Global Policy Forum

Promises and Actions: How Can Civil Society Monitor International and National Commitments


By Henri Valot

February 27, 2006

Those whom you push down will chain you down, Those whom you leave behind will pull you behind, The more you envelop them under darkness of ignorance, The more distant will your own welfare be, "Disgraced", Rabindranath Tagore.

Last year, the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP) established four key policy demands: debt cancellation, trade justice, a major increase in the quantity and quality of aid and national accountability - focusing mainly on accountability of national governments with regard to realising the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs).

In this context, several civil society coalitions have produced MDG shadow reports alongside those of National Governments which were prepared for the United Nations World Summit in September 2005. The civil society reports, which were produced in an exemplary consultative manner, have observed amongst others things that many National MDG Reports had failed to consult with civil society organisations which deal directly with communities. In addition, most of them utilized government statistics, which in many instances do not fully reflect the nature of the reality. In so doing, many governments have overstated their achievements with regard to the MDGs. For example the South-African MDG report while focusing on MDGs 3 and 4, on empowering women and on education, failed to note the number of girls dropping out of school due to pregnancies, financial factors etc. and only focused on the increase in numbers of those who started school (South Africa Civil Society Speaks report, issued by the Peoples' Budget Campaign and available at Other interesting national reports include the Ugandan Report titled A Long Way to Go – Civil Society Perspectives on the progress and challenges of attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Uganda, ( and the Bangladesh People's Progress Report on MDGs (

International organisations such as Save the Children, CIDSE - and WEDO also produced focused monitoring tools and documents in the course of 2005. Using a child centred approach, Save the Children analysed the European Union's efforts to realise the MDGs. Their report makes key recommendations on achieving the MDGs at the EU level, including a series of "quick wins". CIDSE produced Europe: a true global partner for development (, which reports on the European Progress towards Millennium Development Goal 8. WEDO in their report "Women's Empowerment, Gender Equality and the Millennium Development Goals" (,) describes the Millennium Development Goals, their connection to women's equality and strategies to ensure that they include a gender perspective.

One basic issue on which all these civil society groups involved in development and poverty alleviation agree, is the necessity and importance of facts and reliable statistics as a basis for any advocacy campaign. But why should CSOs be involved in monitoring? As Roberto Bissio, Social Watch Director, says: these initiatives "are not intended as pure research but are used to interpolate authorities and help shape better pro-poor and pro-women policies". Indeed monitoring helps:

  • to improve on research and policy advocacy, and inform mobilisation
  • to make National Governments fully accountable and transparent in the use of public resources
  • to actively involve civil society, particularly poor and? excluded groups, in the formulation of national development priorities, policies and plans.

And what exactly should we be monitoring? Only the MDGs? As Brian Pratt from INTRAC writes: "Commitment to the MDGs is no doubt worthy. However, we need to be wary of allowing them to be used as an excuse for avoiding difficult political issues, and ignoring the very real complexity of human development in its widest understanding. Development cannot, and should not, be reduced to simple physical and technical indicators and we should question the real motives of those organisations and donors who adopt such methods. (…). We need to ensure that we maintain a vision of social justice, gender equity, and human development that relates to more than just the MDGs."

ActionAid International with its "As if people matter" global report in 2005, attempted to look further than just the MDGs, including in its analysis a human rights and gender based approach.

Finally, how should we monitor, so as to avoid reinventing the wheel? Certainly we should take advantage of some of the existing tools and networks, such as the Social Watch network established over 10 years ago. Social Watch's report 2005, available online at, titled Roars and Whispers: gender and poverty: promises vs. action, provides a very comprehensive account of the state of poverty and gender equality globally and, more specifically, in 50 countries. Social Watch has actively followed up the fulfillment of internationally agreed commitments on poverty eradication and gender equality. Furthermore, they have developed tools such as the "Basic Capabilities Index" (perhaps the real alternative to the politically-accepted UNDP Human Development Index) as well as the "Gender Equity Index" to assist in this effort.

Two other monitoring initiatives are emerging and being developed that deserve our attention: the "African Monitor" initiative and the "European Aid Watching".

The "African Monitor" initiative , calls for an authentic African platform for making Africa's voice heard on Africa's needs. The African Monitor observes that the momentum in support of tangible and lasting change (which has been further fuelled by extensive advocacy efforts), is largely rooted in, and reflects the perspectives of, the global north. What is missing is a complementary and comprehensive contribution from Africa itself. The proposal for an African Monitor is designed to meet this need and so provide significant added weight to the call for poverty to be tackled. The promises of 2005 (which include a doubling of aid by 2010, and significant further debt cancellation) need to be implemented efficiently and effectively.

A second interesting initiative is the "European Aid Watching". A number of national European NGOs and Networks have decided to come together in 2006 to improve collective monitoring of European (bilateral and multilateral) aid spending. Indeed, if the commitments made in 2005 are acted upon, we will be witnessing the largest expansion of ODA since its establishment in 1960. European member states will be at the forefront of this, having pledged to increase their ODA by $38.3 million a year by 2010. This would result in Europeans collectively being the biggest givers of ODA, accounting for just over 60% of total overseas development assistance. This initiative has received acclaimed support from various civil society organisations. European Aid Watching will produce a joint NGO advocacy report to be launched in Brussels in April 2006.

While the world is growing richer, the poor are getting even poorer. Without a major shift in present trends, even the minimum targets agreed by the Heads of State and government at the Millennium Summit in 2000 will not be met. Therefore, we must listen to the people's voice, counter the official statistics where they don't reflect the reality and continually raise our concerns so as to bring about real and lasting change.

In solidarity,

Henri Valot, CIVICUS MDG Campaign Manager




FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.