The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will define the global development agenda for the next 15 years, will be formally adopted by heads of state at the United Nations beginning today.
The goals set out an integrated plan for achieving global equity by eradicating poverty, combatting climate change, and ensuring educational equity, among others. They also include a goal on achieving gender equality, and call for the realization of universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, including contraception.
The creation of this agenda has been in process for years, and its finalization was a hard-won victory that required sustained advocacy by International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region staff and our partners throughout the Americas and Caribbean. And, the SDGs are a huge step forward from the its predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which did not encompass reproductive health until after their formal adoption in 2000.
But while this new agenda is a victory in terms of building international consensus on reducing inequalities as a shared global enterprise, it fails to take into account some of the lessons learned from the MDGs, specifically in relation to accountability and implementation. This is especially true at the local level where individuals are most likely to access sexual and reproductive health services.
Take for example the ambitious Millennium Development Goal on maternal mortality, which set out to reduce deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth by three-quarters by 2015. In the sexual and reproductive health and rights community, this goal has the distinctive dishonor of being one of the least realized MDGs. While these unnecessary deaths have decreased significantly in many countries, in others, rates have remained stagnant. In Trinidad and Tobago, the maternal mortality ratio has actually risen in recent years!
Once the goals are formally adopted by governments, the UN Secretary General has the opportunity to guide UN agencies in helping governments implement the promises they made in New York. Let's hope that these implementation plans are robust and meaningful. Let's hope that women and girls are central to these implementation plans, not only on issues related to reproductive health, but on all of the issues in which women and girls bear the brunt of the burden of inequity: education, employment, poverty, and sanitation.
It's time. Women and girls have waited long enough.