People's Stories Democracy

Reimagining democracy
by Civicus: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Each year, as part of our State of Civil Society Report, we examine a key current trend that impacts on civil society, and to which civil society is responding. In 2018, our ‘reimagining democracy’ theme focuses on current challenges to democratic freedoms and democratic practice around the world, and civil society’s work to make democracy real. Our analysis is of, from and for civil society.
Bending the arc of democracy, by Lopa Banerjee, Director, Civil Society Division, UN Women
Democracy was born of the aspiration for fundamental equality; out of a commitment of people towards each other in crafting a common destiny; and based in the mutuality of moral action for the public good. The idea of governance of the people, for the people, by the people calls to the highest ideas of solidarity and shared endeavour and to the notions of common freedoms, thought and debate, between the governed and those who govern. And it is these ideals of collective aspiration that inspired struggling and oppressed peoples all over the world to emerge into hard-fought, vibrant, sometimes shambolic, free democracies.
But democracy is failing us today. Mostly it is failing the women of the world, the young, the poor, the refugees, the asylum seekers, those living on the margins yearning for peace and hope. The very value of social solidarity that underlines democracy, the idea of the democratic state as a consistent champion of the public interest and human rights, is under siege today.
And instead what we see is the ascent of illiberalism; an uptake of the notions of insular nationalism, a rejection of multilateralism and global institutions of cooperation and solidarity; and the adoption of binary perspectives, where national sovereignty, culture and interests are pitted in confrontation with international norms and standards of human rights, justice, progress and well-being.
The shift in the nature and complexity of peace and security threats, including the rapid proliferation and entrenchment of armed conflicts, climate shocks, global health pandemics, austerity measures to address volatile and insecure economies, neo-conservative politics and fundamentalism are undermining notions of the common good, social justice and human solidarity.
The gender equality agenda is in particular peril. In a number of countries, hardening political and social conservatism, along with entrenched sexism and misogyny, are rolling back women’s rights - including reproductive rights and legal protections from violence - and are harkening back to traditional stereotypes of gendered roles, and in some cases, the violent enforcement of traditional gender norms.
Further, the scale of humanitarian crises and human displacement, unprecedented since the Second World War, has led to catastrophic change and challenges that disproportionately affect women and girls.
The ascent of illiberalism
Over recent decades, corrupt and ineffective governments in many countries of the world failed to deliver social services and public goods to their citizens. This led to widespread citizen distrust in public institutions and democratic decision-making. Citizens became disillusioned with the promise of democracy and disengaged themselves from the pursuit of democracy, leaving the space free for undemocratic actors.
At the same time, unchecked globalisation exacerbated economic inequality in countries; along with the austerity measures adopted by many governments in response to the financial crisis of 2008, and the aggressive pursuit of neoliberal economic policies, this led to widespread economic upheaval. Societies fragmented and fractured along faultlines of identity, ethnicity and race.
Populist leaders embarked on an agenda of bold conservatism and fundamentalism and were able to separate people from their histories and contexts and coalesce them around simplistic, uni-dimensional identities. At a time when people were reeling from the insecurity of their lives and livelihoods, this worldview offered people familial stability, security and homogeneity; that it came at the cost of liberties, plurality and solidarity mattered little.
So today we are at a moment when societies are viciously polarised and divided. People identify in tribes rather than in communities and this has led to wins for the politics of fear, exclusion and prejudice. The erstwhile democratic ideals of tolerance, diversity and curious, questioning societies have given way to a muscular idea of democracy that promotes heteronormative, homogenous, jingoistic societies and marginalises people with impunity.
In this manifestation of democracy there is an emphasis on law and order above the idea of justice. This allows for the legitimisation of discrimination, prejudice and xenophobia and a subversion of the ideals of democracy, from solidarity, diversity and pluralism to brutal majoritarianism.
Thus people - and in particular the disenfranchised, minorities and the already marginalised - are wilfully ignored and excluded in the pursuit of order and security for the majority.
Telling the better story
Notwithstanding this, wave upon wave of civic activism led by feminist mobilising is surging. Against all odds, people, in particular, women, are organising and mobilising, on the streets, in communities and on the internet, to demand justice, equality and dignity, so long denied. And so we find ourselves in the #MeToo moment. From #MeToo to #Time’sUp to #NiUnaMenos to FeesMustFall to BlackLivesMatter to #JusticeForNoura to successful campaigns against ‘marry your rapist’ laws, all over the world, in different ways and across different issues, this is a moment of reckoning by women.
From Ireland to Turkey to Lebanon to India to South Africa to Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, the United States, Sudan and in a multitude of other countries, women are speaking out at scale and upturning entrenched discriminatory norms that normalise, accept and justify discrimination against women and girls.
What is so significant about this moment is that women’s mobilising is challenging the implicit hierarchies of power for everyone. In challenging gender discrimination women are fighting for equality for all. They are interrogating unequal power relations in society and resisting the traditional perceptions of duties, entitlements and privileges that foster multiple inequalities.
This discourse is shining the light on individual, community, societal and institutional norms, practices and stereotypes that limit opportunities for people and restrict them to certain roles in private and public spheres.
This is the better story to tell in these times of radical discontent and divisiveness. And democracy must be reimagined and realised in this story, beyond the rule of the majority, to a manifestation of substantive equality and inclusion so that no one is left behind in its arc and reach.
And we have the framing for that in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which sets out the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which prioritise universality and the notion of leaving no one behind in the quest for people, planet and prosperity. The unanimous adoption in 2015 of the SDGs, with their far-reaching aspiration for equality and prosperity for all people on this planet, was a pinnacle of democratic decision-making, demonstrating that international solidarity, collective visioning and global action is possible even as the world is wracked by war, inequality and the discontent of its citizens.
The adoption of the SDGs was momentous not only because the goals were negotiated by all governments of the world and are applicable to all the countries of the world, but because there was clear recognition among governments and leaders that civil society and women’s rights groups had made huge contributions to the development of this new agenda and were going to be essential partners in its implementation. This came at a time when the space for civil society activism and democratic dissent was already threatened and eroding.
Bending the arc towards plurality and equality
The development of the SDG agenda and its adoption was the glory of democracy in action. In much the same way, reimagining democracy must be about the building of social alliances, going beyond race, class, gender and majorities to understand and respond to the ways in which people’s identities interconnect in diversities of age, geography and culture. It must be about multilateral and global institutions actively breaking intellectual and political hierarchies and seeking moral collaboration across political ideas, constituencies and generations..

