If Trump hadn’t been elected, you wouldn’t see the mobilisation of civil society that we are seeing now. Not having the safety net of a good government – or at least the perception of a good government – has forced people to speak out and demand progress.
With [Trump’s] election, we started having necessary and difficult conversations about racism, sexism, classism that have been in the American and global consciousness for a long time. Brexit was the same. It doesn’t mean that people suddenly began to think about these things overnight. A lot of people have been aware of them for a long time. But now society is finally being forced to address them.
The presidency of Trump, in the short-term, is proving to be awful for civil liberties, human rights and global cooperation. But in the long-term this crisis has created the opportunity for new coalitions. We are seeing completely new groups of people working together because they realise what we have to lose is much greater than our differences.
I’m very optimistic. I’ve got to be, I’m a woman – I’m a young, Muslim woman. With my work, even now, in most rooms I go into no one looks like me. My colleagues tend be older, usually white men. And while it has been a great challenge, it has also proved incredibly beneficial in my own understanding and growth. Recognising and collaborating with people who have no visible commonalities and often opposing views has served as one of the greatest teachers to me in my career.
When I was 21 a mentor said when you walk into a room, regardless of what you know, people will define you based on your age, gender, race and religion. At the time I was upset, but then I realised the amount of power it gives you know know what you are working with. I would walk into a room and know that I would have to engage with others to make them realise that we can work together. We may not agree on every single issue. And we don’t have to.
I founded an organisation when I was 21 in Libya on women’s inclusion, peace processes and conflict resolution called The Voice of Libyan Women. From there I became heavily involved in the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and in particular global health and security, gender equality and education. We all work in different ways, but for me if I can see where I’m trying to get to, I can work out how to get there. I tend to need some kind of big picture map. I’ve never been a little detail person. The SDGs are that big picture.
And in that moment there was an opportunity to say: We are going to get side tracked so much in the next 15 years. We’re going to have different political movements. Technology is going to change drastically. We’re going to have millions of people out of work. Things are going to change on a fundamental levels. So we need something that keeps us in balance. We need something that keeps us focused. And to me that’s what the SDGs are.
In order to fund the global goals we’re going to need trillions of dollars [pdf]which seems like a lot, except when you think about how much we invest in the military and security globally. It exceeds the amount we invest in sustainable development – that means health, education, climate action, food and water security – on a daily basis. So you can take out your military and surveillance and security spending in order to invest in the goals and a more holistic global peace. This will lead to much more sustainable peace than investments in our current military spending ever could.
I fundamentally disagree with the naysayers who say the goals can’t be resourced. If you properly allocate resources that are already out there, it wouldn’t be a problem. It’s unbelievable that we’re willing to spend billions of dollars on helicopters and drones but we’re not willing to spend it on universal healthcare.
I think a large part of it comes from our own rhetoric and what are our priorities. Is our priority the military? Or is our priority sustainable development? Because if it’s not the priority then it won’t happen. And if it is, then it can happen without question. But it really comes down to what is our political priority. And that comes from citizens demanding more from their governments and public representatives, it comes from citizens telling their heads of state what their priorities are.
If a girl is educated, for every year a girl stays in school, her income can increase by 15 to 25%, and when 10% more of a country’s girls go to school they increase the GDP by an average of 3%. That’s not a small number. In India for example, if 1% more girls were in secondary school, the national GDP would rise by $5.5 billion. Young women then reinvest 90% of their income into their communities – as opposed to the 30% reinvested by men. Add to that that she’ll have fewer children. So now you’re solving climate change, health crises, hunger crises. Educated women are more likely to vaccinate their children, which completely transforms the health infrastructure and the economic infrastructure. This creates a cycle of education for the future generations. So we will have an increasingly empowered, educated and economically capable workforce.
If you do not have the full education and empowerment of women, it’s unrealistic. Personally, if that isn’t met, I’m exceptionally pessimistic about the overall agenda.
I don’t think the SDGs themselves are unrealistic or unattainable. I think being able to create the political leverage, where politicians and public thought leaders recognise that the sustainable development goals are the best global peace building tool we have, that will be the difficult part. And a large part of that comes from partnership. That’s why goal 17 – partnership – is so important.
We need businesses to demand better. We need member states who have influence or authority to demand better. We need developing countries to say they deserve better. We all need to demand better.
Alaa Murabit is a physician, UN SDG global advocate, UN high-level commissioner, MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow and the founder of The Voice of Libyan Women and The Omnis Institute. Follow @almmura on Twitter.