We, Us, Inclusion and “Leaving No One Behind.”

The word “inclusion” is now part of our everyday jargon. Financial inclusion, gender inclusion, inclusive economies, education, health and social inclusion. We are all together now. At least in theory….

Leaving no one behind is a key feature of all the discussions surrounding the post-2015 agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and a highly commendable commitment, yet its application in a real world scenario is still a bit murky. The idea that in essence no goal would be considered as being met unless it is met for everyone is well established in the rhetoric around the new platform. Theoretically, this means ensuring that every individual is entitled and should have access to the full bundle of rights and opportunities. The emphasis on opportunity finds its origin from the Capability Approach to development championed by Nobel Prize winner economist Amartya Sen where the choice of focus is on the achievement of well-being as of having the highest moral importance. A person’s capability to live a good life is defined in terms of his/hers ability to be and do what they want, beyond fulfillment of basic needs. Regrettably, since the goals have been stated to apply to “all segments of society” rather than all individuals in society, the exclusion of LGBT is quite glaring (to the dismay of some I am sure.)

But what does it mean to leave no one behind? Some individuals, most likely those furthest down on the income scale, will almost always be excluded from access to certain opportunities and services. Take financial inclusion for example — a main instrument used to achieve financial inclusion is through technology-based mobile banking. Yet elder and poor population who can largely benefit from this vehicle, are mostly powerless in the face of it and are too intimidated to use it. Health and social inclusion policies carry their own barriers and obstacles for implementation. Health equity is particularly hard to achieve as some health provisions carry a whole slew of social norms and cultural differences that stem from stigma, discrimination and negative backlash. Education inclusion seems almost basic but some cultures prohibit girls form going to school.

But just because something is hard to achieve does not mean we should not strive for its attainment. Running the risk of failure is always better than running the risk of inaction.

I set on some of the NYC group discussions of the Sixtieth Session of the UN Commission of the Status of Women and many of the conversations tackled tactical approaches for helping women gain access to health, education, clean water and array of other necessary amenities and services. Undoubtedly, it is quicker to implement tactical solutions to a problem rather than bring about paradigm shift and changes in cultural norms. But I could not help but think that we can build schools, but as long as parents do not acknowledge their daughters right to learn and as long as girls get kidnapped on their way to school, enrollment will fall short. We can distribute birth control and preach against female genital mutilation but as long as mothers encourage their daughters to go through these rituals as rites of passage, there is so much we can do to stop this barbaric custom. The scenario that is being played here is one where opportunities are being high jacked.

According to the Word Bank Development indicators, adult female (15+ years) literacy rates stands at 81.3% for world average. It sinks to 49% and 66% for lower and lower middle income countries respectively. The World Bank Global Financial Inclusion Index indicates that only 58% of women ages 15+ have a bank account, the number drops to 26% for a savings account, and decreases to 10% for access to any formal credit. These are miniscule numbers that we can surely improve upon. In poor and developing economies, restrictions are often imposed on women from opening bank accounts as they are required to have their spouse’s permission. I can go on and on…

Please do not get me wrong, I commend whatever efforts have been and are currently underway and further tested, implemented and tried. The past quarter century has witnessed unprecedented levels of global growth and a poverty alleviation: poverty rates have been cut by more than half since 1990; enrollment in primary education in developing regions has increased by 91%; child mortality rates have fallen by more than 30 percent since 2000. As written in the Talmud “he who saves one life saves the entire world.” I will take improvement in human condition when/how/where I can get it

But along with a “set of fast-track” targets and promises-to-action that will purportedly benefit the world’s poorest, there has to be some type of pledges to meaningful and longer-term action on behalf those whose quality of life, rights and opportunities we are all trying to improve and preserve. It should also include an agreement on follow-up and accountability mechanisms to ensure success. It might also include some understanding that without local efforts at the micro level our labors will invariably be some form of top-down rather than bottom-up. We must ensure that the “us” and the “we” indeed include “them” and the people we are trying “not to leave behind” have not only stake in the game, which clearly they do, but an understanding that they are part of the solution and hence instrumental in changing their life trajectory.

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