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Addressing Inequalities

Concept Note: Addressing Inequalities Thematic Consultation


September 2012


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:

  • Inequalities;
  • Population;
  • Health;
  • Education;
  • Growth & Employment;
  • Conflict & Fragility;
  • Governance;
  • Environmental Sustainability;
  • Food Security and Nutrition.

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). 

Commissioning of papers to stimulate the debate (Propose date: 1 July -30 October 2012.  Call for proposals through 27 July, notification to authors by 25 August and deadline for full submissions by 28 October)
One method for framing the debate on inequalities (both the global conversation and at the leadership meeting) would be to leverage existing and also put out a call for new papers on the following topics (for example):

  • Overarching review on current and emerging inequalities and their causes/determinants, and how they impact on development, peace and human rights;
  • Technical review of what current indicators tell us about specific inequalities, how they interact, their impact on development and human rights outcomes, as well as where the gaps are in data;
  • Analysis of gender inequality, and its interaction with other forms of inequality; a review of progress on meeting MDG 3; scoping of potential targets and indicators to be included on gender equality in any new development framework.
  • Synthesis of young peoples’/excluded groups’ perspective on how inequalities affect their life chances and living experiences;
  • Policy approaches and gaps – what has worked to address inequalities and their causes and what are the issues in terms of getting political and stakeholder buy-in for these approaches?

These papers should also come from a diverse group of stakeholders including academia, civil society, UN, etc. 

These pieces would be used to stimulate and sustain the global conversation process and as background for the leadership meeting. They should also be selectively published as a compendium and concrete output of the consultation.  UNICEF and UN Women, together with the major Civil Society partners, will use existing outlets to publish and disseminate these pieces.

The Online Global Conversation (Date/timeframe:  September 2012 – Q1 2013)

The global conversation is perhaps the most important element of the inequalities consultation.  It is the opportunity for a multitude of voices to be heard from governments, the UN system, civil society stakeholders, academia, media, national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector, etc. 

Our consultations to date suggest that while some civil society organizations – particularly INGOs – are already mobilizing on the post-2015 development agenda, there are many other groups who do not yet feel connected to these discussions or are not aware of how they can influence the various processes that are underway. Since the success of any new development framework will depend on the legitimacy of the process by which it was devised, we would like to create and facilitate participatory spaces, under the umbrella of addressing inequalities, into which diverse constituencies can contribute.

We are envisioning the use of an online space (or spaces) for discussion and solicitation of feedback through a number of channels (e.g. webinars/online discussions, polls, surveys, moderated discussions, etc).  These discussions will include major globally-prevalent forms of exclusion or discrimination based on gender, age, disability, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, etc.   

UNDG, in collaboration with the UN Millennium Campaign (MC) and Civil Society, has developed a platform for stimulating multi-stakeholder online engagement around the post-2015 agenda.  This platform will initially go live around 24 September 2012, and a landing page has been established at the URL:   UNICEF and UN Women will use this platform to for online discussions and consultations with different groups and constituencies leading up to the actual Inequalities meeting/conference.   

Additionally, we will also seek to leverage current external social media platforms that already have heavy usage by millions of people globally.  These would include -- but not necessarily limited to – Facebook, Twitter, Google+.  UN Global Pulse will be involved with analysis of some of the conversations on post-2015 taking place in these spaces and we would seek to leverage this information.  Finally, there may be other post-2015 specific platforms (e.g. the ODI platform: where we would need to engage.  Due to very limited human and financial resources, we must be strategic on what platforms to engage on and pick those with highest value/most opportunity for broad engagement. 

The “data” collected from all of this engagement (e.g. summaries of discussion, statements and inputs from civil society organizations, poll and survey results) will be synthesized to be presented at the leadership meeting in a compelling way.  The synthesis itself would go through two rounds of comment and revision on-line before it is finalized.   In addition to reports, for example, we may want to explore the use of video to get across key messages from the conversation. 

To ensure broad participation from all regions and from key constituencies that often face discrimination and/or exclusion, we would also like to seed fund and support a few close partners to organize geographic and/or thematic mini-consultations (4-5 ideally, depending on resources), either online or through meetings, to produce reports or videos for the leadership meeting.  These partners will be chosen for their ability to reach and consult with particularly marginalized groups, to ensure that their perspectives are included. One option we are exploring is to work with the civil society grantees of UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality to coordinate and host consultations or other activities at national and regional level, to feed into the process.   We would also look to work with key alliances and networks (Examples might include:  International Disabilities Alliance, Indigenous Peoples’ Forum, etc. ) to plan discussions, activities and/or consultations that specifically ensure that the voices of marginalized groups are included in this process. 

