation of all of these frameworks rely on understanding international law within their frameworks. The prohibitive complexity of private international law (PIL) has kept it from becoming involved to any significant degree in the mainstream discourse occurring at most of the more prominent conferences on international law, let alone international development. Diversity and ambition of the Sustainable Development Goals make it literally impossible for a conference to cover every issue. That being said, there are several forums in which PIL could be discussed as a relevant dimension where it has to this point been neglected to the detriment of each of these forums. For example, in the conversation concerning inclusive cities, PIL is fundamental to, but not included in, the topics covered. Individuals working with certain international corporations that have local offices in specific cities need to be able to interact legally with their employers. This is a major issue in cities which act as hubs of international trade and commerce. Often the corporations for which these individuals work are established in one country but open smaller offices all over the world. Occasionally these corporations are created as limited liability corporations of LLCs which add further separations between the employee and employer as legal entities. These barriers make the employee legally mute in many cases from making it legally impossible for him to interact with the real employing company. This can greatly complicate any employment-related cases which the employer wishes to try against the parent company or, theoretically, when the parent corporation looks to try a case against employees or a group of employees. Without an ability to navigate PIL effectively, these urban workers cannot interact legally with their employer, and they cannot have full access to justice.

This obstacle between employers and employees is also relevant to the High-level Political forum. Of their listed goals, Goal 9 codifies a commitment to “Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation”. The persistence of the aforementioned problem inhibits any international firm investing in physical infrastructure. It impedes any organization or individual seeking to invest in an industry in another country, and it impedes a worker from the industrializing country engaging legally with an industry that may have its headquarters on the other sides of national borders. The information barrier also acts as a disincentive to individuals or corporations which seek innovation through international cooperation. It is ironic that this forum based on international cooperation is another forum that fails to address a substantial impediment to international cooperation.

Multi-Stakeholder Internet Governance

Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information Lawrence E. Strickling of the Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration said “The multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance is the best mechanism for maintaining an open, resilient, and secure Internet because, among other things, it is informed by a broad foundation of interested parties arriving at consensus through a bottom-up process regarding policies affecting the underlying functioning of the Internet domain system.” This sentiment is the best summary of the sentiments of the frameworks in this class regarding internet governance. Specifically, the Internet Governance Forum has epitomized the prioritization of uniting many varied stakeholders together to maintain the internet as open, resilient and secure.

The Internet Governance Forum serves to bring together people from various stakeholder groups as equals. They focus on community leaders, NGO and corporate representatives, and governments. The Forum seeks to unite these dispirit entities in discussions on public policy issues relating to internet governance and the Internet as a tool. While the IGF has no negotiated outcomes as of the end of 2016, it serves a purpose similar to the Sustainable Development goals by uniting those with policymaking power in both private and public sectors towards an end that benefits the world. The Internet Governance Forum facilitates a common understanding of how to optimize Internet opportunities while simultaneously addressing the risks and challenges inherent in reliance on internet use.

The Internet Governance Forum community holds an annual meeting to allow relevant stakeholders normally attended by over 2000 delegates. This meeting is intended to produce tangible outcomes through its scheduled activities. The IGF’s annual meeting is organized by the multi-stakeholder advisory group (MAG), which is intended to represent equally the interests of every stakeholder group. The MAG also encourages members of each group to see the other groups as equal partners. At the IGF’s annual meeting, delegates exchange information and best practices. The most recent meeting actually started on December 6th of this year in Guadalajara, Mexico. The IGF’s schedule focuses on best practices as well as other initiatives intended to facilitate general IGF community activities. This intersessional program was designed in accordance with a 2012 report recommending the development of additional tangible outputs to ‘enhance the impact of the IGF on global Internet governance and policy’.

The USA vs. Digital Divides

The United States of America has been at the forefront of the construction and deployment of the internet. We have also been a world leader at generating the content for it. Our country as filled the internet with everything from the complete works of Shakespeare, to an accessible way to obtain free healthcare. The United States of America has been a leader in digitization of government accessibility, and the rest of the world needs to catch up. This includes the international community. Our history of breaking internet boundaries extends from the original ARPANET through all of today’s advanced mobile phone networks. For decades, American engineers, consumers and companies have paved the way for advances in networking and computer applications. Today, nearly every American can access the Internet to some degree. The United States is actually numerically the world leader in scope of availability of advanced wireless broadband Internet services, such as 4G LTE. Unfortunately, the benefits of this long torrent of access to technology has been distributed unevenly. Millions of Americans still do not use the many services that the internet offers with any frequency or regularity. Research shows that there remains significant inequity in both Internet usage and the quality of access. This difference in access has come to be known as the “digital divide”. This deficit of access is felt worst among older, less educated, and less affluent American populations. Regionally, rural parts of the country that tend to have fewer choices and slower connections.

