2016 - The Mary Robinson Centre International Symposium July 1-2
Presentation Abstracts


“Transformative Sustainable Development Goals: Foregrounding Equality, Human Rights and Peace”

1. MARY ROBINSON, former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

2. COLM O’GORMAN, Executive Director, Amnesty International Ireland
Social and Economic Rights and the SDGs

One of the most significant aspects of the SDG 2030 framework is that the Goals have been recognised as universal and inter-linked. All goals apply to all countries throughout the Global South and the "developed" countries of the West and North. This means the goals of gender equality, of combating inequalities within and between countries, and of promoting human rights centred, just, peaceful and inclusive societies―have been recognised as cross-cutting and indispensable to the advancement of all of the Goals. So, eliminating hunger worldwide and ensuring universal enjoyment of minimum standards in education, healthcare, clean water and decent work, among others, requires strong political commitment and allocation of resources to achieving these outcomes as a matter of equality, justice and human rights.  This understanding of what is involved in achieving sustainable development is very welcome. It echoes and strengthens earlier declarations by Governments that human rights are universal, indivisible and interrelated (Vienna 1993). That is, Governments are obligated to take action to respect, protect and fulfil social, economic and cultural rights no less than civil and political rights. The complementarity and common ground of the SDG 2030 framework and of the Vienna paradigm of commitment to realisation of universal and indivisible human rights is very clear. It is clear that the achievement of the SDGs, whether in the Global South or the North, is impossible in the absence of strong political and institutional commitments on the part of Governments to ensuring social and economic rights. However, in practice, and especially in the Western developed economies, there is strong political and ideological resistance to recognition of social and economic rights, sometimes to the degree that the civil and political rights of defenders of social and economic rights are threatened. In this presentation, Colm O'Gorman discusses the obstacles to advancing social and economic rights and some of the actions that Amnesty International Ireland is taking to challenge political resistance to social and economic rights.     

3. NOELEEN HEYZER, formerly Head of UNIFEM and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific (ESCAP)
Gender Equality and Human Rights: Unlocking Human Potential for a Sustainable, Secure Future of Shared Prosperity

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) together form a forward-looking agenda that places both people and the planet at the center of global development efforts. It is a universal, integrated and human-rights based agenda for societal transformation that simultaneously addresses economic growth, social justice and environmental stewardship. It highlights the link between peace, development and human rights—an agenda that leaves no one behind. To realize this agenda we need first to understand the global and regional challenges we face in the changing landscape of the 21st Century. The path ahead is neither easy nor does it require simply doing more of the same. My address, based on my global and Asian experience, will be divided into two parts. First I will set the stage by highlighting five challenges we must urgently address if we hope to achieve an inclusive, secure and sustainable future in a changing world: rising inequality, precarious jobs and lives, changing demography, managing our eco-systems, weak governance in an interdependent world. Next, I will focus on gender equality and human rights to deliver the promise of dignity and a better quality of life for all, leaving no one behind in our globalizing but increasingly fragmented and unsustainable world. Gender equality and human rights unlock our human potential and addressing them are powerful ways for the international community, businesses, civil society and all citizens to start transforming our world so that our children can inherit a Sustainable, Secure Future of Shared Prosperity.

Chair/moderator: PAUL GILLESPIE, Irish Times columnist and former Foreign Policy Editor

“Goal 5: Mobilising resources to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”

4. GERALDINE FRASER-MOLEKETI, Gender Envoy for the African Development Bank
Mobilising resources to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Countless facts and figures underline the glaring gaps in gender equality – they should be viewed as a call for action. At the 2015 Financing for Development (FFD 3) conference, the world’s Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs), and other development partners pledged to catalyse funds from billions to trillions for inclusive and sustainable development. The African Union (AU) Agenda 2063, and the 2015 United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) lay the groundwork on how those funds will be spent to ensure that words are turned into actions. Gender is crosscutting in all seventeen UN SDGs. SDG 5 places focused attention on addressing various factors which inhibit the autonomy, and equal participation of the world’s women and girls. In Africa, women take up less than 3% of CEO positions in African Development Bank Group (AfDB) member countries; earn 30-50% less than men; control less than 25% of agricultural land holdings; and are 28% less likely to own a formal bank account. Such imbalances hamper their full participation in the socio-economic development of their communities, and of the world. Reforming and enacting new legislation to open restrictions to women’s legal status and property rights, and economic development is beneficial to everybody. It is therefore crucial that development partners support initiatives that promote and achieve gender equality at all levels of society. Ensuring that such legislation is adhered to should be viewed as a litmus test of a country’s commitment to inclusive growth. The African Development Bank Group (AfDB) has recognized the importance of inclusive growth in its 2013-2022 Ten Year Strategy (TYS); High Fives Agenda; and 2014-2018 Gender Strategy. The recently launched Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) is a clear sign of the organisation’s pledge to catalyse funds for inclusive development. Globally, multilaterals have been instrumental in funding projects which recognize women as the third largest emerging market. Funding from MDBs, in combination with concrete commitments to the UN SDGs by stakeholders will ensure that half the world’s population is not left behind in the quest for sustainable development.

