The newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent the most ambitious effort yet to reduce poverty, tackle inequality and injustice, and protect the planet. That 193 States have all agreed to them is, by any measure, a huge achievement.
Yet these goals will count for little if they remain just words on paper. When in New York, we all agreed that the true test of whether the 2030 Agenda lives up to expectations will come in its implementation. Full realisation of every goal and target by every state is essential if the promises of the SDGs are to lead to concrete results and improvements in the lives of children, especially girls, the world over. Not least because the goals of the Agenda are so interlinked and inter-dependent. What is also clear, however, is that the weakest part of the 2030 Agenda lies in the ‘follow-up and review’. But without strong monitoring and accountability mechanisms, how will states – and other relevant actors – be held to account for their commitments?
Importantly, children and young people must be included in both designing the implementation plans of states and in ensuring that implementation is monitored effectively. Children have a right to be involved in the decisions that affect them, and governments have an obligation to ensure their views are heard.
Young people, especially girls, face multiple exclusions which act as barriers to their effective participation in decision making.
But young people, especially girls, face multiple exclusions which act as barriers to their effective participation in decision making. Beyond the broad ageand gender-based discrimination, specific groups face additional disadvantages, such as rural youth or those with disabilities. Girls’ ability to participate is most particularly constrained by poverty and the discriminatory social norms and attitudes which curtail the realisation of their rights on a daily basis.
Yet it is critical that their views – which are so often different to adults – are both sought and listened to. This is not only an end in-and-of itself: it is fundamental to the success – or otherwise – of the entire 2030 Agenda.
That will require two things. Firstly, widespread, systematic changes must be made to structures and attitudes, so that children in general and girls in particular are recognised as legitimate actors and changemakers today, not simply passive beneficiaries of tomorrow.
Secondly, the appropriate mechanisms and processes must be put in place throughout countries from national to local level, to enable young people to participate. That means they must include both formal and informal mechanisms, be age-appropriate, but also disability-friendly, perhaps in multiple languages and the using methods that are accessible to all young people – be they scorecards, surveys or using ICT.
Since it is at the local and national levels where young people are most able to participate meaningfully and effectively in both accountability processes, governments must ensure a “bottom up” approach to accountability.
As civil society, we also have a duty to ensure we work with – not just on behalf of – young people. From the way we conduct our advocacy to the programmes we implement, we too must be held accountable to ensure that we do not in any way undermine the achievement of the SDGs and work towards their realisation, within our mandates. This is something Plan International is committed to, and we look forward to working with girls – and boys – around the world to hold their leaders to account for their commitments in Agenda 2030.