UN CARD verticalSisters of St. Joseph and their associates around the world are actively engaged in a myriad of ministries that are making a difference in the lives of the individuals and groups with whom we journey. As we immerse ourselves in these relationships, the presence of the Congregations of  St. Joseph at the United Nations can seem distant and disconnected. But nothing could be further from the truth. Here are three central ways in which our interactions with the UN can have a significant impact in our lives and in the lives of the people and ecosystems with which we live:

First, our presence at the UN helps us to be attentive and responsive to the ways that human rights are challenging our countries to create change for the sake of justice. For example, in a statement about human trafficking by the Congregations of St. Joseph, we challenged ourselves as well as our governments and communities by insisting that it is not enough to focus narrowly on prosecuting criminals and assisting people who have been in situations of trafficking.  We quoted from the Global Plan of Action of General Assembly Session 64 which states that a human rights framework puts a strong emphasis on “ensuring the promotion and prevention of trafficking in persons through addressing social, economic, cultural, political and other contributing factors.” (Submission to UN on Human Trafficking by the Congregations of St. Joseph)

This wider human rights lens urges us to address the root causes of human trafficking rather than being content with responding after tragedies have occurred. It exposes how we, collectively, as nation-states and local communities, contribute to the scourge of human trafficking through structured relationships that create social and economic exclusion, and thereby create vulnerabilities to being trafficked. It reveals the need for collective social change if human trafficking is to be eliminated and challenges us individually to be attentive and responsive when we see people who may be experiencing social or economic exclusion.

Second, through our presence at the UN, we work, along with many other Civil Society groups, to bring the experiences of ordinary people and incredibly diverse eco-systems to the attention of the United Nations (along with our critical reflection on these experiences). These efforts can help to make this global body, as well as the government of our nation-states, more responsive to the issues that are affecting the people and eco-systems with which we live and work.

When some of us attended the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women, we went with stories that were sent in from our Sisters and Associates around the world. These stories showed how women in our local areas were making a difference – sometimes to the land and water in their area, and other times to the lives of the families, neighbours and wider community members.

Sr. Sue WilsonWe heard many examples of the links between skill-development, personal esteem and community building. We saw the strength that comes from solidarity and social inclusion as caring neighbours

reached out to help each other. And we saw the incredible resilience of women who have experienced

multiple social, environmental and economic barriers as they worked with others to create pathways to greater inclusion and participation.

Many of these barriers make it difficult for people to access the basic resources and opportunities that the rest of us take for granted. In this way, the stories point to gaps in the systems and reveal the need to transform culture, society, economy and politics through awareness-raising, changes in social and economic structures, and changes in public policy. Stories that are, on one level, personal, relational and local, become the conduit to high level reflection that can lead to systemic change.

And we have chosen to focus on women because women (and girls) are often impacted differently than men (and boys). A gender analysis highlights these differences so that the particular barriers that women face are no longer routinely ignored.

The Congregations of St. Joseph participate at the United Nations as a Non-governmental organization (NGO) with a truly global reach. However, we are only as effective as the input that we share with each other. Our submission on migration was able to contribute to an important global dialogue because our sisters, associates and co-workers offered their diverse experiences, creating a kaleidoscope of insights that could be pulled together to identify significant global patterns.

For example, we collectively noted that:

“Among countries that have signed onto the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, many governments are applying only a minimalist interpretation of refugee rights and their governmental obligations to protect these rights. This results in severely restricted or non-existent access to basic goods and services such as health care, housing and social protection programs. Even more problematic, are the extremely high levels of refugee insecurity in countries that do not even have laws of asylum for those experiencing persecution.”

We also identified widespread problems with regard to bias against migrants and we signaled positive responses to this bias, noting the contributions migrants make to the receiving countries.

Likewise, we were able to contribute to the global dialogue on the Sustainable Development Goals by framing it as an ethical issue in our Rio + 20 Statement and we also contributed concrete suggestions for systemic change.

Third, the presence of NGOs at the UN empowers us to work together globally to advance a justice-based agenda while also being attentive to the unique circumstances in our respective countries. When nation-states sign onto an international agreement at the UN, that’s just a first step. Governments must then take steps to implement the agreement. And the citizens of each nation must keep this obligation before the eyes of both the government and the public. 

Consider the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This framework of 17 goals and 169 targets works toward sustainable development with a focus on the interplay of the social, economic and environmental dimensions. While United Nations (UN) Member States have committed to making these goals a reality over the next 15 years, it’s not possible to have a “one size fits all” approach to implementing the SDGs at a national level because every country has a unique context with systems that function differently. It’s critical that governments and civil society groups take on the goals and targets, determining how they should be concretized in their context.(See the goals click here )

What should SDG indicators look like in your country?

Start by looking at the goals. For instance, Goal 3 states: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. 

One of the targets for this goal is: Target: 3.8 Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.

An Indicator for the target is 3.8.1: Coverage of essential health services

One way to implement this goal, target and indicator would be the development of a national pharma-care program to provide universal access to basic needed drugs. This is the kind of government action that can make a huge difference in the lives of the people with whom we live and work.

If you are interested in contributing to our global efforts to implement the SDGs, consider the following: Which SDGs seem most important to the your context? What would look different in your country if these goals were fully implemented? Please send your ideas to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..