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UNECE 2017 Regional Forum on Sustainable Development, Geneva, 25 April

More than 80 civil society representatives from the UNECE region met to provide input to the first stand-alone UNECE Regional Forum on Sustainable Development. The IFP as well as some of its members were also present at this important event. The Opening statement of the Forum was delivered by Nurgul Djanaeva, on behalf of civil society.

There is an enormous interest by diverse civil society in continuing the pivotal role which we play in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We are very proud that we had such a wide representation of civil society, from all sectors: people with disabilities, children and youth, migrants and diaspora, workers and trade unions, farmers, small and medium enterprises, science and academia, environment and development NGOs, and women, as well as from sub-regions: Turkey and Western Balkans, Caucasus, Eastern Europe, EU, Northern America and Central Asia.

We were glad to hear from UNECE Executive Secretary Christian Friis Bach and from the Dutch Ambassador Jeroen Verheul that Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are key to achieving inclusive and sustainable development, not just as watchdogs of governments – which is a very important role – but also as partners, contributors and rights-holders.

CSOs are central to achieving the 2030 Agenda. Their success requires being effectively engaged from the beginning of the agenda implementation, review and follow up. CSOs have provided expertise and best practices for the SDGs reviewed in 2017:

• On SDG1, we note that nearly 30% of youth in Europe are at risk of poverty or social exclusion. Almost 80% of people with disabilities in the region are living in poverty. There are more than 4 million homeless people in the EU, the richest region of the world. Increasing precarisation results in informal work of up to 80% of the workforce in some UNECE countries. Multidimensional inequality was best described by a representative of the disability movement, who explained the multiple dimensions of poverty as a blind woman having been discriminated against, having suffered from gender discrimination and scarce employment prospects. Action on SDGs continues to be oblivious to the multidimensional aspects of inequality that people face. Social protection floors are among the most effective tools to fight poverty. To fund social protection schemes, UNECE governments are responsible to create adequate fiscal space to support social policies, through redistributive tax systems.

• SDG5: UNECE member states must ensure women’s participation at local, national, regional and global levels; secure proper coverage of sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender equality; and guarantee that women’s rights are mainstreamed across all SDGs. Governmental priorities are currently going in the wrong direction. Funding for women’s rights organizations has been halved in the last 5 years. Only 2% of ODA devoted to peace and conflict targets gender equality. This year, the US military budget has been proposed to increase by 54 billion US dollars. Meanwhile, the same administration is eliminating funding connected to maternal health, AIDS, education and reproductive health, totaling a comparatively meagre 640 million US dollars, endangering women’s lives worldwide. We have a proposal to revert this trend. Trade unions’ reports on the care economy shows that decent work, social dialogue and living wages can reduce poverty and inequality for women at risk and improve the whole economy.

• Public investment that prioritizes the care economy could assist countries in their efforts to achieve SDG17: financing for development must be adequate and accountable to achieve the SDGs. UNECE countries, particularly aid providers, should uphold their ODA commitments and to engage in pro-poor and sustainable development cooperation. Against the background of increasing channeling of development aid to the private sector, we call for investment in public, affordable and inclusive services. We demand that full attention be paid to capacity-building for all CSOs. We call for full, effective accountability of all development actors, with accountability frameworks in place, with full participation of CSOs.

The global indicators’ framework is a minimum necessary to measure SDG progress and must be measured in line with human rights obligations. CSOs are valuable actors in this process. CSOs can provide valuable data to measure the SDGs indicators, but also to fill the measurement gaps.

CSOs are full of energy and enthusiasm to realize sustainable and inclusive development. It is in our mutual interest that all SDGs are achieved.

We, civil society, call for effective and meaningful engagement of civil society in all its diversity in the UNECE processes at all levels. CSOs are working on institutionalizing this civil society engagement mechanism (RCEM) and ask for the support of UNECE and its member states for this to happen. The IFP will be monitoring via its members the discussions on the RCEM and making contributions where relevant.