Global processes for development should be rooted in and informed by the grassroots movements. But is there a gap or disconnection? Can we do better to ensure that development discourses at all levels are plugged in affected communities on the frontlines?
Governments often fail to, meaningfully and centrally, engage the people on the ground, in processes around global agendas (like Agenda 2030); or how such policies will impact their daily lives. Reasey Seng, who is the programme coordinator at SILAKA in Cambodia, strives to link the two, with a view to achieve development justice. She spoke with CNS (Citizen News Service) on the challenges she and other women activists face in today’s times in plugging the loopholes, and the way forward.
Reasey Seng is also among the key participants at the forthcoming 3rd Asia Pacific Feminist Forum (APFF 2017), to be held in Chiang Mai, Thailand (7-9 September 2017).
There is indeed an urgent need to raise awareness of the ordinary people around sustainable development goals (SDGs). From her first-hand experience of working with very diverse groups like farmers, university students, urban working women, poor women and others, Reasey knows that most people have no idea of what SDGs are and how they are linked to their daily lives and work. Unless the discussions that take place at the UN are conveyed to them in a simplified language, unless there are meaningful consultations with the people, and unless their inputs are fed into global discussions, realization of the SDGs is likely to remain a far-off dream.
Reasey’s main responsibility is to facilitate the work of women’s organisations with government agencies to increase women’s participation in politics and decision making, so as to ensure that government laws and policies are gender sensitive and respond to the needs of the women on the ground. She also works with young women activists at the subnational level, and with women at the local commune council level so that they can play their role effectively in ensuring a women’s agenda at the commune level.
To help achieve Agenda 2030, initiating a dialogue at grassroots and local levels around SDGs is important. Governments and NGOs must raise awareness in their various constituencies on what SDGs are and how they are going to impact their lives. Once this is explained to the people in simple words (and not in a difficult-to-understand technical language), they will be able to actively engage around the challenges and systemic barriers they encounter in their daily lives and also suggest workable solutions. They must also be involved with monitoring and review of the Agenda 2030 processes. A meaningful people’s involvement will help in localization of the sustainable development process, which is so very essential to achieve the SDGs, by leaving no one behind.
High level discourses must be tuned to local voices!
It is really important to plug the grassroots movements into global processes like the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) if we want to achieve development justice, feels Reasey. “As it is a global agenda, all people must be an integral part of it. It just cannot be a few select leaders deciding for the rest of us. To me it seems as if we do not have the right to take our own decisions to see the world we want to see. Everything seems to be depending on the decisions of an elite group of people who decide for us the kind of world they want us to live in. But the world is not a place merely for a group of people who own everything. So it becomes all the more important to include the voices of the grassroots into the negotiations at the global level. You cannot ignore the people just because they might lack the capacity to write the policy, or the capacity to speak your language. They are the ones who know the reality and the problems at the ground. You as leaders must pay heed to these realities and hear their problems, so that you take action to have a just society for people to live”.
No end to colonization: Its new form grips region
The Asia Pacific region, including Cambodia, is witnessing a new form of colonization - the economic colonization - which is dominated by the corporations and where profit becomes more important than people's welfare. All social services like health, education and water and other services are getting privatized in Cambodia, like elsewhere. This affects mostly the poor, especially poor women as they are doubly disadvantaged as a group - being women as well as poor, said Reasey.
FAIR distribution is integral of development justice
It seems as if for most governments, it is about 'people for development' and not 'development for the people'. But Reasey rightly believes that development justice is not only about equality, it is also about fair distribution. It is about having a society where citizens have the power to put people’s interests, and not corporate interests, centrestage; where voices of the marginalized are included in the government processes. Development justice is about having a world where women can freely express themselves, voice their needs and wants, make decisions for themselves without any fear. Reasey stresses that we are all together in this fight to change an unjust system and also calling for accountability from the governments and the leaders of the countries. This battle is not about changing any one person or persons; we are fighting to change the existing unfair and unjust system, she rightly asserts.
(Shobha Shukla is the Managing Editor at CNS (Citizen News Service) and the above article is based upon her interview series of key women leaders in Asia Pacific region who have played a key role in striving for development justice. Follow her on Twitter @Shobha1Shukla)