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The United Nations and building a better world for all

By Patricia Jenkings - posted Monday, 10 May 2021

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said recently that 2020 was like no other for the United Nations (UN) and, that the essence of multilateralism is people around the globe joining forces to build a better world. The UN is uniquely multilateral in nature and the adopting of the UN 2030 Agenda and 17 associated goals with 169 targets by all Member States in 2015 marked a high point for multilateralism and international policy shaping. Notably the 2030 Agenda is the result of the most widespread consultation in the history of the UN and represented a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace, prosperity and equality.  

Our world unfortunately is continuing to face unprecedented challenges including inequality climate change and the notably, COVID 19 pandemic. They are adversely impacting on the multilateral order and consequently, it is being tested. This is evident with a rise in nationalist and authoritarian leaders with disrespect for multilateral norms and who perceive the presence of liberal principles underlying multilateral architectures as threatening. Such an adverse set of circumstances has culminated in a lack of mutual trust at a critical time. This was made most apparent when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and global leaders did not co-operate to find solutions for the common good. 

Women have suffered significantly from the devastating pandemic. It was multilateralism and the UN that essentially provided them with a voice to put women's rights on the political agenda. The Right Honourable Helen Clarke (former Administrator of the UN Development Program) has pointed out that, anything that undermines the multilateral system is bad for women because we look to the multilateral system through its treaties, conventions, declarations, commissions, organisations to uphold and promote women's rights.


Consequently, there is a need to forge more effective international consensus and, in turn, strengthening of multilateralism, which is at the very heart of the implementation of the Global Goals with shared values and like. Realising SDG 5 Gender Equality & Empowering of Women is of particular significance as it has a metamorphic effect that is needed for fully functioning societies. When women for instance have access to quality education and can participate fully in the labour force this creates opportunities and generates growth. Gender equality is also a fundamental human right and women represent half of the population and therefore half of its potential but while gender inequality prevails, this adversely impacts progression. As former Secretary General Kofi Annan pointed out, it is impossible to realise our goals while discriminating against half the human race.

While some progress had been made there has been a lack of progress on structural issues at the root of gender inequality, which is undermining the ability to achieve SDG 5. As UN Womenhas reportedthe root causes include legal discrimination, discriminatory social norms and attitudes, low levels of decision-making on the part of women and girls in sexual and reproductive health issues and less than full political participation.

Multilateralism must weather challenges of today and tomorrow, the UN Secretary General has said, and must be inclusive with the full participation of civil society including young people business academic and philanthropic circles and tackle gender equality, an issue that the UN is addressing with a strategy to achieve parity well before 2030.

In our demanding world environment, there is a need to reinvigorate multilateralism with a renewed respect for liberal principles and pursuit of co-operation and stability. As well, and most importantly, for strong global leaders to collaborate, be more transparent, held more accountable and to work together for the common purpose and, in turn, realisation of the 2030 Agenda. 

Meeting the 2030 Agenda is also dependent on an appreciation of the integrated nature of the SDGs as one can affect the achieving of other goals and in particular, SDG 5 with its unique features. To better keep pace with the 21st century environment and work towards implementing the 2030 Agenda, there is also an urgent need to raise confidence in and reinvigorate international institutions including the UN. 

The UN has its imperfections but this multilateral structure is value driven with universal membership and the UN Charter which reflects the belief that international cooperation can be achieved through an international organisation that works for the betterment of all humanity. This in turn gives fundamental rise to progressing the 2030 Agenda.    


Furthermore, COVID-19 has highlighted that we are interdependent and to survive and prosper that we need to better work together. To help combat the adverse impact of the pandemic, as a surf club member, I joined with others to help foster support for those suffering as a consequence of the worst global health crisis of our time.  As we did with our unprecedented devastating bush fire season, colloquially know as the Black Summer. The aforementioned can be related back to themes of the UN 2030 Agenda. It evidences the positivity working together for the common good to help create a safer and fairer world for all in the wonderful spirit of humanitarian mateship, the embodiment of UN ideals.

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About the Author

Patricia Jenkings is a former political advisor. She has a PhD from the University of Sydney in social policy studies and education.

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