From the Individual to Systemic Harmony Ushering Change - A Path Towards SDG 16
Author : Ann Mary Biju
Peace, justice, strong institutions, social inclusion……… the list of terms individually have seemingly simple and understandable meanings or definitions. However, when put together and embedded within varied contexts as the sustainable development goal 16, each term is loaded with the nuances of the contexts it addresses, lives associated and systems within which the lives and hence the goal exists. The mechanism of law and the judicial system along with the law enforcement agencies is what immediately seems to be incharge of maintaining law and order, justice and hence instil peace. However, does every individual in their personal, seemingly miniscule capacities play a role in instilling peace and justice? The legitimate process towards building greater peace, justice and accountable institutions could be compared to a cycle tyre, with each spoke representing alternatively the individual task to instil peace followed by the spoke representing systemic change. The motion initiated by both the individual and systemic spokes shall carefully move the bike forward, the rider being our intricate legal system.
Let’s examine the aforesaid through the lens of inequality within differential contextual settings and the role of individual and systemic responses in ensuring justice and strong institutions. What does peace and justice mean in societies embedded with systemic inequalities? What do they mean in a nation that has been affected by warfare for decades? What is peace in a nation with a supposedly dual nature, a super power which strives on the labour of refugees and citizens from nations around the world? Clearly, the world is home to many different contexts and hence societies that are built around these varying narratives. In such a scenario, the definition of a peaceful and just society which is inclusive should be a vision that acknowledges the existence of such differential contexts. This also means that there is the need for multiple points of views from multiple stakeholders around the world, standing true to being truly “inclusive”.
Now specifically coming to India, the nation is a true melting pot of cultures and the diversity of the country which is known globally needs no introduction. On the other hand, inequality and the discrimination emanating from the same is also an alarming fact. It infact points to the need to understand distinguished societies and cultures, consider them as evolving bodies rather than static and outdated and strive towards finding how the principles of justice prescribed from a contemporary perspective could be bridged along with the same. More importantly, it is worth contemplating if principles of peace and justice require a universal meaning and expected outcome. It is true that there are universal values that the human kind needs to uphold such as non-violence, global peace, compassion towards all forms of life, ensuring justice for all irrespective of class, race or differences in gender and so on. However, the manner in which peace and justice gets served needs a scrutiny at the societal level. It means that a deeper understanding of inequalities should translate into achieving peace through justice. This involves a process of self reflection at the individual level which should elevate into the reflection of a whole community, striving to ensure justice for all.
Additionally, it is imperative to view and understand SDG 16 along with the other sustainable development goals, especially SDG 17 which is to work towards reducing inequalities around the world which in turn needs the progress made in all the other goals. India has fallen further down in the inequality index by standing at position 129 out of 158 countries in 2020 (Arora, 2020). In a country where systemic inequality has several sanctions from religion, caste, prescribed gender roles and related stereotyping, it is important to address the question of justice and peace separately for each of these sections, especially for the marginalised sections who live around the fringes of our political, cultural and economic systems.
The United Nations recognises international days dedicated to a range of disadvantaged communities across the world. Let us consider the approaching international days in December - the world AIDS day, international day for the abolition of slavery and international day for disabled persons. Each cohort which the days seek to address has a varied challenge that they face. It could be broadly placed under health, human rights and a combination of the two respectively. What is common to each cohort is the discrimination faced by these communities based on the real life challenges they go through. In such a scenario, ensuring justice and hence guaranteeing peaceful existence and inclusion for various communities would be possible only with an in-depth understanding of their lives and the issues they face, what according to them would constitute a meaningful life embedded in peace and what the societal machinery and institutions could cater to in order to ensure their needs. The same thought process shall be extended to any of the disadvantaged communities and the principles of justice and peace be instilled in a fruitful and personalised manner.
Building strong and justiciable institutions take root from the bottom of the societal pyramid, with each citizen playing a critical role in forming the nature of the institutions such as the Panchayati raj that they are part of. This would mean that individuals need to be aware of their own communities, the challenges they face and create personal visions to garner peace and justice. The role of systemic change also stands at par with the individual call to action. Systemic inequality and its after effects need to be synchronised with the individual process, the judicial system and changemaking agents of the society functioning as forerunners for the same. This would lead to a collective that addresses inequality and hence peace and justice, creating an inclusive society. So let us be the spokes in the bicycle tyre and garner peace, the path lies ahead and the direction is always forward!
 Hub, IISD's SDG Knowledge. "No Accidental Outcomes": SDG 16 Review Shows Need for Policy: News: SDG Knowledge Hub. 2019,
 Arora, Posted by Sumit. India Ranks 129 in CRI Index Released by Oxfam, 13 Oct. 2020, currentaffairs.adda247.com/india-ranks-129-in-cri-index-released-by-oxfam/.
 “Goal 16: Promote Peaceful and Inclusive Societies for Sustainable Development, Provide Access to Justice for All and Build Effective, Accountable and Inclusive Institutions at All Levels - SDG Indicators.” United Nations, United Nations, 2020, unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2017/goal-16/.
 Wesley, Hannah, et al. “No Health without Peace: Why SDG 16 Is Essential for ...” Thelancet.com, 12 Nov. 2016,
 “16 Promote Peaceful and Inclusive Societies for Sustainable Development, Provide Access to Justice for All and Build Effective, Accountable and Inclusive Institutions at All Levels.” Council of Europe Contribution to the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals, www.coe.int/en/web/un-agenda-2030/goal-16.