The resources needed for this initiative will include a full-time consultant for 6-8 months to stimulate engagement, organize specific virtual events/activities, coordinate and work with the regional /thematic groups and ensure that outputs from the conversation are in presentable form for the leadership meeting.  A  senior development writer will also be hired to synthesize information and produce a final report and recommendations for the Leadership meeting.  UNICEF and UN Women will also contribute staff time to form a small team working with the consultants. Below are a few additional details of proposed activities:  

  • Use UN/Civil Society co-owned social media platform to post information, answer questions, engage with audiences, etc. (;
  • Set up and maintain Twitter, Facebook and Google + presence;
  • Regularized online consultations (e.g. moderated Twitter or Google+ conversations, webinars, etc.) at least 1-2 times per month covering  a specific theme (e.g. issues for LGBT community, indigenous and minority groups, older women, people with disabilities, etc.);
  • Produce, through two iterations (draft, on-line review, revision) a report, video and/or presentation on trends and major points of discussion coming from various online engagement tracks (to be presented at the leadership meeting);
  • Help to coordinate node reports/videos/presentations to be presented at the leadership meeting (e.g. some basic guidance on format, means to gather feedback or engage, etc.)
  • At the leadership meeting:  maintain twitter stream with updates, arrange web broadcasts of appropriate sessions, have “twitter” or “social media” audience be able to ask questions at certain sessions of presenters/panelists.

Leadership Meeting: Culmination of the “conversation” findings and presentation/discussion at leadership event (Proposed date/time frame:  February 2013)

This would be a relatively small gathering of approximately 40 high-level participants/leaders from member states, key UN agencies, academia and civil society, including invited members of the High Level Panel and the Open Working Group on SDGs,  who would review and discuss the findings from the global conversation and commissioned papers in order to come up with a short report and/or statement with recommendations on how to address inequalities in the post-2015 agenda. The meeting would take place over two days and would be hosted by the Danish Government in Copenhagen. 

The major output of the conference would be a report or statement that is endorsed by the leadership meeting attendees and presented to the High Level Panel and the UN Secretary-General.   The aim to is to build powerful consensus on key issues and some key 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

As mentioned above, we envision an advisory group comprised of civil society organizations, academics and other UN organizations as partners for the consultation. We expect their involvement in all aspects of the consultation including development of papers/think pieces, participation in online engagement, coordination of regional/thematic nodes and participation in the leadership meeting.  A terms of reference (TOR) for the advisory group has been developed.

Additionally, there is already some significant engagement from civil society groups on the post-2015 agenda, in particular on inequalities. In order to build political consensus, it will be important to work with and support these efforts.

Advisory Group:
A small Advisory Group to help guide the consultation and advise UNICEF and UN Women on design and other issues, as well as to help in mobilizing on-line conversations and outreach, has been convened and had an initial meeting/conference call in August 2012.  The group will re-convene approximately once a month.  Decisions, announcements and other content from this group will be regularly shared via the inequalities space on   The composition of Advisory Group is intended to be a fair representation of a diverse number of stakeholders who are expected to engage in the consultation (e.g. Civil Society, Academia, Government and UN).  However, as a working-level group its membership cannot be exhaustive. Our expectation is that participation in the consultative process will be much broader than the membership of said group. 

[1] For more information, please see Addressing Inequalities: The Heart of the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Future We Want for All; Draft Background thematic paper for the UN Task Team on the post-2015 development agenda; Prepared by: United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), UN Women,  Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), Economic Commission for Europe (ECE); May 2012.

[2] ChildInfo: Disparities in Child Survival; UNICEF.
Accessed 25 April 2012:

[3] Interactive Site: Progress for Children: Achieving the MDGs with Equity; UNICEF.

Accessed 25 April 2012:

[4] India: Nutrition Country Profile; UNICEF; website;
Accessed 12 April 2012:

[5] Progress for Children: Achieving the MDGs with Equity; UNICEF; Number 9; September 2010.

[7] Gender Justice: Key to Achieving the Millennium Development Goals; UN Women; 2010.  

