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Silofighters: the UNDG blog

Ghana: How listening to those “left behind” changed our thinking

BY Bianca Juhl Andersen | 17 May 2017

A 14-year old orphan girl told us her story. When her parents died, she was forced to drop out of school. She was 10 years old. In a desperate attempt to earn money to provide for herself and her younger siblings, she became a sex worker. She charges GHS 5-12 (USD1,25-3) per customer - barely enough to even cover her expenses. She sleeps outdoors, despite the high risks of theft and sexual assaults - especially during the frequent power cuts in Accra, Ghana’s capital, leaving the area dark and dangerous. Her dream is to go to school, and to gain skills to get a good job. But first she has to deal with her daily need to earn money, the ever-present danger of assault and violence from customers, and health risks. These are some of the stories we have been hearing during a consultative process we as the UN in Ghana have convened over the past several months. We have been listening to human rights experts, advocates and representatives on the human rights challenges in Ghana; on both current and future challenges. Based on these expert inputs, we reached out to excluded groups who have little or no voice in Ghana: people with disabilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTIs), underage sex-workers, prisoners, and injection drug users. We wanted to consult representatives of groups of people, whose human rights are at risk of not being respected, and have little or no access to decision makers in Ghana. For the first time, we used our networks to identify people from these hard-to-reach groups and met with them to better understand the human rights challenges they are facing. Obscured by data gaps We met with representatives from three of the identified groups, where we had vast data access difficulties: underage sex workers, the LGBTI community, and injection drug users – about 50 people in total.  We asked open-ended questions because we wanted to understand the challenges they face with respect to their human rights. While challenges differed across the three groups, there were common concerns such as security and personal safety, stigmatization from society, the need for education and skills training, and the lack of access to health facilities and medical care. When we talked to, for instance, the underage sex workers, they all shared a common wish to stop working in the sex industry. They wanted to go to school instead – they wanted a “normal” life. But to stop working as sex workers and return to school, they need to get an income to provide for themselves and their families. In our work in Ghana, the UN is committed to ensuring that human rights are recognized and protected. Human rights are at core of the UN’s pledge to support Ghana in meeting its commitment to the sustainable development agenda. Despite our ongoing programmes, these harrowing stories were new to us, as we hardly even knew that underage sex workers — or intravenous drug users for that matter — existed in Ghana to the extent they do. The need to check in with those we serve Engaging with people who face these issues changed our thinking. We assumed they wanted to be taken off the street and given educational opportunities. But that was not necessarily the case — at least not in the short run. The main objective of the underage sex workers was to ensure an income for their families – and to stay safe. In the long run, they want expanded opportunities, but in our strategies, we need to consider interventions that preserve the income they provide to their families. We are now exploring how best to enable government and other partners to address the problems we heard, in the UN’s next strategic plan, the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) 2018-21, via interventions by UN agencies working together to make sure that no one is left behind in Ghana. The UNDAF will be finalized in partnership with national stakeholders in 2017. We will keep you posted on how we will address the issues heard in our consultations. As we move forward, the UN will support Ghana to ensure that human rights challenges are fully addressed - so that no one is left behind.

