Text and photos: Carlos Eduardo Gómez
Given the current panorama of widespread poverty, illiteracy, violence against women, economic inequality, an imbalance in the distribution of resources, and water scarcity, in 2015 the United Nations outlined a trajectory for progress, peace, and harmony. Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals were established, in the hope that by 2030 these obstacles that prevent humanity from reaching its maximum potential will be overcome. Below are the figures that support four of these goals.
A June 2017 UNESCO report shows that world poverty rates could be reduced by more than half if all adults completed secondary school. António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, states that when people obtain a quality education, they escape the cycle of poverty and new horizons open up for families, gender equality, human rights, non-violence, and sustainable development.
Speaking with Panorama of the Americas on this complex topic, Marcela Huaita, an attorney, gender expert, and Perú’s former Minister of Women and Vulnerable Populations observed that over the past fifteen years, significant progress has been made in providing educational access for all grades, school attendance rates have increased, especially among women and girls, and illiteracy has rapidly decreased. In fact, in all developing countries, the number of children enrolled in primary education reached 91%. However, there are still 103 million young people who are illiterate and 57 million children remain out of school, 50% of whom live in conflict-afflicted areas.
This is why the leaders of the world have included achieving quality education among the UN’s proposed Sustainable Development Goals. Over the next thirteen years, signatory countries should initiate programs that ensure children have access to early childhood services and free, fair, and quality pre-school, primary, and secondary education. Likewise, countries should strive to ensure equal access to technical, professional, and higher education training, to increase the numbers of individuals with the necessary skills to get decent jobs and start sustainable enterprises.
The objectives include improving infrastructure for people with disabilities and offering scholarships to students from developing countries to enable them to pursue programs of higher education in scientific technology, engineering, and information technologies.
The fifth objective is gender equality to be achieved by 2030 on a global scale. Dr. Diana Gómez Correal, who earned a Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of North Carolina, told Panorama of the Americas that this recognition of equality is not just a human right, but the foundation for the construction of more just, peaceful, democratic, prosperous, and sustainable societies.
Marcela Huaita believes that Latin America and the Caribbean have made significant advances in gender equality. From 1990 to 2011, ten countries in the region passed equality laws for women, six nations have ministries for women, two have deputy ministries, and eleven have created institutes, councils, or secretariats for women. These are important steps toward outlining challenges to equality and drafting policies that guarantee the results and allocation of resources for these projects are well monitored.
Despite this, one in every three women continues to suffer physical or sexual violence, primarily at the hands of an intimate partner. It is also known that women who participate in politics and electoral processes in weak democracies and countries in transition are four times more likely than men to experience discrimination or intimidation. More than seven hundred million women have been married as minors, with almost half marrying before they turned fifteen. And of course, married girls are more vulnerable to being victims of violence, having early pregnancies, and contracting sexually transmitted infections.
The agreement between nations aims to curb discrimination and all forms of violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres throughout the world by 2030. It seeks to eliminate harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation while ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and promoting equal rights to economic, financial, natural, and land-based resources.
Clean Water and Sanitation
Ensuring access to safe drinking water is an essential human right. Climate change, the scarcity of fresh water, and poor sanitation undermine food security, health, and life. Nevertheless, it is estimated that by 2050 at least one in four people will live in a country affected by chronic freshwater shortages.
Reports from the World Health Organization and UNICEF acknowledge that governments have increased budgets for water and sanitation by 4.7% annually, and since 2000, millions of people have gained access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Still, water scarcity affects more than 40% of the world’s population and some 2.1 billion people worldwide use a source of water contaminated with fecal matter. The consumption of this water kills more than 950 children under five each day and two million people annually. Some 2.4 billion people lack toilets or latrines and more than 80% of the wastewater from human activity is drained into rivers or the ocean without any treatment, causing high contamination levels and affecting the health and life of these ecosystems.
As a result, the 2030 goals include achieving universal and equitable access to clean water, ending outdoor defecation, and protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems, including forests, mountains, wetlands, rivers, lakes, and aquifers.
In Guterres’ opinion, “Racism, exclusion, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are poisoning our societies. It is absolutely essential for us to stand against them everywhere and every time.” Inequality in the world affects us all. Although income inequality between countries has been reduced, it has increased within countries. Guterres also says that economic growth is not enough to reduce poverty if it is not inclusive and ignores any of the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social, or environmental. World Bank studies show that excessive inequality undermines economic growth, poverty reduction and personal self-esteem.
United Nations statistics report that income inequality increased by 11% in developing countries from 1990 to 2010, and it is urgent to consider the link between income inequality and unequal access to opportunities to achieve this objective effectively. The World Bank database shows that the five countries with the greatest inequality are in Africa, followed by five Latin American countries. According to data from the financial services company Credit Suisse, 1% of the richest people in 2016 had more wealth than 99% of the world’s population.
It is therefore essential to increase the incomes of the poorest 40% of the population to a rate above the national average; promote the social, economic, and political inclusion of all people; guarantee equal opportunities; eliminate discriminatory laws, policies and practices; and promote participatory legislation, social protection and inclusive economic growth. It is also important to ensure greater representation and involvement of developing nations in the decisions made by the international economic and financial institutions in order to increase the effectiveness, reliability, accountability, and legitimacy of these institutions.