By the end of 2015, the Millennium Development Goals, or MDG, the United Nations’ 15-year plan to cut global poverty by half, will run out of time. So the UN is drawing up the Sustainable Development Goals program, which is meant to succeed the MDGs, and to consolidate on their gains.
Like its predecessor, the Sustainable Development Goals program identifies poverty as humanity’s greatest challenge, and sets its elimination in all its forms, as top priority. Other goals include the promotion of people’s well-being through better health, education, nutrition, empowerment and gender equality, to name a few.
All these goals, said Michele Sison, U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, can be more easily achieved by promoting goal 16, the rule of law. That’s because when a society adheres to the rule of law, and citizens become better able to make their voices heard, society becomes more committed to living by the rule of law.
But when the law is selectively applied, or written in such a way as to disadvantage certain segments of society, everyone loses. For instance, most smallholder farmers are women. But in many countries, laws discriminate against women by not allowing them to inherit land, sign legal contracts, or access financial services, thus depriving them of access to needed equipment and better seeds.
Changing these laws to provide women codified and equal rights to land tenure would increase food production. “Studies have shown that securing and recognizing women’s land rights can increase agricultural productivity and shared household decision-making, and thereby help lift families out of poverty,” said Ambassador Sison.
Similarly, laws that protect civil society from oppression could help generate new ideas, and encourage entrepreneurship. Laws promoting transparency would diminish corruption, improve economic activity and restore citizens’ faith in their leaders. And all such changes would support other key elements of the development agenda.
“The rule of law promotes respect for freedoms of expression and association, transparency, and facilitating access to justice,” said Ambassador Sison. “With respect to each of these principles – freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, transparency, and access to justice – the rule of law impels societies ever forward.”