The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals: Guideposts to save the world?


The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals: Guideposts to save the world?

UN-760x300In September 2015 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a series of goals and targets in order to eradicate poverty, eliminate inequality, and subdue climate change by 2030. These Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), comprising 17 goals, 169 targets, and 230 indicators (to measure progress) replaced the eight Millennium Development Goals that had guided UN development policy thinking over the previous 15 years. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon characterized the SDGs as heralding “an historic turning point for our world”; they will probably be the hallmark of his legacy as he ends his decade-long reign at the helm of the UN in December.

The SDGs, bannered “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” are universal and thus apply to the entire UN membership of 193 nations. Through the UN’s online “The World We Want” campaign, millions of people the world over initially provided input on what they considered the most pressing global problems. The actual compilation and formulation of the SDGs lay in the hands of civil society through an Open Working Group of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) accredited to the Economic and Social Council of the UN. Some of the more powerful and better-financed NGOs exerted considerable influence in the process, which started in 2013 and ended after an all-day, all-night session in early July 2014. UN member-country delegations refined and tweaked the content for presentation to world leaders for their acclamation a year ago.

In their entirety, the goals are supposed to be a blueprint for development but not everyone can agree on the content. Unfortunately, the SDGs contain some controversial language that is disturbing to promoters of life. A major problem lies with “reproductive rights” language that was inserted into the document during the initial formulation period by powerful pro-choice NGOs, and which none of the country-delegations were subsequently able to remove. The controversial wording is found in targets 3.7 and 5.6, which many pro-life NGOs are now fighting battles over.

Goal 3 reads: “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” While this is rather vague, target 3.7 is disconcertingly specific:[1]

3.7 By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care

services, including for family planning, information and education, and the

integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes

Goal 5 reads: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” This may be laudable as it stands, but target 5.6 raises a red flag:

5.6 Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive

rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International

Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and

the outcome documents of their review conferences

The two targets have become the springboard for abortion promoters and providers to foist their credo on mostly poorer countries which, unlike nearly all developed countries, do not have abortion on demand. “Reproductive,” however modified—“rights,” “health,” “services,” “care,” “access”—is subject to varying interpretations according to the beliefs of the beholder. The word itself is almost never used in a procreative sense; rather the opposite. Given the importance and universality of the SDGs, this “reproductive” language is being used to support the agenda of population controllers.

The references in 5.6 relate to two major UN conferences: the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development and the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women. The formulation of the Cairo outcome document witnessed a word struggle that yielded specific language important to pro-lifers and often repeated by them: namely, that family planning does not involve abortion. In the section covering women’s health and motherhood there is this in paragraph 8.25:

In no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning . . ..  Any measures or changes related to abortion within the health system can only be determined at the national or local level according to the national legislative process. In circumstances where abortion is not against the law, such abortion should be safe.i

The Cairo document contained several references on abortion language. As is common with UN conferences, however, there have been periodic “reviews” which revisited the language of the document, each time pushing forward the abortion agenda. Therefore, the inclusion of the “reproductive” language in target 5.6 is problematic.

Statistical experts are now busy drafting a set of 230 indicators to hold governments accountable for implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and to monitor progress. Given that the UN has a slogan “you measure what you treasure,” and vice versa, global statisticians have a herculean task ahead of them. There is supposed to be at least one indicator for each target but about 30% of identified indicators as of yet have no methodology and no data. So-called reproductive rights represent one challenge.

[1] For all interested in reading the entire SDG document, this is the source:


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