Talking Targets – getting into the specifics of the post-2015 agenda

April 10, 2015

Last week the United Nations community once more turned its attention to the post-2015 development agenda. The third session of intergovernmental negotiations took place from 23-27 March. It’s focus was on the Sustainable Development goals, targets and indicators.

This was the first negotiation session at which there was opportunity to discuss the substantive or specific elements of the post-2015 framework. Negotiators know that detail matters, and as co-facilitator Macharia Kamau put it, ‘minds are beginning to focus’.

Negotiations treated goals, targets and indicators as integrated and interdependent elements. This reflects how they will work once agreed. Most member states were unwilling to create space for renegotiating the goals and targets previously (and tenuously) agreed to by the Open Working Group. The UN Statistical Commission presented preliminary indicators. The general sentiment was that they should be a technical matter rather than a political discussion. There was interest in developing indicators which address multiple targets at once. Such overlap would underlining the links between different goals and targets.

For those looking for more, Earth Negotiations Bulletin has prepared a detailed summary of the negotiations.

Gender goals, targets and indicators

In the first draft of the Sustainable Development Goals released last July, Goal 5 on gender was the only one which did not set numerical targets or timeframes. IWDA was not alone in pointing out that the lack of specific and time-bound commitments is likely to have a limiting impact on efforts to achieve gender equality. The German Development Institute argued the absence of time-bound targets on the gender goal ‘is a political statement in itself, the impact of which should not be underestimated … The inclusion of time-bound targets is indispensable if we want to track the progress of societies regarding such an important goal as the elimination of gender disparities.’ Recent revisions of targets by official bodies have done little to address the gap. There have been many suggestions for how they could, including from the Centre for Global Development.

Measurability was a focus of recent negotiations. The presentation of preliminary indicators offered insight into the development of gender measures. Each proposed indicator was assessed in terms of feasibility, suitability and relevance. Only three of the 18 indicators proposed against gender targets rated highly across all three measures. These were indicators on the percentage of women married before 18; the proportion of local government seats held by women; and ownership of mobile phones by sex. Other indicators rated significantly lower in feasibility and relevance, with some evident limitations.

The Women’s Major Group argues, ‘we need to develop indicators to address all SDGs and targets, not just the pieces that are easier to address’. The Gender and Development Network similarly argues that indicators should be ambitious, not chosen ‘solely on the existence of data’. To continue focusing only on existing data is to perpetuate problematic data gaps into the future.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action identified the lack of good data as a problem 20 years ago. It remains a priority and drew strong support at the meeting, with a majority of Member States calling for data disaggregated by sex, age and other indicators. This was consistent with priorities at the Commission on the Status of Women, which the week before the March post-2015 negotiations. The extent to which CSW influenced the negotiations more generally was not clear. It does, however, without question play a role in keeping gender equality and women’s rights at the forefront of discussion.

Input from civil society organisations

At CSW, there was strong criticism of the limited role for civil society. What space were non-government representatives given at the intergovernmental negotiations? The main event was a half-day interactive dialogue with Major Groups (including the Women’s Major Group) and other stakeholders. Here, there were calls for indicators to be developed through a transparent and inter-disciplinary process involving civil society; greater consideration of the most marginalised people; and disaggregated data measures to show if particular groups are being left behind.

Civil society organisations also provided written statements on indicators and priorities. Beyond 2015 summarised some of the main messages from civil society, including support fora principal of non-regression. This principal prevents negotiations taking things backwards to result in goals, targets and indicators less ambitious than those already agreed.

The Major Group of Children and Youth underlined the importance of looking beyond official statistics to seek information about perceptions. This draws on a recent report from the Overseas Development Institute, Asking people what they think: Using perceptions data to monitor the post-2015 agenda. In situations where existing data is insufficient, people’s ‘perceptions’ can help to fill gaps. For example, perceptions data can be helpful in understanding how ‘informal social norms underpin unequal or discriminatory outcomes for women,’ and whether and how this is changing. A recent study on Public Perceptions of Women in Leadership demonstrates how the power of perceptions research in revealing where attitudes are shifting and where they are not.

Up next

Session four of intergovernmental negotiations will take place in late April. The focus will turn to Means of Implementation and global partnership for international development.