Closing the Divide has the potential to increase productivity and open paths to improving the quality of life of an individual or a whole population. President Obama has made expanding broadband Internet access a relatively higher priority in the past few years. Since 2009, federal government investments in closing the Divide have led to the deployment or enhancement of well over one hundred thousand miles of computer network infrastructure in the United States. In that same time, forty-five million Americans have adopted broadband internet. The President’s internet initiative titled ConnectED aims to connect virtually all American students to highspeed broadband in their classrooms in the next two years. In January of 2016, the President announced several other policies that his administration planned to take to ensure reliable broadband to more Americans at a decreased cost. These included efforts to promote community-based hardware for improving broadband and a call for State and local governments to strike down “short-sighted regulations that restrict competition”.

ICTs and Universalizing Important Information

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development focuses on enabling effective decision-making with extra attention paid specifically vulnerable groups and populations that have historically faced a significant impediment to development. These groups include  women (SDG target 5.5), developing countries, including African countries, least developed countries, land-locked developing countries, small-island developing States and middle-income countries (SDG target 10.6). Additionally Sustainable Development Goal 16.7 aims to “Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels”.  Goal 16 in general focuses on providing information for decision-making and emphasizes that, in sustainable development, everyone is a user and provider of information considered in the broad sense. That includes data, information, experience and knowledge. The need for information arises at all levels, from that of senior decision-maker at the national and international levels to the grass-roots and individual levels.

Maybe the most obvious place in which information freedom should be prioritized is in the specific context of private international law. Private international law can best be accessed by a population that has access to individuals with expertise in private international law. This United Nations summit “WSIS” was created to help integrate the “multi-stakeholder platform aimed at addressing the issues raised by information and communication technologies through a structured and inclusive approach at the national, regional and international levels” The organization expands on the purpose of the forum by describing their ideal society where people are free to create, access, utilize, and share information. This is an admirable ideal for which to work, but in today’s global society, this information they discuss is some form of intellectual property. At some point the organization may be so successful that information can flow as freely in as many directions as possible, but now the generation or examination of this information is governed by patent laws, the use of the information is governed by contract laws, the security of the information is governed by the laws of search and seizure, and the logo for the conference itself is protected by copyright laws. An organization that seeks to ease the legal bindings around information in a multi-stakeholder, international group simply has to consider several dimensions of private international law. This group literally cannot fully succeed without some significant progress made towards SDG 16 and towards the lowering of the information barrier that prevents the producers and users and seekers of this information society from safely engaging in it. People around the world cannot use this information in a legal way without understand what is and is not legal.

Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda

One of the most significant driving forces of recent global development has been Urbanization. More than half the people on earth live in cities and the World Bank projects that this proportion could increase to seventy percent by the year 2050. Urbanization has provided a pathway out of poverty for decades. Cities are often centers of things like trade, government, and public services, all of which are critical to effectively developing a community. As of the beginning of this year, cities accounted for approximately eighty percent of worldwide GDP. To capitalize on this type of economic engine, the international community has included the need to create more inclusive cities in the Sustainable Development Goal 11 which seeks “inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” cities. The Goal recognizes that in 2016, approximately one third of people living in cities in the developing world live in what the United Nations call slums. The Habitat III Conference held in Ecuador in October of this year was intended to be a large step towards remedying this issue.

The Habitat III Conference was considered a resounding success by those who hosted it. Their most convincing evidence to this effect is the incredible number and variety of people who attended. Of the thirty thousand people in attendance, there were approximately ten thousand international participants from one hundred and sixty-seven countries. In the span of four days almost the Habitat III organization hosted over one thousand events hosting eight Plenary sessions, six High-level Roundtable sessions, four Assemblies, sixteen Stakeholder’s Roundtables, ten Policy Dialogues, twenty-two Special Sessions, three Urban Talks, an Urban Journalism Academy, and fifty-nine United Nations events. However, the organization cites not the quantity of their functions but the quality of the functions. Press releases from the organization and attendees show excellent progress forward in all three of what Habitat III calls the Transformative Commitments for Sustainable Urban Development. The transformative commitments for sustainable urban development have social, economic, and environmental dimensions which they consider integrated and indivisible. The social dimension focuses on issues like and tenure, the value of public space, and the sustainable leverage of natural and cultural heritage. The economic dimension involves housing policies as well as policies involving access to knowledge, skills, education, and the promotion of investments, innovations and entrepreneurship. The environmental policies address issues like climate change, unsustainable resource consumption, slum upgrading, energy efficiency and the social and ecological function of land.

Stakeholders in the SDGs and HLPF

The Sustainable Development Goals define themselves on the official United Nations website as an official agenda intended to serve as a “plan of action for people, planet and prosperity”. The seventeen Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets, which the UN has announced, demonstrate the scale and ambition of this new universal Agenda. It also seeks to improve the reach and quality of peace through many kinds of enhanced freedoms. The makers of the Goals note in that eliminating poverty is the “greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development”. Similarly lofty goals in the Goals are the elimination of violence and bringing perfect access to justice for every person in every country. The Goals seek to build on the Millennium Development Goals and to bring into existence what the MDGs worked for. The Goals advertise themselves are integrated and inseparable in that they balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental.

