In the light of Valentine ’s Day, and for the sake of an intriguing title, this first blog post I am writing as advocacy officer at DSW will be about the ’two hearts’ in my (work life-) chest, aka political education and political communication. For the past six years, I have been equally passionate about both, working as a freelance seminar leader and doing advocacy with different NGOs.
At this time of the year, I’d have spent my working hours in huge conference rooms, discussing with groups of more than 50 adolescents from all over Europe about different aspects of European integration and sustainable development. During nostalgic moments, when I miss giving seminars and working with young people, what cheers me up is that at DSW, I still advocate for sustainable development every day. In that sense, and to be adequately cheesy on this 14th February, I guess one could say that the two hearts actually ‘beat at the same rhythm’.
Education for Sustainable Development
The difference is that I exchanged the seminar room for an office at Place Luxembourg in Brussels, and the people I talk to are mostly political stakeholders of the different EU institutions. A less negligible difference however is that at DSW I focus on two very important drivers of sustainable development that had not been on my seminar radar before: access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and the investment in research and development for poverty related and neglected diseases (PRNDs). Similarly, most of the seminar participants I’ve worked with in the past years had probably never heard of the unmet need for family planning, maternal mortality, or the global burden of diseases like HIV & AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis in the context of sustainable development. Given the grave impact on the wellbeing of the world’s poorest populations and the impediment to societies’ and economies’ development they cause – one could think that raising awareness on these matters would be high on the education for sustainable development agenda. On the UN level, the intergovernmental Open Working Group’s proposal for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which this year will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), does include targets in the area of SRHR and PRNDs under the goals on health and gender. So, how come these issues never figured on the schedules of the seminars I worked on?
According to the UNESCO, Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) “allows every human being to acquire the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes that empower them to contribute to sustainable development and take informed decisions and responsible actions for environmental integrity, economic viability, and a just society for present and future generations”. In practice, this means that the ESD curricula take up a broad range of modules on subjects ranging from fair trade, global finance governance, world nutrition, human rights, etc., while still focussing on environmental aspects like climate change, energy consumption, carbon footprint, and other related subjects. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is great (and necessary) that, for example, in Germany the Ministry for the Environment and Nature Conservation provides teaching materials designed for ESD. And of course I can only talk about the seminar formats that I was involved in and got to know in the past years, which are for sure only a tiny fragment of the ESD initiatives out there. But I still think global health issues should be fully embraced by ESD .
Education for Sustainable Development: time to talk about health
It was actually my seminar participants who taught me that sustainable development cannot be achieved by political agreements or technological solutions alone. It rather requires important changes in the way we think and act. In other words, all the advocacy efforts towards politicians won’t change a thing, if citizens are not aware of for example the tragic fact that more than 800 women die per day due to pregnancy and birth related complications and what could be done to change this. Obviously, education plays a key role in bringing about this change of awareness. Looking back, I am glad I at least always told the participants (who outside the class room tended to take the seminars as an intercultural class trip opportunity to celebrate their youth), where to find the condom vending machine in the conference premises. Looking ahead, I hope that in the future more comprehensive information on the importance of having access to SRHR and fighting PRNDs through research and development will be included in ESD, in Europe and globally.
Lisa Goerlitz, Advocacy Officer, DSW.