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Poor Implementation: Rich countries risk achievement of the SDG global goals
by Professor Jeffrey Sachs
Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Bertelsmann Stiftung, agencies
July 2018
Three years after adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by all UN member states, new and improved data provide insights into countries’ challenges and the steps they are taking to pursue the SDGs. So far only few G20 countries have taken decisive action to meet the goals. A number of countries are making progress, but overall the world risks falling short of achieving the goals by 2030.
Three years after the historic UN summit in New York, where all UN member states adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the 2018 SDG Index and Dashboards Report introduces the first ever assessment of government efforts to achieve the goals. The analysis shows that no country is on track to achieve all goals by 2030. Furthermore, the report sheds light on the implementation mechanisms undertaken by the G20 countries. Brazil, Mexico and Italy have taken the most significant steps among G20 countries to achieve the goals, illustrated for instance by the existence of SDG strategies or coordination units in governments. Yet, the implementation gaps in G20 countries remain large since only India and Germany have partially undertaken an assessment of investment needs. No G20 country has fully aligned its national budget with the SDGs. According to the data, the United States and the Russian Federation have taken the least action on implementing the goals.
The 2018 edition of the SDG Report “Global Responsibilities – Implementing the Goals” is the third edition of the annual stocktaking of SDG progress provided by the Bertelsmann Stiftung and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). The SDG Index – a composite measure of progress across all goals – is led by Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. These countries are currently on the best way to achieve the goals, but still more efforts are needed to reach them by 2030. Germany and France are the only G7 countries among the top ten performers.
The United States ranks 35th on the Index, while China and the Russian Federation rank 54th and 63rd respectively. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and the Central African Republic rank last. Due to the inclusion of new data in this year’s Index, countries’ performance cannot be compared to last year’s SDG Index scores.
G20 countries need to strengthen their efforts
For the first time, the report presents trend data on how fast countries are progressing towards the goals. The authors estimate whether based on historic rates of progress a country is likely to achieve a particular SDG. Overall, many countries are making some progress towards the SDGs, though progress is slowest on some of the environmental goals. Whereas many high-income countries have almost eradicated extreme poverty or hunger they obtain their lowest scores on goals like “responsible consumption and production”, “climate action” or “life below water”.
Low-income countries however have made significant progress towards ending extreme poverty or access to health and education services. Still, poorer countries tend to lack adequate infrastructure and mechanisms to manage key environmental issues. Therefore, their overall scores remain significantly lower than those of high-income countries.
The report includes country profiles on SDG progress for all 193 member states of the United Nations. The profiles show performance on every indicator considered for this report. For some countries, the profiles show large data gaps, which need to be closed through increased investments in SDG data.
Joint action is needed to achieve the global goals
“Once again, the Northern European countries come out on top of the SDG index, and the poorest countries come out at the bottom. The implications are clear: The social-market philosophy of a mixed economy that balances the market, social justice and green economy is the route to the SDGs. Countries trapped in extreme poverty need more help from the rest of the world”, says Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of the SDSN.
“The report shows the crucial role of the G20 countries for fulfilling the global goals. Rich countries need to act as role models and must reduce their negative spillover effects while providing effective means to integrate the goals into national action plans”, says Aart De Geus, CEO and Chairman of the Bertelsmann Stiftung.
“Improvements made to the 2018 SDG Index, including the reporting of trend data and data for all 193 UN member countries, respond to requests and comments received from governments and stakeholders around the world. Seeing whether a country is on track to achieving the SDGs will help governments, business, and civil society identify the greatest priorities for action“ says Guido Schmidt-Traub, Scientific Co-Director of SDG Index (SDSN).
“Our analysis shows that the historic SDGs have successfully made their way into the political process in many countries. But our calculations and projections also indicate that countries will miss many of the SDGs if they do not up their game. The particular challenges of rich and poor countries may differ but what they have in common is the need to change current policies” says Christian Kroll, Scientific Co-Director of SDG Index (Bertelsmann Stiftung.
* The study was written by experts of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Bertelsmann Stiftung, under the lead authorship of UN Special Advisor and world-renowned economist Professor Jeffrey Sachs. The SDG Index and Dashboard collect available data for all 193 UN member states and assess where each country stands in 2018 with regard to achieving the SDGs.
* Sustainable Development Solutions Network: 2018 SDG Index and Dashboards Report:
* Global Call to Action Against Poverty: Urgent action and accountability for the 2030 Agenda:
* Spotlight Report 2018: Sustainable development off-track without fundamental policy changes:
* SDG Knowledge Hub - International Institute for Sustainable Development:
* Report of the Secretary-General on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals:
* UN Web TV: 2018 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development: (Listen to Professor Jeffrey Sachs speech at 33.00)


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