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Evidence from Longitudinal Research

It is critical that the wellbeing of society is systematically tracked by indicators that not only give an accurate picture of human life today but also provide a window into the future for all of us.

This book presents impactful findings from international longitudinal studies that respond to the United Nations’ Agenda 2030 commitment to “leave no-one behind”. Contributors explore a wide range and complexity of pressing global issues, with emphasis given to excluded and vulnerable populations and gender inequality.

Importantly, it sets out actionable strategies for policymakers and practitioners to help strengthen the global Sustainable Development Goals framework, accelerate their implementation and improve the construction of effective public policy.

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The Global Agenda for Social Justice provides accessible insights into some of the world’s most pressing social problems and proposes practicable international public policy responses to those problems.

Written by a highly respected team of authors brought together by the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP), chapters examine topics such as education, violence, discrimination, substance abuse, public health, and environment. The volume provides recommendations for action by governing officials, policy makers, and the public around key issues of social justice.

The book will be of interest to scholars, practitioners, advocates, journalists, and students interested in public sociology, the study of social problems, and the pursuit of social justice.

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The targets outlined by Sustainable Development Goal 5 – to achieve social, economic and political gender equality, eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, and ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights – underscore the persistence of gender-based discrimination in almost all public and private spheres, and, despite progress, the scale of the work still needed to realize an equal and equitable society (United Nations, 2015). As global goals, the SDG targets and indicators inevitably lack nuance in terms of implementation, leaving governments and stakeholders space to adapt and implement according to context. However, the notion of gender equality in particular can remain superficial when measured according to female–male ratios and quotas, legal frameworks and quantitative data – making the SDG 5 indicators relatively limited in terms of reflecting the lived experience of individuals in society.

The negative outcomes of gender inequality which SGD 5 seeks to redress, and which disproportionately affect women and girls, are increasingly well-documented and understood. However, while there is a growing emphasis in the international development community on gender transformative interventions, understandings of the often deep-seated social norms at the core of persistent gender inequalities, and importantly how norms can change, remains limited, hindering progress on the SDG 5 objectives.

Gendered social norms are reproduced during the process of gender socialization which begins from birth as an individual interacts with various social- and structural-level concepts of gender. These are the norms which hold in place the socially constructed set of ‘acceptable’ behaviours for males and females, transgression of which can bring social – and sometimes violent – consequences.

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Obtaining education is widely acknowledged to constitute one of the main starting conditions for later opportunities over the life course, regarded as a quintessential means to improve productivity, promote a healthy lifestyle, empower and increase civic participation, raise individual capabilities, and reduce intergenerational transmission of poverty (Buchmann and Hannum, 2001; Hanushek and Woessmann, 2008; Sen, 1999). Considerable progress has been made in terms of increasing enrolment rates at a primary and secondary school level all over the world, especially after the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000 in which the international community committed to achieving Education for All by 2015 (UNESCO, 2017a), and the Millennium Development Summit of 2000 in which the world’s leaders committed to meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), among which was universalization of primary school enrolments and gender parity (UN, 2015). The steepest progress in pupil’s enrolments has taken place in sub-Saharan Africa, where primary school enrolment rates between 1990 and 2015 on average increased from 52% to 80% (UN, 2015). One of the most notable increases was observed in Ethiopia, the case study of this chapter, where net primary school enrolments grew from 19% in 1994 to 85% in 2015, and net secondary school enrolments increased from 11% in 1999 to 31% in 2015 (World Bank, 2019).

Despite this progress, recent evidence shows that getting children into school has not translated into knowledge acquisition. According to UNESCO, the latest estimated share of children not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics by the time of primary school completion age in sub-Saharan Africa was about 85% on average (UNESCO UIS, 2017a).

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Adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) in sub-Saharan Africa are at high risk of HIV infection. HIV infection rates increase substantially among AGYW after the age of 18. In South Africa HIV prevalence rises from 6% among young women aged 15–19 years to 17% by ages 20–24. This age period marks a time of transition into adulthood and coincides with a number of key life events, such as finishing the mandatory years of schooling, leaving home, entering first sexual relationships and experiencing first pregnancies.(Human Sciences Research Council [HSRC], 2017) Key life events that include first pregnancy, coital debut, leaving school and parental death have all been found independently to be associated with an increased risk of HIV infection in young women. Young women who experience their first vaginal sex before the age of 15 are more likely to be living with HIV, and these early events are often characterized by forced sex and sex with older male partners who are more likely to be HIV infected (Pettifor et al, 2004, 2009; Wand and Ramjee, 2012). While school attendance has multiple developmental and later life benefits, leaving school increases the risk of HIV acquisition. Girls who do not attend school as often and who drop out are more likely to acquire HIV infection than those attending and who stay in school (Stoner et al, 2017) In one study, this association appears to be explained by school environments providing safer spaces where adolescent girls are more likely to have male partners closer in age and also have fewer sexual partners than those out of school (Stoner et al, 2018) Similar patterns have been observed for young women experiencing early adolescent pregnancy (before the age of 15)

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This chapter uses evidence from the Parenting across Cultures (PAC) project to illustrate ways in which longitudinal data can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs; The chapter begins by providing an overview of the research questions that have guided PAC as well as a description of the participants, procedures and measures. Next, empirical findings from PAC are summarized to illustrate implications for six specific SDGs. Then the chapter describes how longitudinal data offer advantages over cross-sectional data in operationalizing SDG targets and implementing the SDGs. Finally, limitations, future research directions and conclusions are provided.

