Monday, 11 March 2013

Global #inequalities2015 report launch

This ProgBlog article written by Alex Cobham of Save the Children, is part of the Wikiprogress post-2015 series. 

The global post-2015 consultation on inequality, led by UNICEF and UNWomen, delivered its report to the co-sponsors, Ghana and Denmark, in Copenhagen.

The meeting covered two days. The first included a livestreamed presentation of the report and a series of panels with the advisory group taking questions from the room and from around the world, on a series of panels which are being livestreamed – the opening presentations and the first panel can be accessed here.

Some highlights:
  • There is broad support for a goal on inequality (including gender as well as economic inequality), and it is crucial that each goal contains disaggregated indicators and targets to capture the major dimensions of inequality also affecting ethnoliguistic groups, spatial groups and persons with disabilities.
  • This demands a major investment in data, and an absolute end to the kind of approach that has seen some major households surveys exclude groups that are difficult to reach, or to reach with sufficient statistical rigor (persons with disabilities in particular).
  • We should not, as Richard Morgan of UNICEF made very clear, get too hung up on goals, targets and indicators. The framework is not these – it is the Millennium Declaration. The importance of what we are now, globally, engaged in is that it will establish norms – goals etc can help with this, but are not the only components that matter.
  • There is again, broad agreement, that the framework directly address the structural causes of inequalities – not least, globally, the transparency obstacles that facilitate the illicit financial flows that undermine both political governance and economic growth, and also prevent progressive distribution of the benefits of growth. (Which reminds me – here’s a handy new brief from TJN Germany on the importance of taxes for human rights.)
  • Gender inequality is an absolute priority (there was a particularly powerful contribution from Kate McInturff on gender-based violence as ever-present, from the home to school or workplace and on the way, and a barrier to all other goals – from universal education to decent work, and so on).
The second day was the Leadership Meeting. Co-chaired by Michelle Bachelet of UNWomen, Tony Lake of UNICEF, Christian Friis Bach for Denmark and Paul Victor Obeng for Ghana, this brought together high-level participants from around the world, including ministers from Burkina Faso, Colombia, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Tanzania and Uganda, a number of members of the High Level Panel on post-2015, and many international and development organisations from FAO to USAID.

After initial statements and the presentation of the consultation report by advisory group members, Sarah Cook of UNRISD and Jayati Ghosh of Jawaharlal Nehru University. In the discussion of the report that followed, there were a number of extremely powerful contributions that I can’t tell you too much about because this session was under Chatham House rules. However… there were a few striking features:
  • Effectively no dissent from the proposal for a free-standing goal on inequality (except for the proposal that there be two!);
  • Strong confirmation of the need for disaggregated targets and indicators across all other goals;
  • Recognition of the need to invest in high-quality, consistently disaggregated data to make this work and to ensure accountability at local and national levels;
  • Broad recognition of the importance of taxation, including from some of the more conservative as well as the more progressive discussants; and
  • A clear demand for more research findings about success stories: the policies that have driven progress against inequality.
Finally, the co-chairs released their statement summarising their view on the discussion. It’s short, and well worth reading, so do! But here are some highlights (my emphasis):
Inequalities need to be tackled systematically and coherently, by addressing their structural causes, and through a new common and holistic development framework that is global in character and relevant to all countries…

In a new development framework, participants suggested that a self-standing goal to reduce inequalities could help ensure the political will necessary to do this. Targets aimed at universal access to basic services and resources, and ‘getting to zero’ – such as eradicating extreme poverty, hunger and preventable child and maternal deaths – are necessary to ensure that no one is left behind. Such targets could be reinforced by indicators that specifically measure progress in reducing disparities and that specifically track progress among the most impoverished, marginalised and excluded groups and individuals.

Inequalities are not a necessary consequence of, nor a precondition for economic growth, but a result of particular policies and structural conditions. Inequalities can therefore be reduced through targeted and transformative policies and actions, including the promotion of inclusive and intergenerational growth and decent work while simultaneously addressing the priority needs and rights of poor, vulnerable and marginalised people. Striving to reduce inequalities is not only right in principle; it is also right in practice.

The empowerment and advancement of women and girls is crucial… A new Post-2015 Development Agenda should therefore include not only a universal goal for gender equality and the empowerment and advancement of women and girls, but also ensure that gender and other dominant inequalities are mainstreamed in all relevant areas through disaggregated targets and indicators.

Promoting greater equality across sectors and policies, within countries and between countries must be an integral part of a future set of international development goals. Addressing inequalities both within and between countries will require fair and just rules and practices in international relations in areas including trade, finance, investment, taxation and corporate accountability.

Jayati has posted her thoughts on Guardian Development, and covers many important areas of the discussion and the future agenda.

I would only add that my immediate reflection on the inequalities consultation is optimistic. When the consultation started, I think there was quite a widely held view that a freestanding goal on inequality was politically impossible. (There’s a separate discussion to be had about whether a separate goal is needed, at least technically, if you have appropriate disaggregation throughout the framework; but for me, the importance of a goal lies above all in setting or confirming the norm that inequality is an obstacle to human development and to the achievement of rights.) Save the Children’s own ‘first draft’ proposal certainly reflected that calculation.

Now, however, it feels very much that things may have changed. As I argued in my remarks, the report didn’t only bring together important research but more importantly it reflected the results of participation and showed a clear political position.

For what it’s worth, my feeling now is that it would be very difficult for the High Level Panel to seek to exclude the idea of a free-standing inequality goal (and I’m delighted that Save UK has called on David Cameron to support this). Of course, the HLP is only one contribution to the process, and the subsequent intergovernmental negotiations are where things will stand or fall; but the HLP’s credibility as a reflection of the broad consultation would be seriously damaged now were it not to reflect the emerged consensus. It will also be interesting to see how structural, global policy issues are dealt with – above all, perhaps, around taxation.

In any case, there is now a powerful basis for civil society and others globally to mobilise around the treatment of inequality in the eventual post-2015 framework. (Can I mention that I feel quite proud of Save the Children for its contribution? Only one among many, but the organisation has really made great strides in developing its position over the last year, as seen in the Born Equal report which supports much of the consultation report.)

Last word on this: the consultation owes its success in very great part to the outstanding joint leadership of Saraswathi Menon of UNWomen and Richard Morgan of UNICEF, and they deserve enormous praise. Thank you both!

Alex Cobham

This article was first published on Uncounted, 18 February 2013 - This blog is about inequality and development and those who are uncounted. It is written and maintained by Alex Cobham, Save the Children's Head of Research. Uncounted aims to stimulate debate but is not a reflection of official Save the Children policy

The OECD Global Forum on Development (GFD) is currently running an online consultation* entitled Reducing poverty is achievable: Finding those who are hidden by inequalities” on the Wikiprogress platform. You can post a comment in a few clicks by going to the “Contribute!” section of the online consultation page, make sure your voice is heard. 

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