Gearing up for the 2020 High-Level Political Forum with the Working Group on Girls

Written by Anna Farber; Image credit:

July in New York! Humidity, Shakespeare in the Park, and the High-Level Political Forum on the Sustainable Development Goals (HLPF) all typically characterize this time of year. But like many other things in 2020, initial plans have been scrapped to make way for the new reality of the COVID 19 pandemic. While the HLPF is usually a two-week-long in-person event, it has transitioned into an online format to address pandemic related concerns. UN officials and permanent representatives are still gathering in New York for the high level and ministerial segments of the HLPF, but civil society and all non-essential personnel have been invited to view the HLPF online instead. All side events and parallel events are also to be hosted online as webinars. 

This year’s HLPF was already supposed to be formatted differently than those of the last five years. HLPFs in the past have spotlighted specific SDGs on which countries reviewed their progress. This year provided the UN an opportunity to review the Voluntary National Review (VNR) process and focus on how best to track progress on the SDGs. In light of this year already being about strategically retooling the VNR process, the UN chose to pivot this year’s HLPF not only toward reviewing the process itself but also toward addressing the COVID 19 pandemic. The pandemic has halted progress toward the SDGs. The HLPF has pivoted toward addressing how to recover and grow in a post-COVID 19 world, with this year’s theme being “Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development. “

 For the past several years, Loretto at the UN has helped to lead a data collection and advocacy project with the Working Group on Girls (WGG) at the HLPF. We listen to the presentations states give on their Voluntary National Reviews, and noting how much they prioritize mentioning girls, outside of just “girls and women.” Then we go through the written reports, and see how much data they have collected about girls. We then follow how they have aggregated this data from the rest of their data about children and women. In doing this, we see how specifically they are tracking their progress on girls’ rights. 

This project’s goal would be to eventually create a long-term data tool to use during WGG’s mission advocacy efforts. Members of the WGG frequently visit UN Missions to discuss what different states are doing to promote girls’ rights. The WGG trains Girl Advocates to help in this work. Girl Advocates are young women from around the city and mission visits allow them the chance to practice public speaking and other advocacy skills. This tool would be helpful in showing UN Representatives, especially those who sit on the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), how much or how little they have prioritized girls’ rights since the advent of the SDGs. 

A small but dedicated group of volunteers from the WGG has historically helped gather data. This year, however, the COVID 19 pandemic has led to some new opportunities. The entire HLPF is taking place online. People whose physical access to the UN may have otherwise been limited can help join in the advocacy efforts. A coalition of students from Pace University, led by Professor Emily Bent, has joined in on the data collection project. Professor Bent represents Girls Learn and several other organizations to the WGG. She also sits on the WGG’s executive board. Loretto at the UN is very excited for her and her students to help take over data collection from the VNRs and live presentations.

We look forward to strategizing with the WGG how best to use the tool that we will create with this information! While the HLPF will look different this year, tracking progress on the SDGs is more critical now than ever, and Loretto at the UN is more than up to the challenge.