How SDG Target 3.a in Parties’ Voluntary National Reviews can be Strengthened by Civil Society

30 Jul 2021

How SDG Target 3.a in Parties’ Voluntary National Reviews can be Strengthened by Civil Society

Written by Ella Schultz

The WHO FCTC Convention Secretariat officially launched the “Guide for WHO FCTC Parties on Including SDG Target 3.a in Voluntary National Reviews” on June 21, 2021. The Framework Convention Alliance joined panelists from Jamaica, Panama, and the WHO FCTC Knowledge Hub on Surveillance to discuss how different tobacco control stakesholders can contribute to reporting on SDG Target 3.a in Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), which are reports that countries create to assess their progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As Leticia Martinez Lopez of the Convention Secretariat explained, the aim of this guide is to support Parties by offering a reference that describes how to report on SDG Target 3.a in VNRs. However, according to the Head of the Convention Secretariat Dr. Adriana Blanco Marquiso, the voluntary nature of VNRs makes it so that the inclusion of Target 3.a in any report is not guaranteed. Therefore, additional steps must be taken to encourage Parties to report on this target.

From the perspective of those in civil society, VNRs are important because they offer an opportunity for us to raise the profile of the WHO FCTC and to engage directly with assessing progress towards the SDGs. Civil society has an important role to play in holding governments accountable through collecting data and tracking the progress that is being made. FCA members looking to get involved can consult the “Guide for WHO FCTC Parties on Including SDG Target 3.a in Voluntary National Reviews” to learn more about the VNR process.

Although the specific details of the VNR process will look different in every country, one similarity is that civil society can play several critical roles in this process. Three key roles include offering direct support to focal points, raising awareness of Target 3.a in the VNR process, and providing a wide range of perspectives on progress.

Civil society can offer direct support in the VNR process through collecting data on successful tobacco control programs and policy implementation. For example, Dr. Reina Roa from Panama talked about how civil society organizations can support VNRs by collecting data on policy implementation and documenting the successes and limitations of each policy. Additionally, civil society can collect data on successful programs that exist outside of the government, which gives a deeper understanding about what successful practices can look like.

Civil society also has the ability to raise awareness of the importance of including Target 3.a in Parties’ VNRs. As FCA’s Dr. Sara Rose Taylor described during the panel discussion, linking tobacco control to other SDGs raises awareness of this issue and increases understanding of how all of the SDGs are interconnected. Civil society can engage in a country’s multi-stakeholder VNR consultation process, which creates more opportunities to raise awareness about these connections and to build relationships with stakeholders working on complementary issue areas. Civil society’s role in raising awareness is crucial seeing as a lack of information or awareness is one reason why Target 3.a has not been consistently included in past VNRs.

A third key role, discussed throughout the launch webinar, is that civil society can bring in multiple perspectives on progress. For example, Hanna Ollila from the WHO FCTC Knowledge Hub on Surveillance stressed the importance of contacting stakeholders from diverse sectors, including public health institutes, academic institutions, and civil society organizations in order to increase support for including Target 3.a in Parties’ VNRs. Similarly, Sheryl Dennis-Wright highlighted the value of Jamaica’s prioritization of WHO FCTC implementation through multi-stakeholder cooperation. Bringing in multiple perspectives is valuable because it creates an interconnected process across several spheres in addition to creating a multifaceted picture of progress, which strengthens the VNR.

The “Guide for WHO FCTC Parties on Including SDG Target 3.a in Voluntary National Reviews” will help Parties in reporting on their successes and challenges in WHO FCTC implementation, and includes recommendations for all stakeholders in this process including civil society. FCA will continue to support our members and to increase engagement in this process, helping more Parties report on SDG Target 3.a in their VNRs.

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