UNICEF Definitions and Programmatic Focus on ‘Approaches to Equity’

Poverty and Inequality

An abstract of UNICEF’s definition and programmatic focus on approaches to equity.

The pivotal 2010 report, Narrowing the Gaps to Meet the Goals, reminds the reader that UNICEF’s mission is to prioritize the most disadvantaged children and why and how a greater focus on equity will be adopted in UNICEF’s approach. While UNICEF is explicitly concerned with the rights of children as described in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Narrowing the Gap also offers evidence that reaching the most disadvantaged children is a cost-effective strategy for development overall and will make significantly greater advances toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Determinants & Manifestations

UNICEF identifies discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, religion and disabilities as well as geographical isolation, structural poverty, weak governance and the overlapping nature of these deprivations among those living in the most extreme income poverty. These deprivations manifest in barriers to crucial social services such as health and nutrition, education, housing, access to water and sanitation and information. All perpetuate intergenerational poverty. They also manifest in the increased chance of exploitation and child protection issues as well as in decreasing the chance of being registered at birth or surviving the first years of life.

Characteristics of UNICEF’s Equity Approach

For the most disadvantaged, these determinants commonly interact with one another. UNICEF strives to achieve a multidisciplinary intervention approach. In designing programs and policies UNICEF utilizes a methodology called “Monitoring Results for Equity System”. (MoRES). This tool monitors programs and policies to ensure that the equity approach of reaching the most marginalized children is evidence-based and therefore makes the expected impact. UNICEF stresses the importance of a holistic approach by separate social service providers and sectors to meet the multi-dimensional needs. These needs are to be defined and agreed upon based upon community demands, rather than from the service provider’s perspective. In UNICEF’s view, this entails holding service providers accountable and creating better access to information for the most disadvantaged communities and, specifically, for children. Policy interventions, too, should reflect a holistic, integrated approach to early childhood.

A greater analysis of the determinants of inequity will allow better targeting of equity programming that addresses the most substantial barriers faced by those living in extreme poverty. That way, interventions can be adapted to supply services according to the demand for them. According to UNICEF, “equitable budgetary allocations” and “adequate social expenditures” (Knowledge for Action 5) are important factors in achieving results for children. UNICEF’s studies show that a greater focus on the demand side of social services for the most marginalized will ameliorate the “bottleneck” seen in countries where the social determinants listed above inhibit access to service provision. This approach is “based on the notion that certain bottlenecks and barriers prevent children and women from benefitting from essential interventions and services” (Ibid 6). To this end, UNICEF names 10 additional, macro level determinants of inequity: legislation, policy, budget/expenditure, management/coordination, accountability, availability of essential commodities, access to adequately staffed services, facilities and information, financial access, social and cultural practices and beliefs, continuity of use and quality (Ibid). These manifest in barriers related to delivery systems, capacity constraints, public policy and budgets (Ibid).

Practically, UNICEF identifies the elimination of user fees for social programs, geographic targeting of the poorest and most isolated communities through outreach. In terms of service provision, UNICEF adopts a demand-based approach that may include cash transfers and other social assistance mechanisms addressing the unique barriers faced by the most marginalized. Two key programming goals are tailoring services to needs and working holistically.

Target Demographic

UNICEF is the premier international organization implementing an equity approach for children, which is aligned with their mission. Specifically, children in early childhood (especially girls), women, families, and communities are targeted for expanding social services, protection, and other self-identified needs (UNICEF and Equity 2). The Narrowing the Gaps report notes that “excluded populations within countries generally have a larger proportion of children than other groups owing to higher fertility rates” which amount to higher mortality rates and higher rates of death due to treatable and preventable diseases (Narrowing the Gaps 3).

Theory and why to implement this approach

While UNICEF has always aimed to reach the most disadvantaged children in the world, UNICEF argues that a more focused approach on those children who live in poverty and/or suffer from violence, exploitation or neglect is more important than ever because of growing inequality in the world. UNICEF emphasizes that the global financial and economic crises, coupled with rising food prices, has exacerbated the multi-faceted deprivations faced by the most disadvantaged and excluded children.

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