The Goals count every country as a stakeholder and also frequently refer to “all stakeholders” as an umbrella group. The stakeholders are those entities that will collaborate to implement the SDGs. This implies that even if everyone’s input is not equally heard, everyone will have a voice in the satisfaction of these goals. The meeting of the high-level political forum (HLPF) on sustainable development in 2017 convened under the authority of the Economic and Social Council from Monday, 10 July, to Wednesday, 19 July 2017 as the first attempt to integrate the countless voices that the SDGs purport to need. Many of the other posts on this blog go into considerable depth on the details of the HLPF, so this post will explore a pessimistic, tangentially related idea. The HLPF has scheduled meetings from this year to the year 2030. 2030 is the deadline that the SDGs have given themselves. The HLPF’s official website says that its most frequently employed review mechanism will be to encourage member states to “conduct regular and inclusive reviews of progress at the national and sub-national levels, which are country-led and country-driven” (paragraph 79)”. The site says that these national reviews are expected to serve as a basis for the regular reviews conducted by the (HLPF). As written by the 2030 Agenda, “regular reviews by the HLPF are to be voluntary, state-led, undertaken by both developed and developing countries, and involve multiple stakeholders”. This initially sounds positive, but the intentionally expansive definition of “stakeholders” could allow the accounts and opinions of local-level bureaucrat’s to be the false global perception of a development issue in a remote region.

Development Theory and Actors

Of all the development theories we covered for the capstone class and any other development class I have had over the past four years, I think that the most accurate framework for understanding what development means is the version of development presented by Amartya Sen. Essentially, Sen writes that to bring “development” to a population is to expand the freedoms population of that population. Sen argues for his framework with two reasons: the “evaluative reason” and the “effectiveness reason”. The evaluative reason claims that assessment of the progress of any development policy must be done primarily by whether or not freedoms are enhanced. For example, if a policy rises the average income of an area by increasing the income of the richest members of that community, then the freedoms of the average person have not been effected. While an economically-oriented analysis may make this policy look like a good one, it clearly does not help those in need of development programs. Sen’s analysis reveals this to be the case. We know a development plan is only as good as the degree of freedom it brings to the average individual. The second reason is the effectiveness reason: effective development is completely dependent on the lasting freedom of people. If a policy allows increases the freedoms of a group of people substantively but in an unsustainable or temporary way, then the policy has not effectively developed the area in any meaningful way. Through this metric, the major impediments to development are poverty and tyranny and their effects are inextricable.

Another use for Sen’s framework is the examination of national policies that are advertised as effective means of developing a country. Some industrializing countries have suspended freedoms such as workers’ rights in the short term to develop more opportunity for freedom. By some economically oriented frameworks, this would seem like a reasonable if unpleasant strategy. Sen’s framework shows that sacrificing freedom for wealth is illogical because the country is pursuing freedom by giving up freedom. Sen recognizes wealth as an intermediary to freedom and this reveals many overly-simplistic, utilitarian policies to be what they are. Sen cites “unfreedoms” as those issues that impede development. These unfreedoms are actually the exact issues that many of the sustainable development goals look to resolve. Some of these unfreedoms are a lack of food and food security, lack of health services, and a lack of gender equality.

Grand Challenges

Grand challenges are usually defined as “technically complex societal problems that have stubbornly defied solutions” (Branscomb, 2009). The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) focus on those grand challenges faced by individuals around the world. Many grand challenge scholars consider technology to be the answer to many of these complex problems. My project focuses on Goal 16: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions”, and while it may not initially seem to be a problem with a technological solution, my project will argue otherwise. When I first heard of the idea of “Grand Challenges” I immediately connected it to the idea of “wicked problems”. I thought when we first covered them in class and I still think now that noting similarities between grand challenges and wicked problems equip an individual better to solve either.

An overly simple definition of a wicked problem is some issue that resists a definitive solution because any policy applied to the problem does harm as well as good. Instead, wicked problems must be addressed through incremental policies that improve the status quo by doing more harm than good. Horst Rittel was one of the first scholars to formalize a general theory of wicked problems and his definition focuses on several characteristics of these social issues. First, wicked problems have no one cause. For example, the problem of poverty in an Iranian city is simultaneously similar and fundamentally different from poverty in the Chinese countryside. Second, wicked problems can be only comparatively good or bad, not objectively successful. There is no ideal end to reach, and so approaches to wicked problems should be clear ways to improve a situation rather than solve it. We can make the world more just, but we cannot solve injustice. Countries around the world have different perspectives on the death penalty and for some, its continued us is unjust. For others, its use is necessary for true justice.

Rittel lists inequality and political instability explicitly as examples of wicked problems. International and domestic policy makers can play a central role in mitigating the negative consequences of wicked problems and the SDGs have promise for positioning the broad trajectory of culture in new and more desirable directions. We all have to keep in mind however that no solution in any of these projects are easy, quick, or individually sufficient.