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FFD Negotiations: Wordsmithing Nightmare or Advancing Global Governance?

Words have meaning, and the words in internationally-agreed upon documents have more meaning than most.  Can governments realistically “commit to ensure” essential public services like reproductive health, or is it more realistic to “seek to ensure” them?  And if they “commit to ensure,” what will happen if they fail? These are the types of issues that delegates negotiating the Financing for Development outcome document are debating in New York right now.  If you want to know more about what’s at stake, check out my blog on FFD from last week.

It's time to bring deliverations on women's health and human rights out from behind closed doors.
It’s time to bring deliverations on women’s health and human rights out from behind closed doors.

I just spent two days in New York embedded in the FFD process. A few things stood out for me about the negotiations themselves: First, the negotiator’s job is very tedious. Imagine editing an 80-page document with more than 100 colleagues — line by line, word for word — eight hours a day for weeks on end. And they’ll be doing this (on and off) through mid-July, when the outcome is final and countries are beholden to the commitments they make. It’s like high-stakes wordsmithing. Second, unlike the Commission on Population and Development, the FFD negotiations are open for the world to see. Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) can be in the room during the deliberations, which are telecasted live on UN Web TV. The CSO FFD coalition worked hard to open up this space for CSOs. Organizations working on the UN Commission on the Status of Women and the UN Commission on Population and Development,  which deals with sexual and reproductive health issues, could follow this lead. It’s time to bring deliberations on women’s health and human rights out from behind closed doors.

At the heart of these negotiations is: who is responsible for fulfilling human rights of citizens, including reproductive rights? All governments agree that nationally appropriate social protection systems and recognizing vulnerable and marginalized groups are going to be important in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, but they generally oppose language on “social floors” that no person would live below, as well as spending targets in particular sectors. Suggestions around how governments should spend public money are rejected by the negotiating block Group of 77 developing countries (G77) and China as overly “prescriptive,” and they’re quick to try to shift focus onto the important role of donor funds in advancing human development. For reproductive health services in low-income countries, the international community does play an essential role.  But as countries’ economies continue to grow, they should play a stronger role in providing reproductive health services.

PAI is watching the FFD’s treatment of gender and the human rights of women and girls closely. In principle, all countries agree that gender equality is important for sustainable development, and should be treated as a cross-cutting issue. Gender equality is addressed in a paragraph in the opening of the draft dated May 7. However, the G77 is attempting to delete gender equality language throughout the text, arguing that it is already covered. Since the G77 is trying to mention language on the sovereign rights of governments throughout the text, we may see a deal either including them both throughout the text, or both only in one place.

Negotiators are still debating a number of other key issues, such as how deeply FFD will converge with the Sustainable Development Goals means of implementation, and whether the FFD outcome is universal or applies only to developing countries. At least one thing is clear: Each negotiator understands they will be beholden to whatever language is in the final text, so they are choosing their words very carefully.

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