With 2016 just around the corner, now is a good moment to take a small break and reflect on the year that has just passed. What do we remember from 2015? What will we take forward into the year to come?
2015 had a lot to live up to, widely billed as a milestone year for international development. And it was certainly a hectic 12 months. It marked the final stretch in the long negotiations which paved the way for world leaders to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; the first ever European Year for Development; and the adoption of new EU Action Plans on both Gender and Human Rights and Democracy. And that’s just to name a few of the things which occupied us.
But as we look ahead to the new year, we must ask: did 2015 live up to its promises? Will it be remembered, in years to come, as a truly milestone year for both people and planet?
Putting pen to paper on three guiding frameworks
On paper, I would argue that it certainly did meet our expectations. Let’s start with the 2030 Agenda – the agreement which will guide all our work over the coming 15 years. There is much to welcome when it comes to commitments to the world’s children and, if properly implemented, the SDGs will help create a safer, more equal and just world which leaves no one behind – including girls.
As an organisation, Plan International is committed to supporting the most marginalised and excluded children to realise their rights and reach their full potential. We know that, in far too many countries, communities and families around the world, girls continue to be disproportionately excluded and discriminated against. Today, on the eve of 2016, gender equality remains little more than a distant promise for far too many girls and women.
The adoption of the new EU Gender Action Plan (GAP) was therefore another important moment for us this year, as we continue our work to create a global movement in support of girls’ rights. The GAP is a comprehensive document which reconfirms the EU’s commitment to putting gender equality and girls’ and women’s rights and empowerment at the heart of development cooperation and humanitarian assistance.
And the same goes for the new EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy – a five-year framework which sets out how the Union will work towards the realisation of human rights in partner countries. This year, on Universal Children’s Day, we highlighted the need to step up efforts to end violence against children – a blight which affects as many as 1.5 billion children every year, often ‘hidden’ behind closed perpetrated by people these children know and trust. Strong child protection systems are key to addressing violence against children, and the specific focus on this outlined in the Human Rights Action Plan is a very welcome move.
From paper promises to concrete changes
So yes, on paper, 2015 was a milestone year, but we also know for a fact that translating policies into actions is more easily said than done. At the moment, they are words on paper that need energy, evidence, and political will to become actions at the local and national levels that will enable people and the planet to thrive.
It is now critical that the EU takes responsibility for, and shows leadership in, implementing these policies, to ensure they are translated into concrete results and improvements in the lives of children, especially girls, the world over. That means taking things like policy coherence, disaggregated data collection, and monitoring and accountability seriously. And these policies must be backed up with adequate funding and programming decisions, with expenditures tracked through gender and age-responsive budgeting.
Conflicts and crises: From despair comes hope
But, as seems almost inevitable these days, 2015 will also be remembered for the crises and conflicts which scarred both lives and lands. I’m thinking of course about the Nepal and Pakistan earthquakes, the ongoing conflict in Syria and the refugee crisis.
There’s no escaping the fact that we live in an increasingly fragile and insecure world. More often than not, it is children who end up paying the highest price. So whether man-made or natural, we must redouble our efforts to ensure no disaster robs a child of their future.
The commitment made by the EU this year to prioritise the provision of education in emergencies and allocate 4% of the humanitarian aid budget to this end is therefore particularly welcome. We have seen and said time and again that education is fundamental to both keeping children safe in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, as well as providing the support, stability and sense of normality that children crave in such troubled times, which is why it is also one of our top organisational priorities alongside child protection in emergencies.
Yet these humanitarian emergencies also remind us of the strength and resilience of children and their communities to cope and build back better, stronger, together. Just ask those in Western Africa whose lives have been devastated by the Ebola outbreak which swept through Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. What these communities have endured has been heartbreaking, but this year we saw a turning point, with Sierra Leone declared Ebola free in November. Plan International has been working side by side with those affected since the outset, and as the region transitions to life after Ebola we will continue to support the long-term recovery.
An eye to the new year
What, then, will we carry forward into the new year, to further our goal of ensuring children’s rights are at the heart of EU external action?
Under the leadership of our new CEO, Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, a top UN executive who took over the reins of the organisation in September, ensuring the proper implementation of Agenda 2030 and strengthening our focus on girls will be at the top of our priority list globally, regionally and nationally.
Our push to realise the rights and potential of girls will continue, through our year-long focus on Girls’ Voices which puts girls themselves at the heart of the global movement for gender equality. By providing a platform for girls around the world to share their stories, ideas opinions on the issues which matter to them, Girls’ Voices will help connect girls’ lived realities with the policies and processes taking place in Brussels and beyond.
At EU level, we will work with both National and Country Offices on the implementation of both the Gender and Human Rights Action Plans. Finally, we are already thinking ahead to the mid-term review of the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), which starts in 2016. We fought hard to ensure children’s rights were adequately reflected in the MFF when it was adopted, and the review provides the opportunity to reflect on whether the funding instruments are meeting their objectives, particularly in light of the Agenda 2030 commitments.
To summarise? 2015 was a milestone year on paper. Let’s make 2016 a milestone year in practice.