Step up campaign for equity in provision of public services

A shopper at a supermarket in Nyeri. The cost of living has sharply risen over the past months. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

In a stuffy matatu ride in Nairobi one hot January morning, Mueni can't believe the headline she reads over the shoulder of another passenger - 'Kenya Power seeks increase of electricity prices by up to 78pc'.

It's barely a month since electricity prices already went up by 15 per cent! Similar challenges sweep across the world, from South Africa to Europe, Nigeria and other Latin American countries, an energy crisis is at hand. Back in Kenya, Mueni is dismayed. She was already struggling to keep up with rent, her daughter's school fees, and the sharp increase in the cost of food.

The reality is that all these challenges are connected. The same narratives and practices that have damaged the energy sector have left healthcare, education, social protection care, water and other sectors unable to effectively cater to the needs of the public, especially the most marginalised and excluded. It's time activists working across different sectors and different regions came together to understand and confront the common enemies and forge a common agenda for justice.

In November 2022, the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, along with almost 50 partner organisations, movements and unions, co-organised a four-day conference in Santiago de Chile called 'Our Future is Public: From global inequalities to social, economic and climate justice'. The setting in this global south country was particularly important because of its ongoing constitutional struggle to topple neoliberalism following the social uprising in October 2019.

Through the gathering of social movements, trade unions and civil society organisations from all over the world, the conference sought to develop strategies and narratives to strengthen public services for the realisation of human rights. The main outcome of this conference is the Santiago Declaration, which demands universal access to quality, gender-transformative and equitable public services as the foundation of a fair and just global society.

In a world where increasing commercialisation of public services and the commodification of all aspects of life have driven growing inequalities and entrenched power disparities, the costs and damages are disproportionately suffered by service users, workers and communities.

This 'dangerous neglect' of public services is rooted in a mindset and approach that serves the interests of corporations over people, the richest minority over the global majority. Practices such as tax rules which unfairly favour corporations and the rich enable vast inequalities and the accumulation and concentration of income, wealth and power within and between countries. This shift in power also undermines democracy by reducing transparency and the opportunity for meaningful public participation and accountability.

Providing quality responses to people's needs - such as healthcare and education - requires the re-design of a public future; one where people's rights, and ecological and social well-being are prioritised. But also, one where there is economic and gender justice, meaning that the economic structures work in service of people and nature's wellbeing, thus undoing centuries of exploitation and transforming the power imbalances that perpetuate inequality and injustice.

The good news is that there are a lot of people planning and doing something. The Santiago Declaration only reflects part of the action of hundreds of people joining forces across sectors, regions and movements to formulate and propose a new global social contract.

It also portrays the bold collective national action that is being made possible through the shared experiences and connecting sectoral agendas such as healthcare, education, care, food and so many others into cross-cutting public solutions.

On our side, we are making a public future possible through the strengthening of public services as a means to achieve economic and gender justice.

While the Santiago Declaration remains open to signatures, will you join the movement?

Ms Mtsumi is The Global Initiative for Economic Social and Cultural Rights Programme Officer - Public Services and Representative for Africa. Ms Contreras is Operations and Latin America Lead for The Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights