8 July 2013
General Assembly
GA/11391

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-seventh General Assembly

Thematic Debate

AM & PM Meetings


Growing Gulf between Rich and Poor ‘Reproach to the Promise of the United Nations


Charter’, Secretary-General Tells General Assembly during Thematic Debate


General Assembly President Says Inadequate Action Today Can Lead to Bitter

Recriminations Tomorrow; Event Also Features High-level Segment, Two Panels


Stark disparities and widening gaps between the world’s rich and poor were a “reproach to the promise of the United Nations Charter”, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned the General Assembly today during a thematic debate on inequality.


Those gaps were contrary to United Nations principles, Mr. Ban said, adding that societies where hope and opportunity were scarce were vulnerable to upheaval and conflict.  Social and economic inequalities bred crime, disease and environmental degradation, as well as hampered economic growth.


“We live in a time of profound change and considerable uncertainty,” he said, noting that successive global crises had shocked economies and brought severe distress to the world’s poor and vulnerable.  It was in that context that the international community would elaborate its post-2015 agenda, he said.


While the Millennium Development Goals had been successful in lifting some 600 million people out of extreme poverty, progress had been uneven within and among countries, and many were seeing widening social and economic inequalities.  Large disparities remained in access to health and education, and, as a result, the world’s poor had lower employment rates, earned less and were less healthy.


Vuk Jeremić, President of the General Assembly, said that achieving social justice and mitigating inequality was ingrained in the world’s diverse ethical and philosophical traditions.  Addressing inequality had also been part of the post-2015 development framework agreed last year at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), he said.


In most countries, he said, inequality had increased in the past three decades, while disparities between high- and low-income States had nearly doubled in the past 20 years.  Such inequality led to poor growth, greater susceptibility to financial crises, exacerbated crime rates, reduced social cohesion and mobility, and greater instability and unrest.


Mass protests and popular revolts were becoming commonplace around the globe, he continued.  It was important to learn from past mistakes, as inadequate action today could lead to “exceptionally harsh judgements and bitter recriminations tomorrow”.


José Miguel Insulza, Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS), said that the recent protest movements in several countries had arisen from a “generalized sense of inequality”.  Those demonstrations shared common features and brought together new actors, including youth, who were demanding the right to a better distribution of the benefits provided by the State and society.


It was paradoxical that global poverty eradication was now within reach, while income inequalities between rich and poor had remained the same or widened, he said.  The richest 1 per cent had more than doubled their wealth over the past decade, now controlling 39 per cent of global output, while some 2.7 billion people around the world lived on less than $2 per day.


Moreover, he said, many around the world were seeing others enjoy benefits that they themselves could not obtain.  Solutions to those problems would not be found in the global markets, but in the reduction of “inequality of opportunities”.  Access to health care, social services and credit must be increased, and solutions must also tackle the pervasive lack of trust in public institutions.


Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Guyana, whose delegation spearheaded the Assembly’s resolution last year calling for today’s debate, said that no society could expect to achieve sustainable economic and social growth while its people were poorly nourished, in poor health and unemployed.   Guyana consistently pursued policies that focused on reducing inequality at the domestic level, she said.


Going forward, the world community must acknowledge the multidimensional nature of inequality, and tackle both its causes and its symptoms, she stressed.  In addition, the post-2015 development agenda must place emphasis on inclusive, sustainable and pro-poor economic growth and the creation of decent work.


A number of other high-level speakers participated in the morning’s session, addressing issues ranging from the “precarious” informal economy to disparities that lingered across generations.  Many participants outlined policies aimed at reducing income gaps, including “cash transfer” programmes and stipends for families meeting certain criteria.


This afternoon, the Assembly also held two consecutive panel discussions on “Efforts reducing inequality” and “Reducing inequality:  Perspectives from civil society”.


Also speaking during this morning’s high-level segment were Inés Del Carmen Páez d’Alessandro, Director of Organization and Communication of Argentina’s Ministry of Social Development, and Radmila Mitrović, Deputy Minister for Human Rights and Refugees of Bosnia and Herzegovina.


Participants also included Anthony Lake, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC); Lakshmi Puri, Acting Head of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women); Pedro Olinto, Senior Economist at the Poverty Reduction and Equity Team of the World Bank; and Héctor Salazar, Manager ad-interim of the Social Sector at the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB).


Making statements during the morning’s discussion segment were the representatives of Brazil and the Russian Federation, and the European Union delegation.


Background


The General Assembly met today to hold a thematic debate on the topic “Inequality”.  It would consist of opening remarks, a high-level segment and two panel discussions.


