Measuring What We Treasure and Treasuring What We Measure: Post-2015 Monitoring for the Promotion of Equality in the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Sector

57 Pages Posted: 23 Sep 2014 Last revised: 25 Sep 2014

See all articles by Inga Winkler

Inga Winkler

NYU School of Law

Margaret L. Satterthwaite

New York University School of Law

Catarina de Albuquerque

Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR)

Date Written: September 18, 2014


The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) harnessed the power of numbers to focus the world’s attention on some of the most pressing development challenges. Numbers are perceived to be professional, rational, credible and neutral. The MDGs embody both the promise and the peril of development approaches that view measurable outcomes as the most certain path to progress for all. They focus on quantifiable progress in access to basic social services and goods, using only well-known indicators, metrics and established data sets for monitoring. Further, they focus on aggregate progress, failing — except in relation to a specific gender equality goal — to capture the dimension of equality and non-discrimination. However, recent decades have shown that overall progress often does not reach those who experience discrimination and marginalization in addition to poverty. The failure to address inequalities may be most significant blind-spot of the MDGs. This Article suggests that unless action is taken to deliberately address the discrimination that particular groups face, the post-2015 goals will likely fail to address the underlying truth behind the numbers: MDG indicators are consistently worse for groups facing discrimination.

This Article sets out how progress must be redefined beyond aggregate outcomes and toward the achievement of substantive equality using water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) as a case study. The Article uses a process in the WASH sector — the deliberations and outcomes of the “Working Group on Equity and Non-Discrimination” convened by the Joint Monitoring Programme of WHO and UNICEF — to demonstrate how the integration of equality can be achieved. The case study also demonstrates that the use of human rights principles to animate and fine-tune development monitoring frameworks results in a synergy between rights and development that does not displace the particularities of either. Measuring development progress will never replace human rights monitoring, since human rights progress entails a wide variety of obligations and duties that are not captured by development goals and cannot be assessed solely using development indicators, no matter how rights-sensitive they are.

Following the introduction, the Article addresses both the importance of global monitoring of inequalities in development progress and some pitfalls inherent to setting global goals and measuring progress (Section II), before introducing the relevant human rights framework (Section III). The Article proceeds to discuss how non-discrimination and equality can be integrated into future goals, targets and indicators (Section IV) and discusses concrete suggestions for monitoring in the WASH sector, including a proposal for a metric that could be used to monitor progress in eliminating inequalities (Section V). It concludes by demonstrating the advantages of redefining development progress in a way that puts the elimination of inequalities at its core and measuring progress towards this, combined with a word of caution about only valuing what we can measure.

Suggested Citation

Winkler, Inga and Satterthwaite, Margaret L. and de Albuquerque, Catarina, Measuring What We Treasure and Treasuring What We Measure: Post-2015 Monitoring for the Promotion of Equality in the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Sector (September 18, 2014). Wisconsin International Law Journal, Forthcoming, NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 14-48, Available at SSRN:

Inga Winkler

NYU School of Law ( email )

Bobst Library, E-resource Acquisitions
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Margaret L. Satterthwaite (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

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United States

Catarina De Albuquerque

Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR)

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Geneva, 1201

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