MIEUX Reflections: Veronica Schaffer

Veronica Schaffer was placed with the MIEUX team in a 5-week internship programme organised within the framework of a joint summer school "Brussels Programme on European Foreign Policy" between the University of Southern California and the Institute for European Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. During her time, she assisted with the preparations for the Project Lab MIEUX organised during the European Development Days, held over the course of two days last June in Brussels.  

As part of my internship with MIEUX last June, I had the unique opportunity to attend the 2019 European Development Days (EDD). The EDD has been the leading forum on development since 2009, and this year’s theme was “Addressing inequalities: Building a world which leaves no one behind”, guided by the Sustainable Development Goals and the European Union’s commitment to addressing inequalities through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The first day, I attended the ICMPD panel, “Inequalities along the migration journey: temporal and spatial perspectives” which provided EDD audiences with lesser-known dimensions of inequality linked to cultural and social norms and with policy responses from Western Africa, Central America and Europe. Afterward, with the panelists’ comments on my mind, I looked at my agenda for the next event of interest. The broad scope of the EDD agenda enabled me to select various events focusing on hunger, right to contraception, and the role of local-level governments in fighting against inequalities.

Securing a better future by combating food insecurity

I attended the event organised by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) entitled: “What will it take to win the battle against hunger? -- Getting back on track: It can be done!” I thought this topic was very interesting because hunger is considered the most basic form of inequality. In fact, according to IFAD, more than 821 million people are food insecure. Some of the main points presented by the IFAD president, the moderator, and the panelists were that aside from concrete actions that need to be taken in the public and private sectors, climate change’s effect on food production needs to be considered. Additionally, fragility and conflict may increase food insecurity as well as a slowdown in economies that may be present in certain countries.

Aside from the role of institutions, the panelists suggested that the battle against hunger required developing farmers’ skills through training and investments from private and public sectors; strengthening of farmer’s organizations; creating more focused interventions for those countries which are most food insecure; using existing assets as leverage; and increasing research to understand the root of the problem.

In regards to the use and importance of technology in addressing food insecurity, I raised the question: “If we are seeing an increasing development of technology then why were we seeing more food insecurity than ever before?” The panelists found this question thought-provoking and responded that they saw technology as a tool with incredible potential that is not being harnessed. One of the solutions they suggested was to strengthen governance and political leadership which can help empower farmers; however, they also remarked that individuals do not need empowering, as they are already powerful and integral parts of society, but rather they need the tools to grow more food more efficiently.

“Building a world which leaves no one behind,” is at the core of EU values, and is evident in its International Cooperation and Development sector, its 2010 EU policy framework on food security, and its emphasis of seeking to build resilience to ensure that no one is left hungry. Food insecurity, such as due to climate change or conflict, often embodies a direct relationship with migration. International and local governments, organizations and individuals must work together to reduce the effects of conflict, climate change, and lack of governmental/political leadership and technology in order to reduce the need to migrate to reduce food insecurity.

Deconstructing the contraceptive predicament

The event on contraception was entitled “Access to contraception: The challenge of a decade -- What will 2030 look like for reproductive health supplies?” This panel was organized by the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition (RHSC). One of the main points of discussion was the frequency of individuals seeking contraceptives to find the shelves empty. This issue is even more pressing when audiences were told that by 2020 over 493 million individuals will be using contraceptives in 135 low- and middle- income countries and that meeting their needs will require USD 8.45 billion. The panelists discussed the various challenges and reasons as to why many pharmacies find their contraceptive shelves empty or limited in variety. First, donor contributions are declining. Additionally, in many countries, especially across Africa, governments are experiencing a deficit in health financing. Some other reasons shelves are left empty include the expiration of medicine in warehouses, the challenges involved with drug transportation and the distance medicine must travel to reach the far corners of countries, such that very rural areas may not be directly provided with medicine in their area. The point at which the individual obtains the medicine was referred to by the panelists as the “far corners”: the last stage of the contraceptives’ journey.

Reportedly, women will often travel an entire day just to gain access to contraceptives. Not only is there an issue with the distance the medicine can or cannot travel, but there are also certain political, social, and economic factors that may require an individual to travel far distances. Cultural barriers that may make access to contraceptives difficult include the requirement to be married, which means that asking for contraceptives outside of marriage would be taboo or illegal. Politically, contraceptives may only be accessible to certain groups. Financially, contraceptives are not free everywhere and the long-lasting and reversible varieties are the most expensive. Yet, the panelists emphasised the fact that a small fee for the medicine is preferred even by the individuals – paying a fee gives the individual a sense of ownership which increases the products’ value, but also, many people view free items as being less effective than ones they must pay for (even if they pay just a small fee).  Finally, lack of education about the options of contraceptives as well as structural issues such as stock shortages, the location of clinic/pharmacy, and the uncomfortable nature of visiting a clinic where someone familiar might work are additional barriers to access to contraceptive methods.

These are just the highlights of the discussion, but I found the whole panel fascinating. Moreover, I found the connection between contraceptive access, food insecurity and migration highly important. People will migrate internally due to lack of necessities such as contraceptives or even as far as another country or region due to lack of food security. The reality is that most people move to cities, so there is an increased responsibility for cities to manage and cater to the inflow of people.

Local and national governments: building agendas together

With this reflection about the transversality of migration I attended the third event, entitled “Addressing inequalities through territorial inclusive governance: What are the strengths and challenges of sub-national governments and territorial policymaking to address inequalities?” In this session, we heard about the municipality situations in various parts of the world. In the case of Albania, many people migrated to cities for work, and the area around the city of Lezhë became a hybrid of rural and urban. Inequalities grew as the transition occurred, and so the responsibility of local governance became more pertinent. Considerations such as the education of children and the physical location of workplaces had to be considered. In Lebanon, there is no confederation of municipalities, so each mayor adapts the institutional response to their own context to meet the needs of their citizens. In Zambia, municipalities have tried to shift from handing over all responsibility to the national government to working in partnership with the national government. There are different levels of governance and all levels must work together and be transparent with one another in order to achieve the agendas and goals of the local governments. Ultimately, the national constitution protects local governments, so strategies need to be developed at a local level that best address their needs. Decentralization seems to be a key step in the allowance of more locally-led governance.

Overall, I enjoyed my time at the European Development Days. As an American, who has lived in the United States my whole life, I thought this event was very thought-provoking. I had the chance to hear many discussions on the inequalities of the world, which was disheartening, but on the other side, I was also able to see the passion and the hard work of many organisations that help alleviate or solve the issues that millions of people face worldwide. The EU has really put an emphasis on development cooperation in its strategic policy. “Leaving no one behind” is really is at the core of European Union and UN values. It is evident through the EDD and the discussions that take place each year as well as what is written in the EU's legal and political framework that this principle will be upheld in the various programmes, initiatives, and mechanisms that will seek to fulfill the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the coming years.