I am happy to be here to present the Arab experience of civil society engagement in the High-Level Political Forum- the annual Global SDG review process, including the Voluntary National Review (VNR) process.
I have only recently had experience with the VNR process and realized how important it is for civil society to engage in this process. It is a remarkable window of opportunity for civil actors to represent their constituencies’ points of view in the progress towards SDGs in their countries. It is a tool to strengthen social accountability…something we are struggling to have in the Arab world.كونستيتونسي
Despite the great importance of this VNR mechanism, civil society in our region still has little knowledge about it. I speak now from my experience within the Palestinian Coalition for Education, which was invited by our partner GCE (Global Campaign for Education) and supported by the International Council of Adult Education (ICAE), to attend the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) in New York in July this year.
Prior to the HLPF event, the Palestinian civil society held several events and workshops in West Bank/Gaza to discuss and consult around the governmental SDG Agenda 2030 report which was to be presented in the HLPF. Feedback from all of these gatherings was consolidated and taken to New York and presented with the support of the Major Groups and other Stakeholders Coordination Mechanism. Apart from engaging in the governmental process, it is also important that as Civil Society we also develop our shadow report on SDGs, including SDG4.
From my experience and observations, I would like to make several points as follows:
- There is still little awareness among civil actors of the VNR and HLPF processes and a lack of understanding of how they work.
- In addition, there is insufficient collaboration between civil society organizations and governments to draw clear rules of engagement. For example, despite the existence of clear and defined national mechanisms to engage civil society in the VNR process in many Arab countries , civil organizations were not aware of these mechanisms and therefore did not utilize them.
- There is also a lack of data, which makes monitoring SDG4 progress difficult for everyone, and a deeper dialogue is needed between the different actors
- Working on the SDG4 Goals and monitoring progress should be a daily, collaborative effort that involves government and civil society, as well as educators, and otheractors. SDG4 needs to be strongly domiciled and Mutual Accountability needs to become more embedded as a daily practice.
On many occasions, engagement of civil society organizations in the VNR, like other processes, is only cosmetic. The engagement process takes the form of big conferences that do not permeate effective and focused participation of civil actors. Even when feedback of civil society is provided on government report, there are no means to verify that the feedback was considered. Furthermore, when some civil society organizations participate, they are usually big and well-funded organizations that have strong relationships with government and donors.
ACEA will make sure that in the future there is broader and deeper understanding by education coalition members of the VNR and HLPF processes. There are some steps that we will take towards this end;
- We will benefit from the fact that Tunis, a member country of ACEA, will present its VNR report in 2019 and we will plan for activities that increase knowledge and skills of civil actors to better engage in the process.
- We will advocate for more CSOs to be included in the consultation in preparation of the VNRs at all levels.
- We will urge governments so that more CSOs are involved in the VNR process. This will take place through advocacy activities and seminars where governments will be requested to brief civil society on the available national mechanisms to engage civil society.
I have spoken at length about our experience in the Arab region.
Let me conclude with a few words about the efforts of civil society in other regions of the world, notably the focal points of the Collective Consultation of NGOs on Education 2030 (CCNGO), a constituent part of the SDG4-Education 2030 follow up architecture representing civil society. Members of ASPBAE in the Asia Pacific, ANCEFA in Africa and CLADE in Latin America and the Caribbean have been engaging with the VNR processes in their respective countries to ensure that education remains in the ‘spotlight’ in the country reviews and annual HLPF processes. In the 2018 VNR process, the education campaign coalitions in Sri Lanka, Vietnam and the Dominican Republic, for example, were consulted and were able to significantly influence the VNRs of their respective governments. Recognising that the 2019 HLPF will be an important moment for SDG4, these regional bodies and GCE are in the process of developing Civil Society Spotlight reports on SDG4 especially in countries which have volunteered for review in 2019. These reports are envisaged to inform the official VNRs of their governments and likewise stand on their own as civil society assessments of progress on SDG 4 and on education within the other SDGs. The CCNGO is keen to share more information on this important initiative of civil society during the upcoming Global Education Meeting (GEM) in December.
Thank you for your attention.
Refat Sabbah is the General Secretary of Arab Campaign for Education for All (ACEA)