Speech at the side-event organized by the Government of Denmark, on findings of the Global Thematic Consultation on "Addressing Inequalities"


Remarks by Lakshmi Puri, Acting Head of UN Women and Assistant Secretary-General, speaking at a side-event organized by the Government of Denmark to present key findings from the Global Thematic Consultation on “Addressing Inequalities,” 8 July 2013, New York.

Good afternoon. Excellencies, fellow panelists, distinguished participants.

I hope you have benefited from this morning’s very rich discussion. Also, my special thanks to the Government of Denmark for its ongoing support.

We have heard about the findings of the Global Thematic Consultation on Inequalities and the Leadership Meeting which took place in Copenhagen. This afternoon, I would like to focus on how the issue of inequality feeds into substantive deliberations about the post-2015 development agenda. And I would like to begin a discussion on how the new development agenda can ensure that multiple inequalities are addressed and eradicated so that human rights are universally realized. As well as leaving no one behind, we want to take everyone forward.

As you are aware, there are two important on-going processes which will contribute to the new development agenda: first, the Secretary-General’s Report which will be released in September 2013; and second, the work of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals.

The issue of inequality has already been highlighted in the High Level Panel Report of the Eminent Persons. According to the Report: “Of all the goods and services consumed in the world each year, the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty only account for one per cent, while the richest 1 billion people consume 72 per cent.” The High Level Panel Report calls for removing barriers to equality of opportunity so that the lives of all people can be free from poverty and discrimination.

Eradicating these multiple inequalities and the discriminatory forces and structures that underpin them is a necessity if human rights—civil and political, as well as social, economic and cultural—are to be universally enjoyed. The normative human rights framework which includes the principles of universality, non-retrogression, non-discrimination and substantive equality demands that we as the UN system make this central to all our endeavors. As the High Level report rightfully mentions, we must eliminate inequalities because it is the only way to bring together social, economic and environmental issues in a coherent, effective, and sustainable way.

The Open Working Group on sustainable development has also been reflecting on the urgent need to address inequalities. It is very encouraging to see that inequalities are seen as one of the cross-cutting concerns across the different areas of sustainable development.

Member States have been discussing many crucial issues ranging from food security, sustainable agriculture, and land degradation to employment and social protection, among others. Equality of opportunity and of outcome are threads that run through these discussions. Just to take one example: without providing adequate access to land and other resources to every woman and man, it is not possible to meet the goals of sustainable agriculture, universal right to food, and decent jobs for all.

Inequalities lie at the heart of sustainability issues: development cannot be sustainable if inequalities are not addressed. The well-being of future generations cannot be ensured without tackling the inequalities that affect the current generation.

Already, inequality is being seen as a major development challenge in different policy circles. We in UN Women believe that the achievement of gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment is instrumental to the elimination of other kinds of inequalities and injustices. At the same time, gender equality and women’s empowerment benefits from greater equality in other areas as well.

We are calling for a strengthened framework that can transform women’s and girls’ lives. This is why UN Women believes that a stand-alone goal on achieving gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment should address the structural foundations of gender-based inequality and at the same time there should be a thorough mainstreaming of gender equality into other goals.

To be truly transformative, we believe that the new framework should tackle three core areas: freedom from violence for women and girls; capabilities and resources; and voice, leadership and participation. Together, these three dimensions affect women’s and girls’ safety, economic and social security and choices, and voices in shaping public policy priorities. We have recently issued a position paper outlining this vision, which you can read on our website.

Of course what we do here at the United Nations is only a very small part of the global effort. To be able to design and implement a post-2015 development agenda that will be transformative to deliver better lives for all, we need to work together but also do better. We must increase our efforts to forge a stronger consensus at all levels, from the local to the global, in order to be able to tackle the problem of inequality and the denial of rights for girls and boys and women and men through broad-based economic, social and environmental policies. For example, to eradicate poverty and inequality there is a need for robust and broad-based universal social protection systems that are socially inclusive and developmental.

In order to focus our discussion, I would like to suggest the following questions:

  • Can “extreme poverty” in all its dimensions be “eradicated” without an explicit and systematic focus on Inequalities and their underlying factors?
  • What would the “transformative shift” proposed by the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel to “Leave No One Behind” mean in practice? How could it be measured?

Thank you for your attention.