The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into sharp relief why well-functioning, responsive governments at local and national levels, are fundamental to an effective response and recovery from the pandemic. In some countries, governments were quick to put in pandemic response measures that were effective in mitigating the crisis. In others, the response was inadequate, or the measures put in place veered towards exploitative, mired in of corruption and mismanagement, resulting in the devastating loss of lives. The consequences of the pandemic have been felt deeply in terms of health and the economy but has also resulted in already fragile social contracts between citizen and state pushed to a breaking point in some contexts.
But data on these measures of peace, justice and inclusion are few and far between. Despite commitments to collect data on SDG 16 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we still have a long way to go to develop a robust understanding of progress in these areas.
The Sustainable Development Goals included Goal 16, recognizing that peace, justice and inclusion are the fundamental building blocks upon which the 2030 Agenda is based. But data on much of the indicators is still missing. In Asia, for example, according to the 2021 ESCAP report only 1/3 of SDG 16 indicators have data available.
The data we have shows some signs of global progress. Intentional homicide has reduced overall from 6.8 per 100,000 population in 2000 to 5.9 in 2015 and 5.8 in 2018. Conflict-related deaths have been decreasing since 2018, with a current five civilians per 100,000 people killed in armed conflicts. The representation of women in parliament has increased by 0.6%, reaching the highest percentage ever of 25.5% and the number of Independent National Human Rights Institutions increased from 70 in 2015 to 82 in 2020.
However, other indicators such as rates of pretrial detention are stagnating. And if you scratch under the surface of the picture above, we see gaping holes in terms of the availability, understanding and investment in governance data. Are people satisfied with governance services? What are the particular types of legal problems that are prevalent? Who do people turn to resolve their disputes? Do certain population groups face discrimination at higher rates? Does corruption impact different population groups differently?
SDG 16 Survey Initiative
One of the reasons for the lack of data, particularly on the survey-based indicators of SDG 16, has been the diversity of operations necessary to collect the data required. Surveys are costly and the more operations a country needs to conduct, the less likely it will be that it will have the financial capacities to implement all.
The challenge lies at two levels. First, the coordination in the development of sound methodologies that do not burden the already stretched statistical systems. Second, the existence of mechanisms applicable in a diverse set of contexts but not neglecting the need for national contextualization.
In the statistical arena, this translates into a call for coordination between different partners, at national and international levels, to take forward measurement of thematic areas such as governance, violence, access to justice, corruption, discrimination and trafficking in persons. To respond to this demand, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have developed the Sustainable Development Goal 16 Survey Initiative, with one single methodology to collect data on the majority of the SDG 16 indicators.
Testing the methodology
The SDG 16 Survey is currently being pilot tested in eight countries across different regions. The piloting exercise has been invaluable in learning how it operates in the field. We learned for example, that despite concerns over sensitivity, particularly of some modules (for example, sexual violence, corruption or political efficacy – for different reasons), most countries were able to integrate them and conduct the survey without many adaptations to the guidelines.
Interestingly, the discrimination module, which was tailored to address the particular contexts in each country, was easily understood and garnered good responses from participants in the field testing. At the same time, new grounds of discrimination were also highlighted such as body modifications (e.g., tattoos and piercings). And while in some cases, there was some resistance in including sexual orientation and gender identity as a category in the survey, it provided an opportunity to begin a dialogue and strategize on advocacy related to SOGI rights.
In some countries, the piloting experience allowed to revisit the concepts being measured by the indicators. The measures of ‘safety’ under indicator 16.1.4, for example, has been adjusted to measure feelings of safety ‘after dark’ when people may be particularly vulnerable to violence in some contexts. Similarly, on 16.3.3, the survey illustrated the need for legal awareness as many people were not aware or did not understand the range of options available to them to resolve disputes, in addition to adjustment on how questions are framed.
Perhaps the single most important lesson from the pilots is that it is possible to implement the survey as a whole and in fact there is a value added in doing so as it provides a more complete picture of the state of governance, justice and human rights in the country.
The piloting experience has only been a start for many of the countries that tested out the survey. Based on their initial experience, El Salvador is integrating the Discrimination Module in their 2021 Multipurpose Household Survey. In Tunisia, the SDG 16 Survey is being integrated in the National Survey on Citizens' Perception of Security, Freedoms and Local Governance. In Togo, the SDG 16 Survey has been implemented as a whole with a representative sample and will be used to report on their progress on SDG 16 in 2021.
Where to next?
The SDG 16 Survey methodology by itself does not produce statistics, but it does offer a high quality, well tested tool to support data production to help understand a bit more of the complex realities that exist at national and local levels. It can help us unveil some of the hidden truths of how violence, discrimination, inequality and injustice manifest itself in our communities and help us identify entry points to begin to address some of these persistent challenges.
The SDG 16 Survey tool and guidance materials will be available from December 2021.
About the Authors
Aparna Basnyat United Nations Development Programme
Enrico Bisogno United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime
Grace Steffan Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights