Africa: Beyond Averages - Addressing Inequalities for Post 2015

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Since September last year, UNICEF and UN Women have been supporting an open consultation on Addressing Inequalities in relation to the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

This has been held entirely on-line, at www.worldwewant2015/inequalities. A report, aiming to synthesize the many contributions from around the world, has just been posted. The findings will be discussed at a "leadership meeting" hosted by the Governments of Denmark and Ghana on the 19th February in Copenhagen.

We received more than 175 papers for the consultation. The largest number contained analysis and personal testimony on gender inequalities, while others focused on economic issues, disabilities and the experiences of young people, slum dwellers and minority groups. Some of our NGO and UN partners also teamed up to moderate online discussions on these issues. Almost 1,300 people participated in these e-discussions over several months.

What were some of the key messages coming out of all this?

First, it was widely felt that inequalities concern us all, on several grounds: there is an obligation to address them, based on the human rights principles of universality and non-discrimination. Inequalities are widespread and often growing - despite aggregate development progress during the "MDG era". They persist within all countries and between them. Similar kinds of inequalities - such as violence against women, exclusion of people with disabilities and child deprivations - are faced in common by people across the world. Global action and partnerships are seen as necessary to address them.

Even more than this, the case was made that inequalities harm everyone, not only those most directly affected by disadvantage and exclusion. Economic growth is slowed and productive potential is lost to all - not least by the exclusion of women. Children are consigned to inferior education, poor nutrition and low future productivity. Existing social fragilities are worsened, as is the impact on families of disasters and conflict. Cohesion and security are undermined. Interacting with poverty, the impacts of inequalities are transmitted from present generations to succeeding ones.

There was widespread agreement that, no matter what form inequalities, they are often deeply entrenched, reinforced by discrimination and legitimized by prejudice. The drivers of inequalities are structural and mutually-reinforcing - and found in the political, cultural and environmental domains as well as in the economic and social ones. And, as such, they cannot be solved by piecemeal interventions alone. Anti-poverty programmes may work to alleviate the symptoms of structural inequalities - but they are not likely to affect the drivers that reproduce them. Worse, they may simply pit one "target group" against another, instead of confronting the common factors that marginalize them all.

What are the messages for those framing the Post-2015 Development Agenda?

First, the challenge of inequalities is not reducible to the fight against absolute poverty. It goes beyond that. There was a widespread feeling that a global goal will be needed to address the multiple forms of inequality, including those relating to gender.

Second, the failure of the MDG design and indicators to "look beneath the averages" must not be repeated. Dominant inequalities must be addressed and tracked, by some combination of targets and indicators, within each future goal area of the new Agenda.

Third, it is not just about "results" for the disadvantaged. The process also counts. Equity-based policies and programmes will need to be expanded, including social protection and specific levelling-up measures to address specific forms of exclusion and harm; the actual impact of public spending will need to be assessed, both for those worst-off and on the gaps between them and others; and legal reform, redesigned service delivery methods and social communication will all be needed to combat discrimination, prejudice and exclusion. Deep experience in these areas has already been gained in the struggles for the rights of women and of people living with disabilities and/or HIV.

Accountability will be at the core of all this. Our contributors kept coming back to the question of how political leaders and decision-makers can be better held to their development commitments and human rights obligations, the next time around. There was wide agreement that only the use of a human rights framework for development would help ensure accountability and transformative, non-fragmentary approaches. Human rights principles would also impel the kinds of widespread citizen participation in decision-making and monitoring that will be needed to hold those with power to account. Open-source data, transparent institutions and mobile information technologies are potentially highly empowering tools for disadvantaged people and largely-excluded groups to start exercising accountability.

We'll be holding a final public discussion with our Inequalities Advisory Group of civil society, UN and academic experts on Monday 18th February. You are invited to participate through the www.worldwewant2015/inequalities site, where the Report on the Consultation can also be downloaded.

A guest blog by Richard Morgan (UNICEF) and Saraswathi Menon (UN Women) on the global consultation their organisations have been running for the past four months on addressing inequalities. 

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