Sustainable Development Goals: So What?

posted by Bangirana Albert

Amidst the backdrop of a souring refugee crisis in Europe and a stronger calls for reform to UN structures and strategies, the just-concluded 2015 UN Sustainable Development Summit (25 to 27 September) grappled with its own relevance. The play on ‘semantic’ politics–the shift from ‘Millennium Development Goals’ to the trendy ‘Sustainable Development Goals’–marked the days’ resounding rhetoric. The viability of the latter and the failure of the former–in terms of transition from theory to impact-based praxis, however, remains a pressing question. At the summit, UN president Ban Ki-Moon reiterated the need to respond collectively to the Syrian refugee crisis, while other leaders focused on recurrent global issues ranging from the environment, global economics of scale to the protracted lack of equity in UN structures. The defining theme of all these discussions is that they seem to provide more questions than practical answers. For example, can or will the Sustainable Development Goals, as currently conceptualized, yield tangible results this time around? The answer is unclear. Meanwhile, we are drowning in arguments from the ivory towers of academic institutions and the heated deliberations coming from the UN Headquarters in New York. Jason Hickel in his article, “Why the new sustainable development goals won’t make the world a better place,” which we are re-posting in its entirety, informatively expounds on this and more critical points undergirding this exciting debate.

“Why the New Sustainable Development Goals Won’t Make the World a Better Place”*

by Jason Hickel

The world’s governments are preparing to finalise the sustainable development goals at the United Nations this month. It is set to be a major international event, and the goals will be ushered in with tremendous fanfare. They are widely regarded as a historic step toward building a better world, and toward eradicating poverty and hunger from the face of the Earth once and for all.

Continue reading

The Pretence of Neutrality: Religion and the Implementation of Programmes on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

by Brenda Bartelink

In the past decade sexuality has become a centre of contestation and cultural encounter between African and “Western” actors in African societies. Initially tied to contestations over the best ways to tackle the HIV/AIDS epidemic and halt the virus, human sexuality has come to be seen as a key issue in the transformation to more healthy, equal, and just societies.[i] However devastating, the broader cultural and political dynamics that form the background against which so-called gay bills in countries such as Uganda were proposed cannot be denied. These dynamics are visible in various national discourses that emphasize the destructive influence of the West to create a positive mirror image of moral integrity and good citizenship.[ii]

While much has been written about how religion is entangled in controversies around (homo-)sexuality in African countries such as Uganda, Zambia, Nigeria and South Africa, there is still a gap when it comes to understanding how “Western” humanitarian policies and programmes are informed by specific moralities. Michael Barnett has argued that Western humanitarianism is deeply pragmatic, which presupposes a certain worldview that centralizes scientific knowledge and rational procedures.[iii] As a consequence, western humanitarianism tends to limit the space for faith and personal engagement. Western feminists have pointed out that knowledge is not neutral.  Instead, knowledge is gendered through its construction in predominantly white, heterosexual frames. However ironic, sexual and reproductive health policies and programmes, which have emerged out of a fruitful marriage between Western feminism and the development sector, have a pragmatic focus on evidence-based knowledge about sexuality that excludes consideration of emotions and culture. The dominant masculine discourse has framed emotional and cultural attributes as “feminised” and subsequently also privatized – alongside religion. Continue reading

In the News: Ebola, Western Interventions, and Local Agency

posted by Bangirana Albert Billy

Yet another unique and analytical contribution to the vexing Ebola crisis question. Gregg Gonsalves in “Why rushing off to fight Ebola in West Africa isn’t the right choice” highlights the entrenched complexities commonly ignored but yet critical gaps in the current response to the Ebola epidemic. Quoting the Nigerian writer Teju Cole (2012), Gregg affirms that there are more complex and wide spread problems – both intricate and intensely local that undergird the origins of the epidemic. The solution he argues lies in the commonly ignored notion of local agency. Obliterating the latter and reinforcing “a narrative of African helplessness” could continue to compromise the cause to avert the epidemic.

In the News: “Militarizing Global Health”

posted by Carrie Reiling

When the United States sent army advisors to Liberia to construct clinics in the fight against Ebola in the region, some worried that the deployment was a military overreach for an event that was essentially not a security threat. Others pointed out, however, that the military is the best-resourced organization the United States has to rapidly deploy and operate in response to humanitarian needs globally and that the quickly spreading virus necessitated the military’s involvement.

Alex de Waal, in a Boston Review article titled “Militarizing Global Health,” brings together these two arguments in a critique of how and why the U.S. military developed the country’s best capacity to handle what are essentially non-security events like global health crises. He notes that not only is the military not as effective at addressing public health needs as are civilian programs, but also that using “the language of warfare risks turning infected people and their caretakers into objects of fear and stigma.”

Institutions and Interventions: Putting Ebola in Context

by China Scherz

Media accounts of the current Ebola epidemic often cite culture as a key factor causing the virus to spread. Since the summer, images of funeral practices, bush meat consumption, and villagers fearful of biomedicine have filled the pages of our newspapers. While a nuanced understanding of culture can be helpful in crafting more culturally sensitive interventions, to focus on an understanding of “context” in which “they” are the ones with culture can also serve to racialize and naturalize Ebola. In this vision Ebola becomes attached to a racialized African body and to a set of cultural practices that are seen as highly unlikely to change. As in Charles Briggs’s writings on the Venezuelan cholera epidemic in the early 1990s, such narratives can easily justify the abandonment of the populations depicted as the irrational actors who can be blamed for the epidemic’s spread (Briggs 2001).

This is not to say that culture has not contributed to Ebola’s spread—rather it is a different set of cultural beliefs and practices that we need to consider if we want to understand why this epidemic has spread so quickly, why the medical systems of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea were so profoundly unprepared, and where the vulnerabilities in the American health care system may lie. Understanding the tragic spread of this disease is less a matter of teasing out the cultural logics of funeral rituals than it is a matter of drawing out the beliefs and norms that have shaped the market based development policies that have left Continue reading