5. HEATHER GRADY, Vice President, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, San Francisco USA

Exploring philanthropy’s contributions to gender equality through the Sustainable Development Goals

Philanthropy has been key to promoting women’s rights and empowerment over many decades. At the same time, that support has risen and fallen in response to many factors external to the ‘women’s movement’ and sector itself, not least an upswing in the momentum and interest galvanized by global convenings like the Beijing women’s conference, and a seeming downturn after the growth of ‘strategic’ or ‘venture’ philanthropy, which has directed more resources to large, professionalized organizations and away from grassroots organizations. The SDGs present an opportunity for the philanthropy sector to coalesce around a globally-agreed normative framework – one that incorporates an explicit focus on women and girls, addressing inequality, promoting inclusive societies, and ‘leaving no one behind’. For those supporting gender equality to seize this opportunity, there is a need to tackle a number of challenges, not least to 1) cohere many disparate funding streams together for more systemic change; 2) strengthen gender-related goals in all national SDG implementation plans, not least paying greater attention to the need for better baseline and benchmark data; and 3) tap into the growing wave of social finance to ensure that women form a growing share of investors and entrepreneurs, and that a growing proportion of social finance goes toward women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship.

6. NOELEEN HEYZER, formerly Head of UNIFEM and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific (ESCAP)
Weathering the Storm: Mobilizing Resources for Gender Equality and Sustainable Development

My presentation will consider the supportive financial system, alliances and leadership needed to promote gender equality and sustainable development in the current global financial climate.
The current international financial system is not seen by many to serve the needs of the real economy nor help mitigate risks. This has resulted in the 2008 financial crisis that is still affecting people regarded as “too small to matter”. In addition, the recently revealed magnitude of off-shore tax havens, and money laundering of the global rich and politically connected persons have forced the issue of economic and tax justice back on the agenda with surging anger of the young at the global elite. Yet, this state of affair is not inevitable. A development-friendly financial system has played an important role to support the real economy, including financing of SMEs, physical and social infrastructure, education and healthcare, green investments and affordable housing, all of which have benefitted both women and men. Promoting inclusive financing and making financial services work for women have empowered them and acted as buffers against sudden emergencies, economic and climatic shocks that can push poor households into destitution.
We can weather the storm of the current global financial climate and mobilize resources for gender equality by building women’s economic power, promoting their political voice and leadership, and advance legal rights to end gender discrimination. There is much that can be done to advance gender equality and sustainable development by reorienting public expenditure (including expenditure on wars and huge debt servicing), by boosting domestic revenue through better tax administration, by using fiscal policies and incentives to adjust the pattern of development and generate decent equitable employment, by engendering our budgets and changing spending priorities to support gender equality and women’s empowerment (e.g. investing in the care economy, in social protection, in building women’s economic power), by strengthening global alliances, regional and south-south partnerships that strive for economic, social and climate justice and equality.

Chair/moderator: MARY ROBINSON

“Goal 10: Combating inequalities within and between countries”
7. PETER POWER, Executive Director, UNICEF Ireland, former Minister of State for Overseas Development
The Critical Role of Children in Realising the SDGs

The forging of a consensus on development and climate change in 2015 represented a significant global achievement. Turning the aspirations set out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into reality is an altogether more difficult task. By definition, the Sustainable Development Goals must endure beyond 2030. This paper will make the case that strategic investment in children is in fact a condition precedent to the attainment of the goals in a sustainable way. UNICEF’s research and conclusions in The State of the World’s Children Report published this week provides incontrovertible evidence that cycles of deprivation are transmitted from one generation to the next. Breaking these cycles should be an operating principle for UN agencies, governments and development actors. We should reflect on the success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but we need to be realistic in recognising that a different approach will be needed to realise the Sustainable Development Goals. The cost of not adopting a targeted child-centric approach will indeed lead to a more unequal world in 2030 in the face of continued population growth. The paper will argue that investment in children will be the most cost effective and strategic way in which to do this.

8. DIANE ELSON, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Essex, joint winner of the 2016 Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought

The transformative potential of integrating human rights principles into economic thinking and policy making, with particular reference to SDG10 Reduce inequality within and between countries
There are several sub-goals, none of which make specific reference to human rights. 10.1 calls for growth in the incomes of the bottom 40% (but says nothing about the incomes of the top 1%). 10.2 calls for social, economic, and political inclusion (but does not recognise that some forms of inclusion are exploitative). 10.3 calls for governments to ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome (but does not mention CEDAW or CERD nor give guidance on how much reduction of inequality in outcome is required). 10.4 calls for the adoption of polices, especially fiscal, wage and social protection policies, so as to progressively achieve greater equality ( but there is no mention of obligation to use maximum available resources so as to progressively realize economic, social and cultural rights, as called for by ICESCR ). 10.5, 10,6 and 10.7 call for improvements in regulation of global financial markets, more voice for developing countries in global economic decision-making , facilitation of safe migration, adoption of principles of special and differentiated treatment for developing countries in trade agreements, and encouragement of official development assistance and foreign direct investment ( but make no reference to extraterritorial obligations of states). I shall argue that integrating human rights principles into economic thinking and policy would focus attention on the rights of people who suffer deprivations as a result of inequality, and the obligations of governments to respect, protect and fulfil their rights. It would clarify the multiple forms of inequality, and the extent to which governments are obliged to reduce (or even eliminate) them. It would provide a framework for identifying policies that are compliant with human rights. It would also draw attention to human rights procedures through which deprived people may challenge failures of governments to meet their obligations.
For more details, see Radhika Balakrishnan, James Heintz and Diane Elson (2016) Rethinking Economic Policy for Social Justice: the radical potential of human rights, London and New York: Routledge.

9. SORLEY McCAUGHEY, Head of Advocacy and Policy, Christian Aid, Ireland

There is broad recognition that in order to finance the SDGs, a business as usual model will not suffice. There is also recognition of the role domestic resource mobilisation should play in generating those additional resources. In particular the role of taxation is acknowledged as being fundamental. Unfortunately theses noble ideas are undermined by a financial system that is being exploited and abused by companies and individuals to avoid and evade tax, denying countries, in particular developing countries, the revenue required to move beyond a reliance on aid, and to tackle rampant inequality.  This presentation will look at the scale of the problem of corporate tax dodging and its impact on countries’ development efforts. It will also look at how increasingly the human rights community and tax justice activists are finding common ground in their efforts to ensure that countries are able to deliver on their economic social and cultural rights.  And importantly, using Ireland as an example, it will also draw attention to the inherent tension that exists within some developed countries, between on the one hand advocating for the rights of developing countries, and on the other vigorously defending forms of tax competition that may actually be undermining the capacity of developing countries to develop.

Chair/moderator: COLM O’GORMAN, Executive Director, Amnesty International Ireland

“Goal 16: Promoting Just, Peaceful and Inclusive Societies”
10. MOUNA GHANEM, Syrian Women’s Forum for Peace and member of the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board to the UN Envoy on Syria
Violence, gender and Syria’s peace process

In this presentation Mouna Ghanem will focus on the relations between violence and gender in Syria, and the reasons why gender equality is vital to the Syrian peace process. Mouna will highlight her own work on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security in the Syrian context. She will specifically discuss the design of the current peace process, the role and activities of the Syrian’s Women’s Advisory Board and the agenda for moving the peace process forward. This presentation will also feature two short videos.

11. MONICA McWILLIAMS, Professor of Women’s Studies, Transitional Justice Institute, University of Ulster, cofounder of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition political party
Promoting Just and Peaceful Societies: Lessons from Northern Ireland and elsewhere

This session will address the gendered experiences of the Northern Ireland conflict and the important contributions made by civic society to the peace process.  The role of the Women’s Coalition and other civil society groups will be addressed, as will the direct experience of being a negotiator in a multi-party peace negotiation. This session will identify a number of strategies adopted, as well as considering both the challenges and opportunities of Goal 16: Promoting Just, Peaceful and Inclusive Societies.  It will focus on a number of specific examples where civil society initiatives facilitated peacebuilding initiatives undertaken with, and by, ex-combatants and community-based organizations.

12. RAY MURPHY, Director (Acting), Irish Centre for Human Rights, NUI Galway
Challenges to UN Peace Operations in the promotion of just, peaceful and inclusive societies

The paper examines current challenges to UN peacekeeping operations and advocates for greater emphasis on gender mainstreaming across all UN operations. The move towards more robust mandates and stabilisation operations has profound implications for the nature of peacekeeping and its potential impact on local populations. Nowhere is this more evident than in the failure to protect civilians. The paper examines the weaknesses in UN accountability mechanisms, especially in relation to sexual abuse and exploitation of local populations. It is difficult to determine the extent of the problem, but it is likely greater than what is reported. There is a need to institutionalise investigation procedures and address the impact on victims as both a human rights violation and criminal offence.

Chair/moderator: MARY ROBINSON