Sex and sustainable development

A. Tianna ScozzaroWhere does sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) fit into a sustainable development agenda?

Just about everywhere, according to a new set of briefing memos produced by the Universal Access Project (UAP), a project of the United Nations Foundation. From education to prosperity, health to gender equality and the environment, the rights of individuals to make their own decisions about reproductive health will play a role in reaching nearly every goal targeted for sustainable development.

Why are we talking about this now? Here’s a little history. Back in 2000, world leaders began working towards a set of Millennium Development Goals aimed at alleviating poverty for millions of people around the world.  These goals informed the work of those of us who work in global development, outlining the critical top-line ways to improve people’s lives through health, economics, and agriculture.

The Millennium Development Goals will expire in 2015, and it’s time to determine a new set of priorities for global development.  Discussions are already well underway amongst leaders at the UN Headquarters in New York, as well as through regional consultations across the globe. A High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda recently put forward five “transformative shifts” for the next set of goals. While lifting people out of extreme poverty is still the main purpose of the goals, we must put sustainable development at the core of the new agenda – transcending prevailing narratives and the existing paradigm to think differently and go beyond. Similarly, we need to ensure that everyone is included. This means reaching the poorest of the poor, leaving no one behind, as well as introducing universal goals that implicate action for all countries, including the U.S. It’s understood by all parties involved that these goals are an opportunity to be aspirational, cross-cutting and grounded in a universal respect for human rights.

While these goals aren’t going to be a binding agreement, they are still an important indicator of global development priorities. The negotiations provoke discussion: What is most critical for improving people’s lives? How do we achieve those improvements? Where does the money come from? What makes a life fulfilling and sustainable beyond food, water and shelter? This debate is just heating up. For the next 12 months, negotiations will take place to determine which priorities stay and which get kicked to the curb.

The new UAP briefing resources serve as a tool for decision-makers to understand the critical linkages between issues at the center of women’s equality and well-being.  As tools for advocates, the memos make the case that SRHR is critical to successful sustainable development and must be included in the post-2015 development agenda.

People don’t lead their lives in silos. They need clean water, schools for their kids and sustainable livelihoods. What is good for women and their families on a deeply personal level is often also good for forests, lakes and the planet. Access to family planning and reproductive health services and supplies is central to sustainable development. These briefing resources make those links clear. Let’s hope that our global leaders hear this message just as clearly, and take action.

A. Tianna Scozzaro is the Population and Climate Associate for Population Action International (PAI), where she manages PAI’s international climate advocacy and technical assistance strategy, and advocates on integrated women’s health and environment funding and policy issues before the U.S. government.