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What is the Addressing Inequalities Consultation? 

Aiming to ensure a broad span and diversity of voices in conversations on the shape and content of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) is convening a series of country and global thematic consultations.  There will be 50-100 national consultations and eleven global thematic consultations on topics which have been identified as being of critical importance to the discussions on the “world we want”, both now and beyond 2015. 

As the co-convenors of the global thematic consultation on Addressing Inequalities, UN Women and UNICEF are very pleased to invite you to join this global consultation, supported by the Government of Denmark.  The aim of the consultation is to review progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in terms of major inequalities and to discuss the options for ensuring that these inequalities are effectively addressed in a new development framework after 2015.

In support of an open, participatory process for the formulation of the post-2015 development era, this consultation aims to enable the participation of civil society, academia, governments, the UN system, the media, national and international non-governmental organizations and the private sector in the discussions on how the next development framework can most effectively incorporate and address key issues of inequality and the factors underlying them. 

Activities are starting now, and will continue over the next several months, leveraging technology and social media to engage participants in the form of online, moderated discussions on specific issues related to inequalities.

How can I participate?

The Addressing Inequalities Consultation space – is hosted by the www.worldwewant2015.org site, co-owned by the UN System and Civil Society.  Within this space, we are hosting a series of online, moderated discussions on major, globally-prevalent forms of inequality related to gender, disability, indigenous and minority group status, sexual orientation, etc.  New discussions will be launched on the site approximately every two weeks, led by expert moderators from the UN system and Civil Society.  Each discussion will be time-bound, lasing approximately three weeks, to allow time for detailed discussion of issues from as broad a range of participants as possible.  The full calendar of upcoming discussions is available on the site.  Visitors to the site are also able to pose questions to key development actors via live-streamed discussions on inequalities and occasional “Twitter chats”.

The data collected from this online engagement on Inequalities, including summaries of the discussions and inputs from civil society organizations submitted via the site, will be synthesized in the form of a final report and recommendations to be presented at a Leadership Meeting in Copenhagen in February 2013, where key decision-makers will be presented with the outcomes of the consultation process.    

This is a public, open-access discussion forum and contributions are welcomed from all those with a stake in the next development agenda.  This is an opportunity to influence the agenda, and you are encouraged to share the voices of the people or communities you represent, particularly those who are not able to access the consultations online.  The first discussion kicks off on Wednesday, 3 October, on the theme of Gender Equality, co-moderated by UN Women, and we welcome your participation. 

To participate, visit the website at: www.worldwewant2015.org/inequalities and post your response to the discussion questions in the discussion forum.  You do not need to register in order to post comments, but you are welcomed and encouraged to do so.  The website is available in English, French and Spanish, and you may post contributions in any of the sixty languages supported by the site’s Google translate feature.

How does the online engagement feed into the overall Inequalities consultation process?

The Inequalities Consultation has three major components:

  1. Call for Papers: launched in July 2012.  Over 250 paper proposals were accepted from a diverse group of stakeholders including academia, civil society, the UN, etc.  All papers will be finalized by 31 October and some are already available on the Addressing Inequalities website.
  2. Online engagement: launched in September 2012 at: www.worldwewant2015.org/inequalities.
  3. Leadership meeting: Culmination of the conversation findings and presentation/discussion: High-level officials from governments, civil society/international NGO coalitions, UN partners, members of the Secretary-General's High-Level Paneland members of the Open Working Group on the SDGs will meet to discuss the synthesized results and findings of the papers and the online engagement and put forward a statement and recommendations on how to address inequalities in the post-2015 agenda. The aim is to build consensus on key issues and ways to address them, in order to feed into the intergovernmental discussions on the new agenda. 

Synergies with other processes and partners, including civil society

An Advisory Group is helping to guide the consultation, as well as promote synergies with other consultations on the Post-2015 development agenda.  The Group is composed of individuals representing the diverse range of stakeholders expected to engage in the consultation, from civil society and academia to governments and the UN.

The success of any new development framework will depend largely on the inclusiveness of the process by which it was designed.  We hope that you will join in the discussions taking place on the Inequalities siteover the next few months, and will encourage your networks and constituencies to also participate. 

Very best regards,

Saraswathi Menon; Director of Policy Division; UN Women

Richard Morgan; Senior Advisor, Post-2015 Development Agenda; UNICEF

Co-Convenors of the Post-2015 Global Thematic Consultation on Addressing Inequalities




The Heart of the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Future We Want for All

Global Thematic Conversation and Consultation Concept Note
Prepared by UN Women and UNICEF

Organized by:  UN Women and UNICEF and a small Advisory Group comprised of Civil Society, Academic, Government and UN Partners, with support from the Government of Denmark

Global Conversation (mainly virtual): August/September 2012 – February 2013

Leadership Meeting: February 2013
Location (of leadership meeting): Copenhagen, Denmark


As the 2015 target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) approaches, there are a growing number of processes, preparations and debates on what a post-2015 agenda and framework will look like.  These are occurring both within and outside of the UN system.