PAC was developed in response to concerns that understanding of parenting and child development was biased by the predominant focus in the literature on studying families in Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (WEIRD) societies and that findings in such countries may not generalize well to more diverse populations around the world (Henrich et al, 2010). In an analysis of the sample characteristics in the most influential journals in six subdisciplines of psychology from 2003 to 2007, 96% of research participants were from Western industrialized countries, and 68% were from the United States alone (Arnett, 2008), which means that 96% of research participants in these psychological studies were from countries with only 12% of the world’s population (Henrich et al, 2010). When basic science research is limited to WEIRD countries, knowledge of human development becomes defined by a set of experiences that may not be widely shared in different cultural contexts, so studying parenting and child development in a wide range of diverse cultural contexts is important to understand development more fully.

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The goal of global gender equality is articulated in the fifth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 5). This objective signifies the global community’s recognition, for the first time, of the central role that gender equality plays in sustainable development. However, the importance of gender equality in the Sustainable Development Goals goes beyond SDG 5. Issues of equality, and specifically gender equality, are interwoven throughout the SDGs and are central to both SDG targets and their related efforts that range in scope from the individual through macro-national and global political institutions.

Independent of the SDGs, adolescent health and well-being have recently emerged as national and global priorities (Patton et al, 2016). For some, the increased importance of adolescents and youth reflects the impressive child survival successes under the MDGs (Bhutta et al, 2019). It is also an acknowledgement that this segment of the population represents a political and social force; there is a critical need to support young people’s growth and development if they are to participate in national growth and development. The SDG era (2015–30) provides an opportunity to highlight the needs of adolescents worldwide, by putting a growing body of longitudinal evidence into practice in the evaluation of SDG-relevant programmes, tracking the achievement of SDG targets among adolescents, and ultimately developing policies that ensure no one, especially this next generation of national and global leaders, is left behind. In order to ensure just and sustainable global development, policy makers must understand the experiences and concerns of adolescents around the world. However, despite their critical role in global development, adolescents are essentially absent from most SDG indicators (Guglielmi and Jones, 2019

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Adolescence is a time of rapid change, not only in physical, cognitive and psychological competencies but also in social roles and expectations (Patton et al, 2012; Steinberg, 2015; Viner et al, 2015). Yet we still know relatively little about the patterning of these changes, and the types of support young people need in order to reach their full human capabilities (Patton et al, 2016). Given that many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) rest on investments in adolescents (Sheehan et al, 2017) – from eliminating harmful traditional practices (including child marriage and female genital mutilation) to ensuring quality education and training – investing in a more robust evidence base and improved measurement is critical.

The Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE) research programme addresses these evidence and measurement gaps. This chapter discusses the design and methodological choices made by the GAGE study – to date, the largest longitudinal study (covering nine years, 2015–24) focusing on adolescents (10–19 years) in the Global South. GAGE is following 18,000 adolescent girls and boys in three regions: East Africa, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and South Asia. Using mixed methods, the study is weaving together survey findings from adolescents and their caregivers with in-depth qualitative research with adolescents, caregivers and siblings, as well as community leaders, service providers and policy officials. This chapter highlights key features of GAGE’s longitudinal design.

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The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes 17 global goals, charts an ambitious course for the coming decade and beyond. Attached to the goals are 169 targets, which lay out the specific aims towards which the global community is working. In total, 95 of the targets are either directly (48) or indirectly (47) connected to children. The SDGs can only deliver on the promise of equity if the world knows which children and families are thriving and which are being left behind (UNICEF, 2017). Understanding the situation of children in relation to the SDGs is, therefore, crucial both for the well-being of children and for reaching the targets of the global goals.

Childhood well-being has an impact on a range of outcomes such as adult health, educational attainment, and employment and socioeconomic status in adulthood (Statham and Chase, 2010). Even though there is general agreement that policies to ensure child well-being are necessary there are disparities in the practical implementation of policy between countries and on regional levels. In some countries, a lack of financial resources may be the main reason for not having an appropriate monitoring system that has the potential to inform politicians on a regular and reliable basis; on the other hand, it could be a question of competing priorities. There is, however, an acknowledged need for high-quality data on child and youth well-being, necessary to inform policy making aimed at addressing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Global Goals.

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In their ‘Key Findings on Families, Family Policy and the Sustainable Development Goals: Synthesis Report’, UNICEF (2018, p 5) recognized the family unit as the ‘natural and elementary social unit of all modern society’ and a key to understanding social progress and development that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) seek to address. The family unit, while appreciated, often is not prioritized in development efforts. The UN Secretary General acknowledged that the contribution of families continues to be largely overlooked, and that ‘policy focusing on improving the well-being of families is certain to benefit development’ (United Nations, 2010). At the global level, there is a need for more research on the family, with the recognition that family policy requires adaptation to the different contexts and countries in which it will be implemented.

This study seeks to contribute to this research literature on family and its role in health behaviour by focusing on alcohol involvement in two generations of the Joint Child Health Project (JCHP), a longitudinal birth cohort study on the East African island nation of Mauritius. This research relates to SDG 3 on improving health and well-being, including via prevention and treatment of substance use (SDG 3.5) and harmful use of alcohol (SDG 3.5.2). The work serves to exemplify how a prospective child health study can be utilized to examine risk relationships within the family unit to better understand each child’s risky health behaviour.

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