“Addressing Inequalities in the SDGs”, a UN Working Group

Poverty and Inequality

On February 4th, EFC Director Alberto Minujin and EFC Research Assistant Lauren Santorso attended a panel discussion at the United Nations on “Addressing inequalities in the SDGs: A human rights imperative for effective poverty eradication”. The panel discussion was part of an Open Working Group, Addressing Inequalities Networked Alliance (AINA), on inequalities and social equity in the post-2015 development agenda. The panel discussion was part of a broader week-long consultation taking place at the UN. Among the panel members were representatives of the co-sponsors of the event; Martti Ahtisaari, former President of Finland and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, Permanent Representative of Brazil to the United Nations. In addition, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and New School Professor of International Affairs, Sakiko Fukuda-Parr sat on the panel.

The distinguished panelists emphasized many of the components of equity that are being addressed in our Approaches to Equity research, further evincing EFC’s recent focus on the “equity approach” and its rise to becoming a dominant paradigm in international development. At its core, the panel advocated for the post-2015 agenda to take human rights as a premise for which to base economics and social policy.

Why we must address inequalities

“Egalitarian societies are the only kind we can afford to have.”

President Ahtisaari emphasized the concept of egalitarian economic models and the role of inequalities in conflict situations. Citing Oxfam’s latest report (http://equityforchildren.org/working-for-the-few-political-capture-and-economic-inequality/), the Finnish president highlighted that while extreme poverty has been on the decline, injustice and inequality are rising throughout the world. From an economic standpoint, Ahtisaari advocates the creation of “responsible egalitarian” markets following Finland’s practice of economic investment on an equitable basis. The nobel prize laureate cited this “Nordic model” as a universal model influenced by Amartya Sen’s functional capabilities. Ahtisaari’s comments reiterate the concerns the INGOs Equity for Children examined, suggesting tax reform and land access, ultimately affirming the view that decreasing inequalities ultimately benefit economies as whole, in addition to protecting rights.

Policy approaches that can be taken to address inequalities

“Social protection policy has been transformative.”

Ambassador Patriota described several social protection programs implemented by Brazil’s government that he claims have led to decreased inequalities in the country. Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programs like Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, cited in the majority of Phase 1 of our Approaches to Equity research, are a way to direct special attention to particularly disadvantaged groups. The ambassador mentioned groups such as women, the elderly, and people with special needs as target demographics for the country’s various CCT programs. These groups reflect EFC’s Phase 1 finding that by and large international development organizations seek to remediate exclusion based on characteristics determined at birth, such as gender, location, disability, ethnic status, etc., which, when discriminated against on those grounds are considered to be horizontal inequalities. Horizontal inequalities were found to be determinants of inequity in EFC’s Approaches to Equity research. Bolsa Familia aims to address both deprivations in the moment by providing a cash benefit and also to halt the transmission of poverty from one generation to the next by motivating marginalized groups to change behaviors which perpetuate the cycle of poverty. To remediate inequalities, Ambassador Patriota believes social policy and macroeconomic policy go hand in hand.

Discrimination and Inequalities

“We need a broader sense of equity.”

UNHCR, Navi Pillay highlighted the overlapping forms of discrimination that are often beset on the most marginalized groups of people. Pillay explained that horizontal inequalities, the problem is that the  distribution of resources can not focus on statistical averages and aggregates, but must also  “pay attention to who wins and who loses”. In Pillay’s view the conflict and unrest throughout the world is a strong indication that societies with greater inequalities tend to experience greater discrimination. To address these issues, Pillay advocated for a focus on more equal opportunities through cross-cutting analysis on all goals. She called for data to be disaggregated  at a minimum by categories relating to horizontal inequalities. Across the board, the INGOs included in EFC’s Approaches to Equity agree in the need for disaggregated data and special attention to be paid to those suffering from overlapping deprivations.

Beyond the State, A Global Effort

“Civil society has an important role to play.”

Professor Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Professor of International Affairs at The New School spoke of international cooperation as a necessary factor for addressing inequalities. She argued that inequality between countries has a part in driving inequalities within countries, citing matters such as stable food pricing, energy, and disease as central to eradicating poverty and promoting economic and social human rights. On the topic of global governance Fukuda-Parr said “Some MDGs are poor cousins” because what benefits some groups may harm others. Investment in natural resource exploitation, she said, is an example of why addressing inequalities would require an egalitarian operation.  Fukada-Parr’s message that market causes of poverty do not alway lie within a sovereign government reiterated that economic and social rights need to be central to the economic and development agenda.

Reiterations from the panel and EFC’s Approaches to Equity research

While the panel did not explicitly address children, which EFC researchers find remarkable, the panelists clearly spoke to tenets of EFC’s Approaches to Equity research. The main takeaways that resonated with our research included:

  •  A more equitable approach to growth and addressing inequalities is good for economic stability.
  • Social policy must accompany economic policies to achieve increased equality, specifically for social protection.
  • Horizontal inequalities amongst societies must be acknowledged and utilized to disaggregate data accordingly.
  • The most marginalized communities experience overlapping deprivations.
  • The eradication of poverty globally will require global governance.

To read more about the beginnings of this working group, see the brief that emerged from the group’s beginning: click here.

Equity for Children’s comments on the earlier e-consultation conducted by AINA can be found by clicking here.


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