[8] Pritchett, L. Forget Convergence: divergence past, present and future, Finance and Development; June 1996.


[9] Ferreira, F.H.G. and Ravallion, M.; Global Poverty and Inequality: A review of the evidence; World Bank Policy Research Working Paper; Number 4623; May 2008.

[10] Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs Between Whites, Blacks, Hispanics; Pew Research Center; July 2011.

[11] te Lintelo, D.; Inequality and Social Justice Roundtable Consultation; MDG Achievement Fund, Institute of Development Studies; September 2011.

[12] Global Employment Trends 2012: Preventing a deeper jobs crisis; ILO; January 2012

[13] IBID

[14] 2011-2012 Progress of the World's Women: In Pursuit of Justice; UN Women; 2011

[15] IBID

[16] Berg, A.G. and Ostry, J.D; Inequality and Unsustainable Growth: Two Sides of the Same Coin?; IMF Staff Discussion Note; SDN/11/08; April 2011.

[17] Saith, A.; Inequality, imbalance, instability: Reflections on a structural crisis; Development and Change, Volume 42, Issue 1; 2011.

[18]Combating Poverty and Inequality: Structural Change, Social Policy and Politics; United Nations Research Institute for Social Development; 2010.

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Anonymous from
Tue, November 6, 2012 at 01.53 pm
It would be important to knowing the list of civil society organizations, and academia participating, which organizations, which countries do they represent ?. One wonders about some people becoming civil society and academia diplomats with so little feedback and bonding to their respective communities, after some time they become so detached and representation does mean very little. One of the difficulties in MDG has been the very poor grounding on the local and country organizations, how can they hold their governments accountable if they themselves are not well informed? If we are to meet new goals these elements have to be taken into account so that a new governance is built in the process forward.
Anonymous from
Wed, October 31, 2012 at 03.59 pm
Greetings. I am head of Heritage Foundation of Pakistan (HF) and have witnessed the value of fostering pride and self respect among women for society to change its attitude towards women and provide them their due rights. Having worked in post-disaster disadvantaged communities since 2005, we have undertaken several projects, some with support provided by UNESCO, to encourage women to use their craft skills and agro products for income generation. Additionally, the disaster risk resistant (DRR)-driven eco-build construction procedures for shelter, based on vernacular methodologies with almost zero carbon footprint (use of mud/adobe, lime and bamboo) that have been devised by HF, has helped thousands of rural women to fully participate in rebuilding activities, leading to pride and an urge for self reliance. Where MDGs are laudable and have certainly helped in many ways, the missing elements are optimizing diversity and instilling cultural pride as a basis for achieving the requisite goals. In a Muslim LDC such as Pakistan, confronted with recurring disasters and many rural areas with 0% literacy among women, it is important to focus on livelihoods through skills and home-based products, without women having to work away from home. The fact that women can become earners, not only empowers them economically, it also provides them with a voice and encouragement to become literate, enabling them to demand their rights and other facilities. While many approaches are essential, for a change in mindset and effective strides towards development, it is imperative that focus is directed towards women's engagement and empowerment along with developing a sense of pride and inner strength for them to rise above adversity.
Anonymous from
Tue, October 30, 2012 at 09.40 pm
if women are taken care of so they can be on full alert and capacity in all areas they will deal with making sure the rest and everyone else in their household is taken care of..thus the survival and the passing down and the ongoing of it tribal days that was easy, but not that we are so separated we depend on health care and outsiders to keep us together so we can keep our family units together...but it is the same for the men as they need to go out and work ...but the women is the one who keeps it all together and is the glue.
right from the moment of conception to bringing that baby to full term , giving it a healthy start and birth in life until it can be on their own.
Tue, October 23, 2012 at 03.15 pm
Good day everyone,
The issue of Addressing Inequalities has to cut across all the aspects of problems that face women.
From issues were women are still forced to be housewives and stay at home.
To the issue of women covering themselves up and have no rights at all.
Violence and abuse against women and girls with no rights of appeal.
Provision has to be made to address the issues of poverty and disease facing women.
Policies has to be developed that will help to address these critical issues facing women today.
Discrimination at the workplace too women receive less pay than the pay that men in the same workplace receive.
All these issues has to be addressed one-by-one or one at a time to help improve the life of women.
Equal education opportunity and access to good healthcare will help to address thes inequalities.
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