A Great Step Forward but Let’s Be More Daring: Equity for Children’s Comments on the High Level Panel for the Post-2015 Development Agenda

Poverty and Inequality, Public Policy and Financing

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On May 30, the High Level Panel (HLP) on the Post-2015 Development Agenda presented its report entitled “A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development”. The report proposes the new outline for a universal agenda to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030. The report’s emphases on children, youth and women and on inequalities are positive and promising. The Panel was established by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and co-chaired by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron.

At the same time, Equity for Children proposes considering more innovative strategies and concrete targets to tackle the world’s growing inequalities. In the report, children, youth and women appear high on the agenda, a primary cause for celebrating the findings and recommendations. The five ‘transformative shifts’ that drive the ‘universal agenda’ as proposed by the HLP are relevant and promising. We particularly commend the Panel’s call to “leave no one behind” – a call that addresses for the first time the issue of inequalities and how people are marginalized on the basis of ethnicity, gender, geography, disability, age, race and/or other status.

The ‘transmormative shifts’ are a fundamental change from the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Inequality is mentioned explicitly in the HLP report section ‘Illustrative Goals’ as a cross cutting issue: “We believe that many targets should be monitored using data broken down by income quintiles and other groups. Targets will only be considered achieved if they are met for all relevant income and social groups” (HLP report pg.16). Congratulations to those who included this paragraph in the HLP’s report! Let us work to propel this idea forward by adding concrete targets and indicators.

The report’s ‘Illustrative Goals and Targets’ Goal #2 is an important one : ‘Empower girls and women and achieve gender quality’ when combined with the following targets: a) Prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against girls and women; and b) End child marriage. The explicit mention of girls will increase the visibility of adolescent girls and move the equality agenda forward (see Adolescent Girls: Cornerstone of Society, 2012).

Other positive aspects of the report include treating urban settings as a cross cutting issue, since most people living in poverty live in cities, and the call for a “data revolution for sustainable development’’, which will reinforce and improve evidence-based policies and programs.

But there are report shortfalls, too. Despite all its positive elements and the windows of opportunity that the report opens, a more concrete agenda is needed. Equity-oriented goals must be introduced, each with targets and indicators. Equity for Children first noted these needs in 2003 with “Mind the Gap”, a research article published in the Journal of Human Development.

Reaching consensus among all stakeholders can sometimes result in proposals that are homogenized, vague and weak. Agreement by all runs the risk of deemphasizing differences and losing a clear set of priorities. Equity for Children had hoped for an agenda that goes far beyond the present MDGs, an agenda that fosters thinking ‘out of the box’ instead of “more of the same”.

The report lacks a reference to equality and equity in the main corpus, particularly regarding opportunities and outputs. This is a major obstacle for organizations such as Equity for Children that are working for social justice and human rights realization for all children and adolescents. Equality in human rights, and social and economic equity, are indispensable components of any democratic and inclusive society’s policies. Sustainable growth requires it. Only by reducing social and economic inequities can we ensure that new generations have creative, productive lives that will break the vicious cycle of poverty. Including equity in the definition of goals, targets and indicators calls for action from all of us. Goal 8 of the report, “Create jobs, sustainable livelihoods, and equitable growth” also introduces the notion of equity as a goal. But it is equally important to add targets and monitoring indicators there and for all other goals as well.

The multidimensionality of poverty is another serious issue that affects children living in poverty and that is missing from the report. The report considers only eradicating extreme poverty as measured by income, which is based on a money-metric concept. To measure extreme poverty, the report uses the much criticized 1.25u$s a day measure, which understates the problem for children and women. Our research provides strong evidence that this measure underestimates multidimensional child poverty and biases. It misleads policies that are oriented toward reducing child poverty. We recommend using metrics beyond income such as the multiple deprivation methods and others that combine with income and consumption measures (ECLAC-UNICEF, Gordon et al., Minujin et al.)

The report’s main theme is ‘sustainable economic growth with eradication of extreme poverty’. But explicit, groundbreaking structural reforms to help ensure the reduction of growing inequalities around the world or the extreme concentration of wealth and power in a small group of individuals and corporations are missing. In this regard, Equity for Children advocates promoting strong institutional reforms that ensure equitable development. Targets and indicators help strengthen that process.

Equity for Children recognizes that the report opens key windows of opportunity and is very promising. Its call for collective action motivates all of us to work toward a world with social justice and equality.

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