Sr Janet Palafox at the UN
This was the mantra stated at the first meeting of Non- Government Organisations (NGOs) I attended shortly after arriving in New York for my United Nations internship in October 2019. Learning the importance of advocacy, participation and collaboration to effectively challenge and change unjust structures was extremely important. Most members were religious organisations advocating on behalf of those who are invisible, especially the marginalised people with whom they work so that their voices, concerns, perspectives and experiences are heard and included. Because no one should be left behind.
Attending these meetings, the UN agency briefings and conferences helped me realise the importance of our work on the ground, especially among the most disadvantaged communities in various countries. Extensively, through the schools, local projects and advocacy work, we are contributing to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDG).
The UN Secretary General declared SDG 2030 a blueprint for fair globalisation. The goals are comprehensive and interconnected. Our Governments have committed to it. SDG 2030 has the power to transform the lives of people, our society and the environment. Achieving these goals requires multilateral collaboration from all countries, by all sectors and by all global citizens
The projects supported by MWIA are important contributors to the achievement of the SDGs within their countries and the world. We have seen the transformation of the lives of people and communities when they are given opportunities to discover and develop their unique gifts
Loreto and CJ schools, like those in South Sudan, rural Timor-Leste and the brickfields in India, address the goal of Quality Education (SDG 4) as do the MWIA supported tertiary scholarships in Zambia and Vietnam. Our education ministry also provides income-generating skills training in Peru, India and Kenya, further working towards this goal.
However, these initiatives have a positive ripple effect, contributing to realising other SDG goals such as SDG 1 (No Poverty); SDG 2 (Zero Hunger); SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-being); SDG 5 (Gender Equality); SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities) and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth).
The Baby Milk program in Zambia, for example, is not only about ensuring babies are fed (SDG 2) but it is also about their health and well-being (SDG 3). Similarly, raising awareness among the women of India and Australia is not just about gender equality (SDG 5) but also about empowering them for more peaceful, just and strong institutions (SDG 16).
We are making some progress, especially in reducing extreme poverty and child mortality and increasing access to energy and decent work. Governments, businesses, civil societies and young people are taking action. However, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the sad reality is that we are not on track to achieving the SDGs by 2030.
The Global Sustainable Development Report 2019 found that inequality, particularly gender inequality, is persistent and prevalent in both developed and developing countries. Gender inequality reduces the opportunities and capabilities of women and girls exacerbating their poverty and contributing to intergenerational poverty and inequality.
The report identified the critical importance of quality education. The kind of education that provides the tools to expand knowledge and develop critical thinking, not just numeracy and literacy. We need education enabling reflection while empowering and inspiring learners to become actors of change in their own lives, their communities and their countries.
A significant learning for me is the importance of being able to bring the voices of the marginalised to local, national and international levels of power. Our work at the UN is more effective if it is informed by the experiences of the people on the ground. This year the UN turns 75 and begins the Decade of Action for achieving the SDGs.
The Secretary General calls young people and civil society to work together, to make our leaders accountable and advocate for national governments to deliver what they promised. Together, with the women, men and children in our network, let us ensure we are on the menu by being and bringing their voices to the table.
You can read more about the work of the Loreto Sisters at the UN here: ibvmunngo.org/
Author: Sr Janet Palafox ibvm