The Key to a Safe, Resilient and Sustainable Society
As deliberations commence at UN headquarters for the 2018 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, it is well to recall the extensive deliberations taking place seventy years ago that produced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Led by Eleanor Roosevelt with input from such luminaries as Lebanon’s Charles Malik and France’s René Cassin, those negotiations persisted through nearly a hundred official meetings (and numerous unofficial) over eighteen long months to produce what Eleanor hoped “may well become the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere.”
And so it has become. “The most impressive advances in human rights,” explains Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon, “owe more to the moral beacon of the Declaration than to the many covenants and treaties that are now in force.” But, warns Professor Glendon, “the Declaration’s ability to weather the turbulence ahead has been compromised by the practice of reading its integrated articles as a string of essentially separate guarantees. Nations and interest groups continue to use selected provisions as weapons or shields, wrenching them out of context and ignoring the rest…. Forgetfulness, neglect, and opportunism have thus obscured the Declaration’s message that rights have conditions—that everyone’s rights are importantly dependent on respect for the rights of others, on the rule of law, and on a healthy civil society.”
And a healthy civil society, as the Declaration itself makes perfectly clear, is built squarely on the family, which, as the only group unit mentioned as having rights per se, is “the natural and fundamental group unit of society” and “entitled to protection by society and the State.” In that “precise and elegant” language, observed Professor Richard Wilkins, the word natural shows that “the family is not merely a construct of human will or imagination” but “has a profoundly important connection to nature… begin[ning] with the realities of reproduction and extend[ing] to the forces that shape civilization itself” based on “the natural union of a man and a woman.”
As the indispensable foundation of society, the family remains the key to development, being “the main instrument of societal transformation” (Ambassador Iftekhar Chowdury) and “the fundamental agent for sustainable social, economic and cultural development” (Doha Declaration). The central role of family capital in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals is emphasized in our recently published book Family Capital and the SDGs, which has been widely distributed to UN missions and has been a featured title in the UN library. The book is also available for online viewing and free download at http://www.familycapital17sdgs.org/.
To ignore the family or fail to provide it with the protection to which it is entitled is to endanger society itself. “It is no secret,” lamented Mexico’s Ana Teresa Aranda, “that the vulnerability suffered by our peoples—insecurity, crime, abuse, abandonment of the elderly, orphaned children and violence—causes enormous imbalances and obliges us to spend millions on institutional policies that in the end can do no more than manage those ills. If we go on like this, a time will come when all our tax resources will not suffice to counter the effects of vulnerability. If we wish to address the causes, we must look at the family.”
As this year’s Forum addresses the particular Sustainable Development Goals under consideration, and especially Goal 11 to “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable,” we urge delegates not to overlook the most decisive factor in their attainment: the protection and well-being of the family. We further urge delegates to beware of any proposal that masquerades under the banner of “rights” but would actually impede development and undermine society by failing to, as Professor Glendon warns, respect the rights of others, especially the rights of society’s “natural and fundamental group unit.”
Why the natural family is fundamental is evident in the indispensable roles of mothers and fathers. “Mothers play a critical role in the family,” declared Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, for “the mother-child relationship is vital for the healthy development of children…. We face multiple challenges in our changing world, but one factor remains constant: the timeless importance of mothers and their invaluable contribution to raising the next generation.” President Ronald Reagan stated, “Fathers play an indispensable role in forming vital, whole families. They serve as models and guides for their sons and daughters and help to pass on to the next generation the heritage of our civilization.” Working together in what our World Family Declaration (www.worldfamilydeclaration.org) calls that “universal community based on the marital union of a man and a woman,” fathers and mothers provide “the natural refuge for children,…the first and foremost school to teach the values necessary for the well-being of children and society,” and “the bedrock of society, the strength of our nations, and the hope of humanity.”