Blog of Bette Levy, SI UN Representative in New York
Each year, during the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), the Division for Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA/DSDG), along with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), co-organise a series of capacity building, networking and experience-sharing sessions. These sessions tend to feature high-level speakers and experts from a number of crucial sectors and topics that directly relate to the SDGs under review during the currently ongoing session of the HLPF.
These SDG Learning, Training and Practice sessions supplement the broader agenda of the HLPF, by engaging those present, including policy makers and leaders, as well as committed and involved individuals and organisations from around the world, in opportunities to acquire practical knowledge, information, skills and training, ensuring that no one is left behind in the pursuit of the 2030 goals for sustainable development.
The 2023 session of the HLPF was held recently from Monday, 10 July, until Wednesday, 19 July 2023, addressing the them of ‘Accelerating the recovering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at all levels. At the same time, and in full consideration of the integrated, indivisible, and interlinked nature of the SDGs, the following SDGs was reviewed in depth:
- SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
- SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
- SDG 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
- SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
- SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals.
Gender-responsiveness in Partnerships for the SDGs: consultations, tools, strategies and approaches to Overcome barriers toward gender equality
Representing Soroptimist International and the Women’s Major Group (WMG) at the HLPF 2023, SI UN Representative in New York, Bette Levy, delivered a presentation during the UNITAR Learning, Teaching, and Practice special session that was exceptionally well received by the audience.
An abridged transcript of Bette’s presentation, which addressed ‘Gender-responsiveness in Partnerships for the SDGs: consultations, tools, strategies and approaches to Overcome barriers toward gender equality’, can be found below.
‘I’m truly excited to be here even more now after hearing Maria Fernanda [Espinosa Garcés]’s inspiring words … I’m going to be talking about grassroots advocacy, how it fits in the whole picture and completes the circle. It’s a topic I’m pretty impassioned about.
First, I’d like to ask you what is advocacy?
The dictionary defines it this way: Advocacy is defined as any action that speaks in favour of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of others. Advocacy is also about helping people find their voice.
There are three main types of advocacy – self-advocacy, individual advocacy and systems advocacy. Today we’re focusing on systems advocacy, which involves mobilising to change the policies, laws or rules that impact the way a person lives their life.
The efforts of systems advocacy can be focused at a local, state or national level, whilst what is being targeted depends on the type of problem and who has authority over it. Importantly, this type of advocacy acknowledges the interconnectedness between different systems and the significance of local knowledge and expertise being used to inform global action, and vice versa, if we are to change such systems.
Education and Awareness
For me, advocacy begins with public education and awareness. For instance, building awareness within local communities concerning their rights, the laws in place both locally and nationally, as well as the commitments that their government has signed on to at the local, national, regional, and global level.
Furthermore, the ‘education’ side of advocacy must be achieved where people are or with the tools that are readily available – you cannot have an awareness campaign or social action if you aren’t involving or reaching the people who are being affected. Tools such as social media are great for increasing the variety and scope of participation, however large portions of the world do not have sufficient access to the internet, if at all.
The number one lesson to be derived from this is to use what tools are available. Use radio, use SMS technology, use old fashioned knocking on doors and handing out flyers – this may not be as glamorous, however it is still extremely effective.
Once people are educated or aware, then the next step is to get them to feel comfortable and confident advocating for changes in local government, holding them accountable, letting officials know that the people understand the laws and are holding them to task.
Public hearings are a good place to begin when teaching others how to advocate, or else when holding public consultations for review of high-level processes (such as those within the UN). Such coordinated efforts are not only a great learning tool, but they are also the first line toward getting change to happen – where multiple voices are amplified when asking for the same systemic change, making lawmakers listen.
Once people are educated and ready to advocate, they often want to take their action up a few gears and bypass key local, national, and regional processes by taking their efforts directly to the global level. This is also often a big mistake, because the decisions that a country will or will not agree to are brought to discussion well before they are raised at UNHQ meeting in the form of political declarations or outcome documents. Individuals should be encouraged to join organisations that, in turn, are part of broader networks or coalitions, where the voice of many carries weight.
Important Points to Remember
Coming to a close, I can’t stress enough the importance of the work at national and regional levels, as well as joining key networks at the local and regional level. Joining important consultations and preparations, such as for the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) or the Financing for Development Forum (FfD), as these advance sessions are the most effective way to influence policy.
Make the most of your opportunities and learn to listen to what is being said to you; we talk about UN language, however you must learn the language of Government as well, so that you can properly ask for your demands. Furthermore, don’t overwhelm them with your information, don’t waste the limited time you have talking about your organisation unless that is the point of your intervention. If you are asking for something, be brief, succinct and limit how much you as ask at one time – try to limit your requests to the three most important.
Again, I emphasise listening before you speak so you can call them on their own words – hold them to what they say and do your research before you ask, knowing where they stand on specific points. Also, don’t assume that because you are passionate about an issue that they are too, or that people from opposing positions aren’t just as passionate – what’s more, allies are not always allies on all issues.
And finally, always remember that it is the role of civil society to hold our governments accountable and push the acceleration of the SDGs, CEDAW, the Beijing Platform for Action, and other key commitments.
We need to remind them that we are their partners and not their enemies. We need each other.’