Restructuring of the Millennium Development Goals for the post-2015 phase has to address the problems of inequality and exclusion

British Prime Minister David Cameron was here recently to drum up trade between his country and India. The visit made big news in the media. A little-covered part of the visit was Mr. Cameron taking time to focus on the other India, the “Bharat”, and what India would want to look like in 2030.

Mr. Cameron is co-chair, along with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, of a 27-member High Level Panel of Eminent Persons (HLP) to make “recommendations regarding the vision and shape of a post-2015 development agenda”. The Panel was set up by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and has met three times till now, most recently in Monrovia on February 1. The Panel will present its recommendations at the end of May 2013.

The inter-governmental process of negotiating and adopting new goals will start with the U.N. General Assembly in September 2013 and will conclude by 2015.

India, home to a large segment of humanity and quite far from meeting the present Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), will have a key role to play in the agreement over a relevant development framework for post-2015. External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid recently made a statement on what the new framework might look like. India’s views are still evolving and the public debate on the likely new framework has gained prominence only in recent months.

Prime Minister David Cameron spoke of the MDGs being a fantastic innovation that got the world to focus on really important things. With three years to go before the 2015 deadline we can’t lose momentum. After 2015 we need to finish the job and eradicate extreme poverty. This is the most urgent moral problem facing the world today.

The present goals set out in 2000 helped nations focus on addressing poverty but they were adopted with very little consultation. This time around, inclusive broad-based consultations have started in over 100 countries to discuss the new goals. Based on extensive civil society consultations in India, it is becoming clear that the new goals would need to take into account a few key principles:

Universal, rights-based goals: A universal set of goals based on principles of human rights should be applicable to all countries. The world is no longer divided into north-south, or east-west. The world order has moved from a G7 world to a G20 world, with the poor living largely in middle-income rather than low-income countries and with aid no longer being the main way out of poverty.

In such a world, we cannot have one set of goals for the developing world and another one for the developed world, whose only responsibility in the old world order was to provide aid. We need to ensure that we live in a “more equal” and sustainable world, adopting principles of equity and common good but with differentiated responsibilities to attain that.

Tackling social exclusion: Eradication of extreme poverty would mean focusing on the one-third of world’s people with daily income below $1.25 who live in India. However, we need sharper focus on the bottom 20 per cent of the population and at the root causes of poverty and inequality. In India, and elsewhere, this group would consist of groups socially excluded because of discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, ethnicity, or gender. This needs to be tackled at the policy level, rather than just focusing on secular economic growth as the sole means to eliminate poverty.

Combating inequality: We also need to look at inequality and the relationship between the rich and the poor — say the ratio between the income and wealth of the top 20 per cent and the bottom 20 per cent of the population. This would focus attention on correcting and adjusting the pattern of development during the last decade that has led to widening inequalities worldwide, with the rich enjoying a disproportionate share of the gains from development, and very slow progress in poverty reduction.

Promoting gender equality and women’s rights: We need much stronger emphasis on gender equality compared to the last round of MDGs. A strong goal — building on the commitments already made under the Beijing Platform in 1995 and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) — ensuring women’s economic, social and political rights is essential. This could be translated into targets on equal ownership of property, including land, a violence-free life, and equitable representation in law-making bodies.

Combining inclusiveness and sustainability: The Rio+20 Conference in June 2012 established an Open Working Group of 30 members to propose “sustainable development goals” (SDGs) for presentation to the U.N. General Assembly. The new MDGs and the SDGs need to be combined into one set of goals that have both inclusiveness and sustainability.

Introducing monitoring and accountability: The current MDGs have no monitoring mechanism, eliminating accountability. Once the new goals are adopted, each country needs to set up a tripartite mechanism — including the government, civil society, and the private sector — to monitor progress in the attainment of the new MDGs.

(Nisha Agrawal is CEO, Oxfam India.)

More In: Comment | Opinion