Post-2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Definitions and Focus on ‘Approaches to Equity’

Poverty and Inequality

An abstract of the post-2015 MDGs definition and programmatic focus on approaches to equity.

Three key documents published between 2010 and 2012 (see below) provide insights on the current debate on how to include measures of equity into the Post-2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The objective of this abstract is to distil and synthesize key concepts related to equality and equity that inform the debate for a more equitable world.

The Post-2015 Millennium Development Goals agenda stresses the need to focus on the outcomes for the poor and most marginalized. This means that not only the provision of social services should be of concern, but also more relevant would be to measure effective and observable improvements for the most disenfranchised. All the documents consulted discuss equity in terms of equality of outcomes for the different population groups regardless their socioeconomic status, gender, ethnicity or other factors that determine disparities and discrimination.

Determinants of inequality

All three reports look at poverty in terms of monetary poverty based on income (vertical deprivations) and at long lasting inequalities that exist in social and cultural spheres, based on gender, ethnicity, religion and others (horizontal deprivations). These vertical and horizontal deprivations can exist simultaneously, thus overlapping and reinforcing each other. They determine unfair inequalities among particular population groups—especially among children, women and the elderly of certain race, ethnicity, religion, language, gender and location.

Remote places that are far from services and urban slums, which suffer spatial deprivations, like lack of access to clean water and sanitation, can also be crucial factors that determine deprivations. This lack of access to natural resources and disproportionate vulnerability to natural disasters add to the multifaceted deprivations faced by the most poverty-ridden. Discrimination and long lasting horizontal inequalities also tend to reinforce poverty and maintain the vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty.

Manifestations of inequality

The aforementioned determinants defined as horizontal deprivations (such as race, ethnicity, caste, religion, language, gender, location and vulnerability to environmental phenomena) frequently manifest themselves in low self-esteem, crime and addiction among particular population groups. Often they inhibit the use of social services that are key to alleviating political, social, and economic exclusion.

Characteristics of the Post-2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Equity Approach

The Post-2015 MDGs discussion envisions a holistic approach that would address overlapping deprivations. The services offered should be based on the self-identified needs of groups living in extreme poverty. This would ensure services are relevant to the given community or group. Improving outreach, quality of social services, and using expenditures towards social protection for the most marginalized groups are also viewed as worthy investments in the Post-2015 MDGs discussion. Redistributive fiscal policies such as progressive taxation, coupled with legislation against discrimination (especially with respect to land reform) are a starting point to address cultural and social discriminatory practices. Holding those in power accountable is another area of consensus among the discussants. In terms of measuring development, data should be disaggregated to go beyond income poverty and include horizontal inequalities as well. This equity approach embodies human rights, reflecting universality and non-discrimination.

Target Demographic

The equity focus of the MDGs Post-2015 agenda seeks to identify populations that are the most disadvantaged and that suffer from the impact of multiple, converging deprivations. The Post-2015 MDGs discussion acknowledges the structural drivers and barriers of development that affect women and girls in particular through gender-based discrimination. Children and adolescents, people with disabilities and ethnic minorities are of particular importance due to the increased possibilities they face to experience severe deprivation. Emphasis is given to early childhood development interventions, which focus explicitly on families affected by low income and deprivations because bettering their welfare improves equality and promotes future prosperity.

Theory & Justification for the Equity Approach

Naila Kabeer, Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), holds that the most marginalized do not benefit from development progress at the same rates as other populations and that, “the persistence of intersecting inequalities undermines progress […]” (Kabeer 6). Further, the Global Thematic Consultation names equality “as a fundamental value in the Millennium Declaration” and that “inequalities harm us all” (Global Thematic Consultation 7). Besides observing a human rights framework of universality and non-discrimination, an equity approach is beneficial for growth and promotes the capabilities and contributions of marginalized groups.


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