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UN General Assembly holds thematic debate on inequality

arton4336On 8 July, the United Nations General Assembly (GA) held an informal thematic debate titled “The role of the United Nations in promoting a new global human order,” to address the issue of inequality. The debate was convened by the President of the 67th session of the GA, Vuk Jeremić, in accordance with resolution A/RES/67/230. It addressed tackling social inequality as a source of social and political instability, within the context of the ongoing GA process of defining SDGs which will contribute to the post-2015 development framework. The thematic debate was co-convened with the Permanent Mission of Guyana and the Organization of American States (OAS).

Opening the thematic debate, Mr. Jeremić acknowledged that “establishing a level playing field, upon which everyone’s merits are given an even chance to thrive, is also deeply ingrained in our diverse ethical and philosophic traditions.” He continued by noting that for the past 20 years, disparities between high and low income states have nearly doubled. Therefore, to attain the promise of sustainable development, the challenge posed by the increasing concentration of affluence in the hands of few people needs to be addressed. Mr. Jeremić urged participants to make strategic commitments to repair all broken bonds in our communities and to reshape laws and customs to fully support the principle of equality.

In his opening remarks, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized that the United Nations is determined to promote social progress and better standards of living. Considering the successive global crises which shocked economies and brought severe distress to the poor and vulnerable in all regions, the world is yet to reach a full economic recovery, he stated. The Secretary-General acknowledged that though the Millennium Development Goals have successfully generated global awareness and action, this achievement has been uneven within and among countries. “Reducing inequality will need a transformative change,” he stressed, which will require an inclusive approach to sustainable development greater efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; more investment in health, education, social protection especially for youth; and empowering women in the home, marketplace and the corridors of power.

The one-day debate included an opening session, a high-level morning session, two consecutive interactive panel sessions in the afternoon as well as closing remarks. To view the webcast of the opening session and the high-level morning session, click here.

The moderator of the second panel discussion, Heraldo Muñoz, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, reminded participants that Latin America and the Caribbean are the most unequal regions in the world. He emphasized the importance of visualizing the full effects of inequality in measuring progress; for instance, Latin America’s Human Development Index (HDI) dropped 25.7% after adjusting for inequality. Mr. Muñoz stressed the role of the middle class in social cohesion to address inequality in society at large, recommending that middle-income countries direct attention towards making fiscal and institutional changes to address social inequalities.

Aida Opoku Mensah, Senior Adviser to the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, focused her presentation on the African region. Since 2005, the continent has experienced significant economic growth; however she qualified that statement by emphasizing that this growth has not been accompanied by a “fast-enough” decline of extreme poverty. Ms. Mensah attributed this problem to rural-urban inequalities, which she positioned as negating or undermining the gains in economic growth. She highlighted that in terms of achieving universal primary education, progress has been made both through a tremendous increase in enrollment in primary and in movement toward achieving gender parity. She concluded by urging Member States to adopt policies that support the welfare of youth and women.

Judy Chen, Chairman of the Hong-Kong Committee for UNICEF, spoke passionately on the need to care for and protect children, as the most vulnerable population in the world. She called upon participants to listen to the opinions of children in global debates. During the discussion, José Antonio Ocampo, chairperson of the Committee on Development Policy (CDP) and a professor at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, said that though the world has seen a great reduction in poverty. the same cannot be said about inequality. Therefore, he continued, there should be concrete targets in bridging the inequality gap in the UN post-2015 development agenda, as proposed by the CDP.

Following the statements made by the panelists, comments were made by the delegations of Serbia, Sweden, Paraguay, Jamaica, Mexico, Vietnam, Chile and Argentina. To view the webcast of this panel discussion, click here.

The final panel discussion which focused on “Reducing Inequality: Perspectives from Civil Society,” featured Wila Shalit, Chief Executive Officer of Fairwinds Trading. Ms. Shalit presented a UNIFEM-funded initiative, the Rwanda Path to Peace Project, that addresses inequality through providing market access for women’s enterprise in Rwanda. Moderating the discussion, news producer Nermeen Shaikh of Democracy Now asked, to what extent does our present political, social and economic structures address the problem of social inequality? Jessica Espey, Senior Research and Policy Advisor at Save the Children, articulated that research recently conducted with a sample of 32 countries indicated that the gap in resources for children has doubled to that of total population. Ms. Espey recommended that the post-2015 should maintain strong human development objectives of the MDGs and specifically focus on marginalized groups. A 15-year old youth representative, Nisha Das, highlighted the plight of children with disability and urged total and widespread acceptance and recognition of disabled people. To view the webcast of this panel discussion, click here.

Photo credit: UN photo, Rick Bajornas.

The UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) is an inter-agency programme of the United Nations mandated to develop constructive relations between the UN and civil society organizations.


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