Civil society demands an equal seat at the table—but they shouldn’t have to

This Fall is an especially important time for setting ambitious goals on nutrition—and holding actors accountable for promises made over the last year and a half. With the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) rapidly approaching, the evolving draft Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on the table for negotiation, and meaningful movements on accountability for nutrition gaining momentum globally, civil society finds itself again and again asking for a vote.

Forging a multisectoral response

Civil society and social movement voices are absolutely critical to the success of ICN2 to be held in Rome in just over one month—an important venue for bridging nutrition, agriculture, water and sanitation, and study of these issues’ impact on global economies. While a pre-conference will be convened for 150 non-state actors, approximately half of which will be from civil society and social movements, the role of these actors in the conference itself remains unclear.

Throughout the preparatory process, civil society inputs have been clear that a multisectoral response—one that brings together nutrition-sensitive work like health, agriculture, education, and other areas—on the national and global levels is key to success, and to their buy-in.

The message is clear that nutrition cannot remain siloed, but must instead respond to the ways in which health, agriculture, sanitation, and the politics of gender interact in communities in reality. It has become quite clear that community advocates globally are far ahead of their government counterparts and far ahead of global bodies in making sure different sectors work together within countries.

Rightfully, impatience is growing. Supporting civil society work means not only making sure we hear their inputs in a serious way on the global stage, but also supporting country movements as advocates insist that nutrition is the business of a wider range of actors than just Ministries of Health.

Movements for Accountability on Nutrition

Nowhere is the deliberate involvement of civil society more important than in working toward accountability for government financial and policy pledges. This is true around the 2013 Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Summit, and, longer term, moving toward the global achievement of targets for reducing malnutrition set forth by the World Health Assembly for 2025—the projection of which to 2030 should be codified in the Sustainable Development Goals in final negotiations via Member State debates this year and next.

Now, more than ever, civil society is needed to ensure these goals are sufficiently ambitious, smartly integrated with one another, and force the world to take another step forward in ending global poverty by 2030.

In the end, it’s about global actors remembering who gets the final say on accountability—which is surely those working on the ground, who see the actual application (or absence of) promised funds, and what it means for the health and quality of life in their communities.

Asking for a seat

Civil society finds itself again and again asking for a vote. This shouldn’t be the case.

Yes, it takes work to get all the right voices at the table, but nothing could be more worth our time.

The bottom line is: no process can claim to advocate for nutrition accountability, and setting ambitious, appropriate global targets without strong community voices at the table.

*Photo Credit: Food and Agriculture Organization/Flickr