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Standing up to impact change

Oct 10, 2007

Millennium Campaign Asia Deputy Director Minar Pimple spoke to OneWorld South Asia on how the Stand Up campaign in South Asia is making a difference by changing the perspectives of people on how they are being governed, and how they would like to be governed.

OWSA: The end of poverty by 2015. Do you think it is achievable in the South Asian context?

Minar Pimple: End poverty 2015 is more of an aggressive slogan that we have adopted. The Millennium Development Goals’ commitment is about halving poverty; bringing down poverty by 50% while treating 1990 as the base year. In my opinion in South Asia, at the aggregate level, most of the countries will be able to achieve 50% reduction in poverty by 2015. But if you disaggregate the data and look at it from the perspective of the historically marginalized or excluded, discriminated groups – scheduled castes, schedule tribes in case of India – then those groups for whom the Millennium Development Goals are meant may not achieve the goals unless concerted efforts by the governments of South Asia are not undertaken now – because we are already at the mid-way point.

OWSA: India is recording robust growth in last couple of years, but poverty and inequality is also growing. What would be your advice to the national government on this?

MP: The key issue is of resource deployment; how do we increase resources to the social sector. For example, the Indian government still spends only 4% on education while its own commitment is to spend 6%. Or in health its commitment is 3% while it spends 1%. The South Asian experience has shown, especially in case of developed Asian countries, that it is because of investment in education and health that they have been able to sustain a certain level of growth.

In India the issue is not about resources because, as you said, India is witnessing a robust growth for last five years. It is not the issue of being aid dependent, as India is becoming a donor country vis-vis some African countries; it is not the issue of debts as India is not debt-ridden. In this light the real issue is the political will to deploy the resources for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Second, is to really plug the leakages in the delivery system, which basically means getting the delivery systems fully functional, fully accountable and transparent. There has been some movement in this area, such as the Right to Information Act to make the governments more accountable vis-vis its citizens.

We can take the numbers of social schemes: the National Rural Health Mission, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, or the added emphasis on the mid-day meal programme or the focus on maternal mortality – these are all steps in the right direction. What is required is a larger amount of resource push and holding the delivery system fully accountable at all levels to ensure the quality of services on the grounds to people. If this can be done, then India can achieve all MDGs by 2015.

OWSA: Coming back to the campaign, why ‘Stand Up and Speak Out’?

MP: Last year it was Stand up against poverty and for the Millennium Development Goals. This year ‘speak out’ is interpreted in various ways in which people are actually giving solutions to various issues, and asking for particular changes that can make their lives better. Speak out is an action that people can perform by telling their governments, and rightfully so, what is missing and what needs to be done.

Such action creates the climate and the environment where governments can look at some of the issues from a more sympathetic perspective. The media and mass mobilization are the two ‘Ms’ that really matter where governments are democratic and responsive. In a way SUSO is a kind of challenge that the citizens are holding for the governments.

OWSA: The movement is also getting more political this time.

MP: Absolutely. The addition of ‘speak out’ very clearly defines policy messages. If you look at what is coming out of countries like India, Bangladesh, there are very clear demands of what the people want and do not want. So it is not just the event, it is an opportunity for popularizing people’s aspirations and changing people’s ways of looking at how they are being governed, and how they would like to be governed.

OWSA: What has been the experience with governments in India and rest of South Asia?

MP: It has been a mixed bag. Last year after the Stand Up in India, and the whole Nine is Mine campaign, where 6% for education and 3% for health was highlighted as key demands by children, there were some improvements taking place. The education budget improved from 3% to 4%, the health budget increased from 0.8% to 1% - not enough but definitely a movement.

Some other very concrete examples are of governments who themselves participated. For instance, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, about 500 landless families were distributed land immediately after the Stand Up last year. You therefore find both grassroots level and national level examples of changes and impact.

In case of Bangladesh, as you may have read, just 15 days back, the People’s Forum on MDGs, which is a national coalition of GCAP, with whom the Millennium Campaign works closely, have been very successful in actually forcing the IMF and the World Bank in relation to the conditionalities they had imposed and the withdrawal of those conditionalities. These are the kind of impacts that one sees in terms of the process.

OWSA: So these are the differences that are being made from the Stand Up experience.

MP: Absolutely.

OWSA: What are the expectations from this year’s Stand Up and Speak Out?

MP: I would classify them into two parts. One of them is clearly to break the earlier record, but as we from the Millennium Campaign say – it is not the issue of breaking the Guinness World Record, the real issue is of breaking the record of broken promises. The challenge is how can we really push the governments to keep their promises and to act and develop policies, allocate resources and implement social programmes towards the fulfillment of Millennium Development Goals. That is all our expectation.

In each country, specific demands have been made depending upon the particular country situation. For example, in Pakistan the key issue of price rise has been highlighted. In Bangladesh, it is the issue of corruption and democratic governance. In Nepal, what is being highlighted is that the constituency assembly must be immediately elected and the new Constitution should already look at Millennium Development Goals, and poverty as the constitutional agenda, making economic, social and cultural rights part of the constitution itself.

OWSA: Any final message for October 17?

MP: My message would be to stand up and speak out in one voice to demand governments’ accountability, and to follow it up through smaller actions, continued advocacy, by using the media and legislative forums in each of the countries so that it doesn’t become just an event but a process for deepening democracy and for building people’s faith and power in the government systems in the South Asia region.

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