Silofighters: the UNDG blog

The true poverty of data

BY Alexandru Oprunenco, Tom Saunders | 10 May 2017

Eradicating poverty remains a long-standing goal of global development. It’s also a centerpiece of the 2030 Agenda. And while no one would doubt the importance of this goal, a lingering question remains: how do we measure poverty and how do we best make use of poverty data? Beyond income as a measure of poverty The standard approach to measuring poverty is monetary metrics or the international poverty line, which in October 2015 was updated to $1.9 from $1.25 per day. Monetary poverty is at the core for the progress indicators under MDG1 and to a significant extent under SDG1. The main advantages of this approach are its relative easiness to measure and international comparability. The key disadvantage is however that it fails to grasp multiple deprivations including access to basic services, such as health and education. The Multi-dimensional poverty index (MPI) was in part developed to answer exactly this question: how can we have a more truthful measurement of human poverty by combining several crucial dimensions of deprivation. Seeds of discontent: when numbers meet reality Both the income based and multi-dimensional approaches to poverty measurement are examples of upstream data: while they  provide the advantage of international comparability, their uses are quite limited when it comes to informing programmatic interventions and contextualizing poverty in national or subnational contexts. For instance, years of schooling can mean something completely different in countries with strong or weak public educational system and thus have different relevance as a part of poverty measurement depending on the country context. So the risk is that while comparability of data is important to drive a spirit of competition among countries to advance their development, it might not give policy makers the data they need to make decisions based on reality. Take poverty data in Moldova – a focus on income only has made available data increasingly devoid of sense. While the poverty rate has fallen more than thrice, the poverty has increasingly topped the list of public’s concerns. How can this seeming ‘cognitive dissonance’  be explained? Part of the explanation is that nation poverty line is set artificially low. Another part of explanation is that focusing on the monetary aspects of poverty conceals important dimensions such as access to health or education or high discrepancies resulting from characteristics of different categories of population. For instance, issues related to access to health services in some rural communities of Moldova or the capital city can be of completely different nature. So, we need a different poverty measure in Moldova that would be able to: a) reflect better realities on the ground and b) be granular and context-aware enough to inform and inspire action either on nation and/or local and community level.  But how can we move forward to achieve that? Is there an alternative way? The democratization of the public policy space, and the advent of new technologies fortunately opens opportunities to test alternative approaches to poverty measurement. One of these approaches involves harnessing the collective intelligence of those living in poverty to inform policy interventions. After all, as G.K. Chesterton famously quipped: “By experts in poverty I do not mean sociologists, but poor men.”  (of course, we can’t blame him in the 19th century for omitting poor women as experts in poverty...) While tools for harnessing collective intelligence are constantly evolving, getting peoples’ views on poverty isn’t all that new.  In the 1990s the World Bank undertook a number of comprehensive studies that tried to incorporate the voices of the poor into poverty measurement exercises. These consultations, conducted in 23 countries around the world, used a number of participatory methods to capture the experiences of those living in poverty in a given place and time. Consulting citizens about what poverty means to them isn’t particularly new. However, making this information useful for decision makers - civil servants, politicians, and those with aid budgets, is an ongoing challenge. Together with our partners from Nesta and the Moldova National Bureau of Statistics we have decided to undertake several pilots to understand how the knowledge of those living in disadvantaged circumstances can be successfully harnessed to inform decision making. First, we want to redefine what poverty and its various dimensions mean in Moldova. And we want to do it together with poor and vulnerable people in Moldova. This is a stark departure from most current approaches that rely on experts defining poverty dimensions, not poor people themselves. Our assumption here is that we will be able to focus on relevant aspects of poverty dimensions that are relevant in the Moldovan context, even if these would mean sacrificing the international comparability of data. This will improve  decision-makers’ understanding of the issues that matter most to poor Moldovans, and hopefully improve their ability to act, for instance, shifting from monetary social assistance to the one targeted to identified aspects of poverty. Furthermore, we will be able to highlight differences across different regions and have a more granular understanding of how various characteristic of people affect their poverty (age, employment standing, people with disabilities, etc.) status. Eventually, this understanding will lead to different indicators suitable for either national or local decision-makers (eventually households themselves – working together on understanding and measuring poverty can bring completely different power dynamics and give poor people agency to act). In practice this will involve holding conversations with 20 groups of vulnerable and disadvantaged people, from the unemployed to the elderly, to understand the issues matter most to them. These conversations will be carried out by local NGOs in Moldova. Since this is not the first time we have held consultative processes in Moldova we have decided to use two simple methods to try to understand these issues: semi-structured group discussions, led by a trained facilitator, and a ranking exercise, to understand the relative importance of the various issues that vulnerable communities face. While these conversations will not aim to bring together a representative sample of vulnerable people in Moldova, they will hopefully give us a much richer understanding of what it means to be poor in Moldova. Making participatory evidence useful Many citizen consultation exercises stop at this stage: the consultation is used to write a report, which is then handed over to policymakers, in the hope that they will act on the information. However, as the work of Nesta’s Alliance for Useful Evidence has shown, promoting the use of evidence in decision making is not just about the quality of the evidence, there is also a need to make it useful for the consumers of evidence. This has several implications, from supporting decision makers to develop the skills to make use of evidence, through to tailoring the presentation of the evidence to the needs of the audience. Building on these insights, in the second stage of the project we will design several tools for various audiences and test them in small scale pilots. The first will be a survey that will be designed in conjunction with, and carried out by, the National Bureau of Statistics in Moldova. It will be used to complement the Household Budget Survey (HBS). The goal is to provide a richer picture, for policymakers, of what it means to experience poverty in Moldova. The second will be a tool that NGOs, community groups and potentially local governments can use to inform their planning and budget allocation, based on the needs and knowledge of the communities they serve. What will success look like for this project? Well, we hope to inspire other countries to pursue similar journeys on redefining poverty based on their national context and views of poor people themselves, in order to better explain and inform interventions on the ground. Alongside this, we hope that the methods that are developed through this pilot and the lessons that we learn will prove useful for those wishing to harness the collective intelligence of citizens.

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