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Equity, SDG indicators and systems thinking

In this blog I would like to use parts of the  Rajagopalan’s (2015) Immersive Systemic  Knowing framework. He distinguishes between four ways of knowing:  being, cognition, doing and learning. Being refers to ways of living, existing and relating with others and environment which is shaped by culture and history.  Cognition is the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses. Doing refers to activities in which one engages.  Learning refers to not only knowledge, but also attitudes and skills through doing, study, experiences

Figure 1: Ways of Knowing


Cognition                                                                                                       Learning




Source: Rajagopalan, 2015


What are the implications of this framework for developing indicators related to gender and equity?

 A first lesson is that there can be progress towards 17 SDG and 169 targets only when changes take place in all these four ways of ‘knowing’.

For example, one of the SDG Goal 1 target (1.1)  is “By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day”.  A ‘being’ indicator is “50% of population 18-60 years believe that poverty is not due to poor people’s ‘karma’ (results of deeds done in previous birth) but their lack of access to resources or unequal access to resources.   As long as government officials and well to do people believe due to their culture that poverty is due to “karma” it is difficult to achieve to reduce poverty.

An example  on the need for attention to ‘cognition’ path to knowledge  is illustrated with  Target 5.2 namely “eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation”.  An cognitive indicator could be that 100% of adolescent girls and women should be  aware of important legislation on violence against women and girls  and where to get justice.  An indicator in the ‘learning’ aspect is that 100% of police officials and 50% of women and adolescent girls have developed skills in filing firsthand information reports related to violence against women.  An indicator in the ‘doing’ sphere is  that “100% of verdicts given are progressive towards women” and “100% of verdicts are implemented”.   Thus the ambitious target set in SDG requires ambitious targets in each of these knowledge spheres: being[1], cognition, learning and action

While changes  are required in all four domains of knowing, where maximum change is required is with regard to ‘being’.  The positive aspects of being in each culture have to be preserved.  At the same time negative aspects have to transformed.  For example, an indicator that all government record and  preserve indigenous knowledge systems by 2030 could be included.  An indicator on whether financial compensation to women who are looking after elderly are in place could be considered (a cultural practice in parts of South Asia) .

 On the other hand indicators on whether negative aspects are changing are essential –in particular

  • Indicator on proportion of people18-49 years who believe that their nationality, gender, race, caste,  religion is superior on inferior to others
  • Indicator on proportion of people 18-49 years who feel there should be limit to acres of land  and cars, and houses owned by a household; or a proportion between salary of top executive and that of a wage labourer
  •  Indicator on proportion of people 18-49 years who feel that people of different castes, classes,  religion and gender identity should live in the same street and colony (rural and urban) and mix together
  • Indicator on the ratio of percapita land and common property resources (weighted by quality)  owned by a country vis a vis the least

There is a political shift required to identify indicators in four kinds of knowledge to attain SDG targets. The neoliberal paradigm and inequalities between and within countries (on the basis of race, caste, gender, religion, abilities, sexual orientation etc) have to be challenged.   



Rajagopal, Raghav, 2015, Immersive Systemic Knowing: Rational Analysis and Beyond, Draft Thesis submitted for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Systems Sciences Centre for Systems Studies, Hull University Business School, United Kingdom

[1]   For the 5.2 target to be met it is necessary (not enough) that  100% of women and men, police and judiciary do not believe that spouses/intimate partners have a right to hit them if they are not happy with their actions.  


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