All government ministries (beyond the SDG focal ministry) have to be involved in the VNR process. The challenge here is that VNRs are often a defined process by governments to pull a report together and present it in New York, rather than the culmination of truly national efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda. We’re not yet seeing leadership at a national level beyond ministries of planning (or equivalent) and changing this is the responsibility of civil society, as well as governments.
Where civil society is organised at a national level it can make a big difference, including for disability. Unfortunately there really aren’t enough examples of this: a lot of our work over the months before the VNRs in Bangladesh, Kenya, India, Nigeria and Zimbabwe this year has been to coordinate civil society and ensure the voices of people with disabilities are heard within it. On the plus side, we’ve capitalised on the work we did last year in Sierra Leone, and a large number of the Sierra Leone 2030 Coalition members are attending the HLPF this year, which is fantastic and demonstrative of great progress in Sierra Leone.
The role of parliaments is being seen as more and more important. We supported the chair of the Sierra Leone parliamentary SDG committee to attend this HLPF and I have heard parliamentarians from the UK, Sweden, Afghanistan and others outlining how parliaments will need to increase their role in supporting national planning and holding governments to account.
We need to focus on the specific rather than the general. Too many times, civil society at an international level misses opportunities to engage in a more constructive conversation with governments about how the SDGs are being implemented, how we are participating and what the challenges and lessons are. This is what the HLPF is for, and while there are challenges around the inclusivity, participatory and transparency of the conference, my recommendation to civil society would be for it to focus on creating constructive and specific discussions, rather than focusing on general concerns.
We co-hosted an HLPF side event that highlighted all these issues, focusing on sharing experiences from countries including Sierra Leone, India, Sweden, Switzerland and Zimbabwe.
We can’t forget that this agenda is only two years old. We’ve come a long way – and a lot of that is extremely exciting – but this year’s High-Level Political Forum is a reminder that there is clearly room for improvement.
By Andrew Griffiths, Sightsavers Head of Advocacy