The poor performance of the government of North Sumatra in implementing the UN SDGs, particularly on climate action (goal 13) and peace, justice and strong institutions (goal 16), has confused the direction of SDGs 2030, which according to Indonesia’s national implementation road map, should be driven by local governments. The lack of participatory processes and transparency in the planning, implementation and evaluation of the SDGs by local government illustrates this problem; moreover, they make limited contributions to mainstreaming the discourse on these goals.
This picture emerges from data collected during in-depth interviews, in June 2021, with informants who are actively involved with churches and church-affiliated institutions in North Sumatra. This provided a different picture than the Indonesian government’s Voluntary National Review (VNR). Our Goal 13 data collection focused on climate action, natural disasters and developing an environmentally friendly economy. For Goal 16, we focused on violence, religious freedom, human rights of women, children and religious minorities, transparency in local governance, inclusive and participatory decision-making.
Based on the experiences of the churches, the local government does not appear to be taking any clear steps to mitigate natural disasters and climate change, nor to develop a civil society network for mitigation. Simultaneously, the North Sumatra region experienced floods and landslides due to deforestation and extreme weather conditions.
Local government performance appears to involve ad hoc participation in public seminars on disaster management or providing plant seeds to churches and affiliates. There has been no strategic collaboration with churches for disaster risk reduction. In Simalungun regency, the church’s diakonia department has received no response from the local government to requests for disaster response and infrastructure repairs. The local government has limited its role to one-time events such as distributing basic food aid during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing agricultural equipment and collaborating with religious celebrations such as Christmas and Easter.
A slightly different picture is at a Christian university located in Simalungun Regency, where collaboration with the local government takes the form of tree-planting activities in several locations, improving knowledge related to climate change among university students and starting the development of organic fertilizers on the campus area.
Goal 16 intersects with churches’ annual work plans, particularly regarding an increase in violence against vulnerable people, especially women and children, due to the social and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic . The situation is further complicated by a strongly patriarchal culture in a society where violence against women is generally resolved through family mechanisms or internal institutional policies (such as in schools and institutions linked to religion) so that it does not become a public issue that complicates matters. even more, and finally, the victim does not have access to justice. Other problems are also on the rise, such as the use of dangerous drugs and violence against children in shelters or in the informal sector in which they are employed.
In terms of the violence, the local government was seen by some activists from church-related institutions as not taking proactive steps to investigate and help victims, especially women and children, to seek justice. This stems from a lack of gender awareness among government and law enforcement officials. As a result, legal assistance to victims is often provided by non-governmental institutions, even if they have limited resources.
Additionally, some of the religious institution activists I spoke to believe that the local government has not taken proactive measures and that the local government is doing poorly in addressing the illegal use of dangerous drugs by young people (such as morphine, heroin and other comparable drugs). As a result, according to the observation of some activists from church-related institutions, the use of these types of drugs continues to spread among young people. Non-governmental institutions, especially churches and their affiliated institutions, in fact play the role of responding to this challenge through their annual interfaith and educational activities.
According to the Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) monitoring report on the enforcement performance of corruption cases in 2020, there is a downward trend in the fight against corruption from 2015 to 2020. This downward trend the decline is consistent with data collected in North Sumatra which reveals the weakness of local governments. role in civil society engagement in monitoring government budget management and poor performance in mainstreaming anti-corruption issues.
In addition, weak civil society participation has led to poor implementation of a bottom-up approach to annual deliberative forums designed to factor local aspirations into the annual development plan. These forums are seen solely as a way for local government to gain legitimacy, rather than inclusive decision-making.
The role of local government is more positive in the area of health and education services, but some challenges need to be addressed, such as access to health and education for the poor, children with disabilities and those living with HIV/AIDS. There is a lack of strategic effort in this regard. The distribution of basic aid to those in need has not been well managed during the COVID-19 pandemic, with more aid reaching those with ties to government officials.
On the other hand, the data reveals the role of churches and related institutions in initiating responses that fill the gaps left by the lack of strategic initiatives by local governments. Churches and their affiliated institutions have been active in the development of an environmentally friendly economy and in the development of disaster response units or programs at the church department and congregational level . However, some obstacles have hampered these efforts, such as a mindset that still views natural disasters as mere natural events that complicate the formation of disaster response units, as well as poor network performance. ecumenism in facilitating disaster response units and SDG-related programs at the national level. the local level. [related_article]
Successful actions by churches have included tree planting and distribution at church events such as weddings, baptisms and catechisms, which also help to raise awareness for environmental conservation.
Several churches in North Sumatra have gone even further, recycling waste and combining climate mitigation with economic development by developing organic fertilizers and pesticides to support organic farming, making natural dyes for clothing, by strengthening farmers to develop food security during the pandemic and by using waste materials to make fabric products supported by the product marketing system.
Additionally, churches use education to sensitize members of congregations and institutions on natural disaster mitigation, adaptation and climate change. This effort is taken by some churches through a process of education in Sunday schools, catechisms and sermons. Some churches organize campaigns and seminars on environmental issues, as well as campaigns against the use of pesticides in agriculture.
In peace, justice and strong institutions, churches and their affiliated institutions have been involved in providing counseling and legal aid to victims of violence. Some churches combine this aid with the economic empowerment of women, offering training programs to develop skills in textile production, such as the production of natural dyes for clothing.
Activities have also been carried out to raise awareness about the protection of women and children, such as seminars and the publication and distribution of documents such as the Code of Conduct on combating violence against women and children. , the Gender Justice Policy and the Convention. on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), as well as paralegal training. However, problems of financial support, weak support from the local ecumenical network and socio-cultural barriers make it difficult to provide effective legal advice and assistance. In addition, cultural barriers frequently impede victim assistance, preventing the victim from obtaining justice.
Some recommendations should be considered at this stage, first of all, the need for proactive measures taken by government, at national and local levels, to build strategic partnerships with faith-based organizations, such as churches and various church-related institutions, to support the acceleration of implementation of the 2030 SDGs, as well as to increase gender awareness among government officials and religious institutions. This effort will reinforce the inclusive and participatory nature of the 2030 SDGs and keep alive the spirit of “no one will be left behind”. SecondlyThe government must also take a proactive role in implementing agricultural technologies that could provide food for many people by using more efficient land and reducing land use. Thirdly, the poor ecumenical structure at the local level needs to be addressed to support SDG-related initiatives at the local level. According to the data, many local initiatives related to the SDGs are carried out by churches and their related institutions without connection and assistance from the ecumenical structure at the local level.