In late 2011, the Secretary-General (SG) established a post-2015 UN Task Team, co-chaired by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) and UNDP.  The task team is comprised of senior staff from a wide variety of UN organizations and the Bretton Woods Institutions.  The main output of the task team was to produce a “roadmap” on post-2015 for the Secretary-General, which was delivered at the beginning of June 2012.   It is expected that this paper will help to frame the work of the SG’s High Level Panel, which has been convened to guide the SG and the UN in shaping the post-2015 development agenda and prepare for discussion and debate on this topic at the 2013 UN General Assembly (GA).  At the start of the 2013 GA there will be a high level summit to review progress on the MDGs and map out a forward looking agenda.

In addition to the UN system processes outlined above, UNDG (as chaired by UNDP) is leading planning efforts to catalyze a “global conversation” on post-2015 through a series of at least 50 national consultations and at least nine global thematic consultations.  The aim of these consultations is to bring together a broad range of stakeholders to review progress on the MDGs and to discuss the options for a new framework. The nine thematic consultations will be based on the following topics below, which have been identified as particular issues of importance to the post-2015 debates:

Each topic is expected to have a small group of UN Organizations “co-lead” the preparation and planning of the consultations in partnership with a government sponsor, who will provide some financial support.  UNICEF and UN Women have agreed to work together on the inequalities consultation.  This concept note defines the objectives for this consultation, describes how it could take place and identifies the resources needed.

Why a focus on inequalities?[1]

Despite many of the successes of the MDGs, they have not managed adequately to integrate all principles outlined in the Millennium Declaration, especially in relation to human rights and equality.   Furthermore, the MDGs’ focus on national and global averages and progress can mask much slower progress or even growing disparities at the sub-national level and among specific populations.   

The availability of data disaggregated by wealth quintile, sex and residence provides ample evidence on how the combination of these factors has led to uneven progress towards achieving the MDGs.  Young children in the poorest households are 2-3 times as likely to die[2] or to be malnourished[3] as those in the best-off strata.  For example, in India 60% of children in households in the lowest wealth quintile are stunted in comparison to 25% of children belonging to the highest wealth quintile[4].  Progress in reducing stunting in this and other countries has been fastest among better-off households.[5]  Stunting is the result of chronic nutritional deficiencies in the first 1000 days of life and can result in lifelong impaired physical and cognitive functionality.

Gender inequalities persist in some form in all countries and contexts. In terms of what is measured by MDG targets and indicators, lower rates of secondary education enrolment (especially in Oceania, Southern Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Western Asia), significant under-representation in national parliaments, wide gaps in access to decent employment, and the gendered nature of the HIV pandemic, all point to the urgency of addressing gender discrimination.[6]  Globally, there has been least progress on MDG 5 to reduce maternity mortality, the goal that often depends on increasing gender equality and realizing women’s rights.  Inequalities and discrimination based on income, location, disability and ethnicity intersect with gender and are often mutually reinforcing.   For example, there are many countries where the likelihood of having skilled assistance at childbirth, a critical basic service for preventing maternal mortality and morbidity differs by more than 50 percentage points between wealthy, urban women and poor, rural women.[7]

Globally, the gap between rich and poor countries has been increasing rapidly and is now the largest it has ever been. The ratio of GDP per capita of the richest to the poorest countries rose by 45% between 1960 and 1990 alone.[8] Income inequality is also on the rise within many countries, developed and developing alike.  Approximately two thirds of countries with available data experienced an increase in income inequality between 1990 and 2005.[9]   One of the results of increased income inequality is that existing patterns of discrimination and disadvantage tend to be entrenched. For example, in the United States, a recent study shows a growing wealth gap between ethnic groups.  From 2005 to 2009, inflation-adjusted median wealth fell by 66% among Hispanic households and 53% among African-American households, compared with just 16% among white households.[10]

In a number of countries, both high and low income, good economic growth performance has not been accompanied by equally rapid rates of job generation, creating ‘jobless growth’.[11] The ILO warns that in the context of three years of ‘continuous crisis conditions’ in global labour markets ‘there is a backlog of global unemployment of 200 million, and more than 400 million new jobs will be needed over the next decade to absorb the estimated 40 million growth of the labour force each year’.[12] Even for those employed, decent work ‘deficits’, in the form of underemployment, poor quality and unproductive jobs, unsafe work and insecure income, rights that are denied and gender inequality are widespread.[13] More than half of the world’s working women continue to be in vulnerable employment, trapped in insecure jobs, often outside the purview of labour legislation[14] and across all regions and sectors, the persistence of the gender pay gap means that women are generally paid between 10 and 30 percent less than men, with minority women particularly likely to be discriminated against when it comes to pay.[15]

The obligation to address inequalities is born out of both international treaty standards and human moral perspectives.  However – and especially in the current environment of fiscal austerity – making the practical case for focusing on the worst-off also involves showing that growing inequalities have negative economic, social and political consequences.  As a prerequisite, human rights must represent the standard against which all policies, including macroeconomic policies, are judged and held accountable, and not vice-versa.  However, it is important to note that increased inequalities are not just bad for the individuals thereby disadvantaged, but for society as a whole. For example, an ever increasing body of evidence shows that highly unequal societies have shorter and less robust periods of economic growth[16] and that they are more susceptible to financial crises.[17] Inequality also reduces the impact of economic growth on poverty reduction. [18]    Crime, disease and environmental problems are found to be exacerbated by inequality.   When inequality and disparities reach extreme levels, they foment discontent that can lead to political instability and in some cases violence and conflict.

Addressing inequalities in the post-2015 development agenda means looking at both equality of opportunities (or lack thereof), and entrenched structural factors, including discrimination, all of which effect equality of outcomes.  Most of the world’s poor people occupy highly disadvantaged starting positions, which impede the development of their capabilities (as defined by Amartya Sen and others[19] ) as well as their ability to capitalize on opportunities.  Focusing only on the symptoms and manifestations of poverty or exclusion (e.g. lack of income, education or health), rather than their structural causes (e.g. discrimination, lack of access to resources, lack of representation), has often led to narrow, discretionary measures aimed at addressing short-term needs.  Without attention to the underlying economic, social, cultural and spatial causes of poverty and inequality, the post-2015 development agenda will not help level the playing field or achieve lasting inclusive progress.  A number of potential policy instruments to address structural factors and produce greater equality of outcomes should be examined.

A focus on inequalities in the post-2015 development agenda – and a recognition that inequalities are often multifaceted and discrimination comes in many forms – should not ‘replace’ or subsume the focus on addressing gender inequality.  Discrimination on the basis of gender remains a widespread and entrenched social norm, exacerbating all other forms of discrimination. By having a devoted goal, the MDGs have helped to ensure that gender inequality is recognized as one of the most serious challenges the world faces and is a major impediment to development, advancing human rights, and achieving peace and security.

Addressing all forms of inequality, including gender inequality, alongside human rights, peace, security and sustainability should be the cornerstone of the post-2015 agenda.  A more inclusive and equal society is more likely to be sustainable.  Having better access to quality education and health services, housing and clean water, land, financing and judicial recourse means that poor and excluded people can become better equipped to contribute to economic growth, care for their children and embrace newer low-carbon approaches to production and consumption.

The changing world is presenting new challenges and risks to human progress.  As nations become more prosperous on aggregate, there is growing risk that hundreds of millions will once again be left behind. To avoid this, the emerging post-2015 agenda must make reducing all major forms of inequalities, including gender inequality, an integral part of its goals -- just as poverty reduction was a central aim of the MDGs.  We have a tremendous opportunity to elaborate actions to reduce inequalities, and to invest in human rights-based actions and approaches.  A major challenge of human development for the next two decades will be to unite poverty reduction and social progress in ways that narrow the gaps, address their causes and link greater governmental accountability for all inhabitants with social and individual responsibility, capacities and participation.  To make the vision of the Millennium Declaration a reality and build on the progress generated by the MDGs, elimination of inequalities must become the litmus test for human progress in the 21st century and the heart of the post-2015 development agenda. 


The objectives of the inequalities conversation and consultation are:

  1. To stimulate wide ranging global discussion on the various forms of inequalities and present main findings to key decision-makers and leaders;
  2. To stimulate discussion and analysis on how the MDGs have supported progress on achieving gender equality, to identify remaining gaps and new issues, and to generate consensus on how best to reflect gender equality into the post-2015 development framework;
  3. To develop high quality analysis on the structure, content and implications of major forms of  inequalities, as continuing and major barriers to global development and social justice;
  4. To examine a range of policy options and responses (both at the national and international level) and how these might be deployed in the context of the post-2015 development agenda;
  5. To build understanding and political consensus -- among member states, UN agencies and civil society -- on the need to tackle inequalities, including gender inequality and on strategic options for doing so; and build political commitment to ensuring this is a central part of any post-2015 development framework;
  6. To develop ideas about how progress towards greater equality can be measured and how goals can be defined, owned and made accountable.

What kind of process?

We envision the Inequalities Consultation will have three major components:

  1. Call for/Commissioning of papers to kick off the online discussions and also for publication and to contribute to synthesis paper submitted at the leadership meeting;
  2. A “global conversation” on inequalities that will take place over several months and leverage technology and social media to engage stakeholders;
  3. A limited participation leadership meeting/conference (approximately 40 high level participants, e.g. ministers/officials from the Danish government, southern partner governments, major civil society/international NGO coalitions, key UN partners, members of the Secretary-General’s High Level Panel, members of the high-level working group on the SDGs) to discuss the synthesized results and findings of the global conversation as well as the papers commissioned and put forward a statement or recommendations for how these findings should be integrated into the post-2015 formal negotiation process (e.g. High-level panel report,  S-G’s input to the intergovernmental negotiations, etc).