Volunteerism can widen spaces for voice and action within the development process, including for young women and girls. An expert panel discussion, organized by the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme on the margins of the 59th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW59), explored the role of volunteerism in enhancing the accountability of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and advance gender equality. Representatives from UN agencies, Member States and volunteer-involving organizations focused on how volunteerism can help monitoring progress made affecting women's lives and empowering women through increased opportunities for civic engagement.
Volunteering can help rolling out large scale data collection efforts, and is also a way to actively engage women of all socio-economic backgrounds in participatory processes at local level. Such participation in local level planning, decision making and monitoring influences the way women position themselves in the public sphere, leveraging their voices and enlarging the spaces where they can act. Recent advances in technology also allow new forms of citizen action, combining onsite and online volunteering with unprecedented opportunities to enhance, aggregate and visualize data as well as share information about volunteer action.
Introducing the debate, Rosemary Kalapurakal, Deputy Executive Coordinator of UNV, presented a key lesson learnt from the MDGs: development needs people's participation and ownership if it is to make a real difference in their lives. Ms. Kalapurakal also mentioned the UN Secretary-General latest Synthesis Report, which acknowledges that "volunteerism can help to localize the SDGs by providing new spaces of interaction between governments and people for concrete and scalable action". She stressed the importance of a dedicated gender goal for the SDGs along with gender-specific targets for the different goals, and pointed out that localization will only be possible if all people, women and men, rich and poor, are more systematically engaged in SDG planning, monitoring and implementation.
Minister Reinhard J. Krapp, Head of Department for Economic and Financial Affairs at the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations, presented Germany's approach to accountability and progress review, including the relevance of the notion at local level as well as the need for multi-stakeholder involvement and partnerships to increase ownership. Quoting the example of local volunteer fire fighters or of millions of people engaging with Scouts, Guides or the Red Cross and Red Crescent, he highlighted the added value of volunteering in developing a sense of belonging to the community and in strengthening social cohesion. He underlined the importance of this notion for an agenda that is universal, particularly in areas such as sustainable consumption and the 'green agenda', stressing that the agenda needs the good will and energy of people from all over the world to complement government action.
Mitchell Toomey, Director of the UN Millennium Campaign, talked about the rich experience of the WorldWeWant platform and the MY World survey, which have involved people through volunteering in ensuring voices are represented, offline and online, and allowed to gather the voices of more than 7 million people. In the lead up to the SDGs, this exercise has created a momentum that needs to be leveraged as the goals come into force and people get ready to monitor and contribute to their implementation.
Milorad Kovacevic, Chief of Statistics at the Human Development Report Office, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), provided a human development perspective, aiming to measure progress beyond economic factors. The Human Development Report 2015 will look at a wider notion of work, including creative work, unpaid care work and voluntary work. Pointing out that volunteering and mutual help are universal notions of human solidarity worldwide, Mr. Kovacevic said that failing to recognize their added value has contributed to underestimating their role as a key contributing factor to human development.
Alphonsine Kabagabo, Regional Director for the Africa Region, World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), gave a touching personal example of how volunteering literally saved her life. As a member of the Girl Guides and Girl Scouts from an early age in Rwanda, the philosophy of giving was deeply rooted in her values. Once rescued to Belgium during the Rwanda genocide, she found the strength and individual motivation to carry on and serve the community through the Belgian Girl Guides transforming herself from a passive victim into an active agent of change.
After a short Q&A, Ms. Kalapurakal closed the event reminding the audience that volunteering needs to be systematically integrated in development plans and policies for its effects to blossom across all SDG areas. The degree to which volunteer organizations are engaged in development planning and implementation should systematically be assessed to ensure people can actively and constructively participate.
The success of the SDGs will depend in large part on the extent to which development is owned and whether people can hold decision-makers to account. When well facilitated, volunteerism has the potential to contribute in all countries to women's empowerment and advance gender equality, resulting in a more accountable SDG framework.