The final Open Working Group meeting which took place at the UN in New York during the first week of February was attended by my Colleague Vincenzina Santoro, Main United Nations Representative for the American Family Association of New York, who reports that the session covered a panoply of topics including: oceans, seas, forests, biodiversity, equality (social and gender), women’s empowerment, conflict prevention, peace, peace-building, rule of law, and much more. In other words: everything for everyone everywhere.
The MDG process took place behind closed doors and rubber stamped at the General Assembly in 2000. This has been heavily criticized and so now the entire global community has been asked to participate in the formulation of the SDGs. After all the OWG meetings and other fora that have been held, the two co-chairmen of the OWG process, the Ambassadors of Hungary and Kenya (who in my view are rather exceptional for UN ambassadors) will have to cull hours and hours of utterances by delegates, inter-governmental organizations, UN agencies, and civil society and produce a final report sometime in the near future.Among the voices that were heard was the Executive Director of UN Women who featured prominently on the third day with a major address reiterating what she has said at other venues during her brief tenure. Prof. Joseph Stiglitz, economic adviser to the Secretary-General, was a no show due to his inability to be at two places at once on a snowy day.Among the delegates who spoke, two could be considered “friendly.” The delegate from Trinidad &Tobago who spoke on behalf of the Caribbean Community included supportive and family friendly references in his statement. (I subsequently learned he had received input from one pro-life, pro-family NGO!)Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, the Papal Nuncio, spoke eloquently in defense of the dignity of life at all stages from the preborn to loneliness in old age.One of the worst was a long statement delivered by the delegate from Uruguay with repeated pejorative references to the sexual and reproductive rights agenda.The United Nations has created “major groups” among the NGOs that represent and advocate the same message/agenda. These include women, youth and others. A young person spoke on behalf of the “youth group” and in her first sentence advocated equality for the LGBT community followed by all sorts of sexual and reproductive matters for youth with services to be available without parental consent. (A similar message had been heard at a previous OWG meeting in June.) While she made no effort to be ‘inclusive’ it was clear that she did not represent the entire global youth community.The danger of all these meetings remains that ideologues are everywhere. They are forceful in advocating certain language that will find its way to the stand alone goals for the SDGs. By sheer repetition they hope to get their way.Among the novelties heard were several calls for developing data on gender this and that, an initiative that is likely to generate jobs for statisticians somewhere. There was even a reference to creating a “rule of law index” although this was not explained.“Side events” always are part of any major UN agenda. These usually take place at 1:15pm, interfering with lunch! Duty called to “Achieving Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment for Sustainable Development” but this only gave some dignitaries and one NGO (out of nearly 4,000) a second chance to state their same message.Several side events occur simultaneously so one has to pick and choose. When I saw something potentially positive (there aren’t too many) on the program I chose to attend. On Tuesday, the program listed “How can tourism contribute to the sustainable development agenda?” organized by the UN World Tourism Organization. The quick answer is “immensely!” Today more than one billion people travel across borders for leisure, business, family visits, pilgrimages and more. International tourism receipts exceeded $1.1 trillion in 2012 and nations big and small benefitted.A book was distributed entitled: “Tourism Stories: How Tourism Enriched My Life” which tells 14 stories of individuals and couples who started a successful tourism enterprise. One story was of a Vietnamese woman who ferries visitors in typical boats along a river that runs in a scenic area called Trang An. Today more than 1,000 boats travel the route and their rowers enjoy significantly higher wages and living standards in a tourism venture that started with the idea of one woman with one boat.A delegate from Samoa spoke of the importance of tourism to her country which later this year will host a UN meeting of the SIDS (Small Island Developing States). This year Samoa is celebrating its “graduation” from the LDC (Least Developed Countries) group as that small country now has achieved middle-income status, thanks in part to the tourism industry.Isn’t it nice for once to end a UN report on a constructive note?