Opening Remarks


VUK JEREMIĆ, President of the General Assembly, said achieving social justice and mitigating inequality had been universal goals for millennia, “inscribed in the holy books of humanity’s great faiths” and deeply ingrained in the world’s diverse ethical and philosophic traditions.  It had now become “the great imperative of our age”.  It influenced the conception of domestic reforms and the drafting of international covenants.  Addressing inequality was inherent to the framework of the post-2015 development agenda, agreed in Rio last year.  The holistic vision set forth there conferred new mandates on the General Assembly, including the responsibility to convert global aspirations into practical actions.


Describing the need for greater commitment to bridging the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots”, he said that, without such commitment, the universal transition to sustainability would not be achieved and an “era of global discontent”, replaced instead with “profound and unprecedented consequences” for the entire world.  In most developed and developing countries, inequality had increased in the past three decades, while disparities between high- and low-income States had nearly doubled in the past 20 years.  The top 10 per cent of the world’s population owned 70 per cent of the world’s wealth, with the top 1 per cent holding just 32 per cent.  Such inequality led to poor growth, greater susceptibility to financial crises, exacerbated crime rates, reduced social cohesion and mobility, and greater instability and unrest.


Across the globe, mass protests and popular revolts were becoming commonplace, he said, calling for efforts to address the challenge posed by the escalating concentration of affluence in a diminishing proportion of the world’s population.  Only then, could the promise of sustainable development be achieved.  He stressed the importance over the next 900 days of incorporating the fight against inequality into the sustainable development goals.  It was important to learn from past mistakes and acknowledge that inadequate action today would lead to “exceptionally harsh judgements and bitter recriminations tomorrow”.  Nations must come together to address the myriad challenges urgently, making a strategic commitment to repairing the many broken bonds in societies around the world.


“We live in a time of profound change and considerable uncertainty,” said BAN KI-MOON, United Nations Secretary-General.  Successive global crises had shocked economies and brought severe distress to the world’s poor and vulnerable.  Meanwhile, the impacts of climate change were growing and environmental degradation caused by unsustainable consumption and production threatened future development objectives.  “This is the context in which we are considering the post-2015 agenda,” he said.


The Millennium Development Goals had been remarkably successful in generating global action across a range of issues, he noted, including by helping to lift some 600 million people from extreme poverty.  Targeted investments in fighting malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis had saved millions of lives, and more children than ever — especially girls — were in school.  But, progress had been uneven within and among countries, and many were seeing widening social and economic inequalities.  Large disparities remained in access to health and education services between the richest and poorest households.  Vulnerable populations were less educated and lacked the skills needed to compete in today’s labour market.  They had lower employment rates, earned less and were less healthy.


“These inequalities are a reproach to the promise of the United Nations Charter,” he proclaimed, stressing that social justice was a key ingredient of a peaceful world.  Societies where hope and opportunity were scarce were vulnerable to upheaval and conflict.  Social and economic inequalities could tear the social fabric, undermine social cohesion and prevent nations from thriving.  Inequality could breed crime, disease and environmental degradation, and hamper economic growth.  “If inequalities continue to widen, development may not be sustainable,” he cautioned.


Reducing inequality would require transformative change, he went on, adding that solutions were needed to the economic and financial crisis that must benefit all.  An inclusive approach to sustainable development, greater efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, and more investments in health, education, social protection and decent jobs, especially for young people, were also needed.  Indeed, tackling inequality, eradicating poverty and promoting shared prosperity must be at the heart of the United Nations sustainable development agenda.  “Let us work to ensure equality of opportunity for all,” he concluded.


JOSÉ MIGUEL INSULZA, Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS), said that numerous countries around the world had recently witnessed protest movements arising from a “generalized sense of inequality”.  Those demonstrations shared common features and new protagonists, and brought together new actors — including youth.  They demanded the right to a better distribution of the benefits that could be provided by the State and society.


His home region, Latin America, had witnessed many such movements, he said.  Nevertheless, only a marginal reduction in inequality between the rich and poor had been achieved.  Meanwhile, in North America, there had been a systemic increase in inequality over recent decades.  It was paradoxical that poverty eradication worldwide was now within reach, while income inequalities between rich and poor had remained the same or widened.  The richest 1 per cent had more than doubled their wealth over the past decade, now controlling 39 per cent of global output, while some 2.7 billion people around the world lived on less than $2 per day.


That situation masked a more complex social and economic truth:  that a large number of citizens witnessed others enjoying benefits that they themselves could not obtain, he said.  Such a society was inherently unstable, he added, noting that informal employment had increased its share of many economies, exacerbating the wage gaps between rich and poor.  There was also a need to underscore the link between inequality and governance, he said, pointing out that, in the Americas alone, more than 50 million people lacked health insurance.


Solutions to those problems would not be found in the global markets, he went on.  Instead, the inequality of opportunities must be reduced, while access to health care, social services and credit increased.  The challenge lay in the design of public policies that re-examined tax and labour adjustments and upheld the interests of the most vulnerable.  They must also tackle the lack of trust in public institutions; reshaping those institutions was a major challenge.


High-level Session


CAROLYN RODRIGUES-BIRKETT, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Guyana, said that no society could expect to achieve sustainable economic and social growth while significant numbers of its people were poorly nourished, in poor health and unemployed.  Going forward, the international community must acknowledge the multidimensional nature of inequality, which resulted from drivers and barriers in the economic, social, environmental, cultural and political domains.  Inequality must be addressed in a holistic fashion, by tackling its causes, as well as its symptoms.  Highlighting the gender aspect of inequality, she pointed out that more women than men lacked the resources to meet their basic needs in her region.  Conversely, the percentage of female-headed households continued to rise, particularly among the poor.


She said that the post-2015 development agenda, therefore, must place emphasis on inclusive, sustainable and pro-poor economic growth and on the creation of decent work.  In the face of multiple challenges, Guyana had consistently pursued policies that focused on reducing inequality at the domestic level.  More than 30 per cent of the national budget was dedicated to education, health, housing, water and other social programmes.  Over the past seven years, growth of the economy had averaged some 5 per cent annually, which, she emphasized, was undoubtedly the result of investing in “our people”.


INÉS DEL CARMEN PÁEZ D'ALESSANDRO, Director of Organization and Communication, Ministry of Social Development, Argentina, said her country had witnessed 10 years of deep changes, thanks to a “recentring and reshaping” of policies.  That decade of success contrasted to “lost decades” suffered in the twentieth century.  Efforts to establish equality nationwide had sought to bring economic, social and political change to combat the massive unemployment and indebtedness, which had been holding Argentina back and had led to social exclusion and the deprivation of basic rights for many, she said, adding that neo-liberal policies were to blame.  Indeed, the election of Néstor Kirchner had resulted in a “paradigm shift” in Argentina, as he turned his back on neo-liberalism, thereby ending indebtedness and increasing employment.


The President, she continued, promoted inclusion and access to rights.  Past changes, spurred by civil society participation, had undoubtedly strengthened social justice and human rights.  She outlined several national policies launched to boost social cohesion, noting efforts to broaden labour rights and promote workforce inclusion, as well as to grant microcredit to sustain employment.  Social protection and social security measures also had been undertaken, including support for families with children and contributory and non-contributory pensions.  Argentina had also been a pioneer in sexual diversity, allowing same-sex marriage and changes to gender identity.  Acknowledging that much remained to be done, she pointed out that the country’s “Gini Coefficient” had risen in recent years, thanks largely to the investments in labour.  The challenge going forward would be to shape a country where no one was left out.  “Utopia can be built,” she stressed.


RADMILA MITROVIĆ, Deputy Minister for Human Rights and Refugees, Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that the exclusion of individuals and groups caused social tensions, political instability and conflicts.  National strategies, therefore, were critical to empower people at risk of poverty and social exclusion to become active citizens in the country’s economic, social and cultural life.  Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a post-conflict society, faced the problem of inequality as a result of war.  Indeed, 2.2 million people had been displaced from their homes, the reasons for which varied from the destruction of pre-war housing to a lack of employment opportunities and “no future” for those living in underdeveloped areas.


Difficulties in achieving national and cultural equality and an uncertain political future also contributed to the displacements, she said, underscoring the positive influence of international donor funds to the nation’s revival and reconstruction.  Pledging that her country aspired to build a society of equal opportunity and inclusion, she referenced its Constitution and various laws, saying that they prohibited discrimination and emphasized fundamental freedoms to all persons regardless of race, sex, language, religion or political affiliation.


ANTHONY LAKE, Executive Director, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), listed some of the roots of inequality, including long-held prejudices and ignorance.  “But, while the root causes are many, the damage is the same,” he said.  Families and communities were stepped over on the ladder of progress.  Today, the richest 20 per cent enjoyed about 70 per cent of the world’s total income.  Alarming disparities existed even in New York City, where some children attended excellent, safe schools while others struggled with poor-quality education.  “Such disparities create lasting divisions that are not easily overcome,” he stressed, warning that they could continue to reverberate through future generations “at great cost to us all”.


He said that, because today’s children were tomorrow’s parents and leaders, a crucial question emerged:  would children replicate the disparities that presently divided societies?  The answer would be found in the health and education of today’s vulnerable children, but also in their world view.  Would they grow up with hope, or hopelessness?  Would a child in a poor urban slum grow up with the belief that with hard work he or she could succeed, or would the child fall victim to cynicism?


Rather than viewing equality as a moral challenge, it should, instead, be seen as an investment that benefited all people, he said.  Equity strategies could spur growth.  Studies showed that every additional year of schooling could increase lifetime income by 10 per cent.  An equity focus was also an investment in long-term resilience and was the best way to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.  “A focus on equity is more cost-effective than our current approach,” he said, adding that the post-2015 agenda represented the best hope to reverse the downward spiral of inequality in favour of an upward trend of human development and growth.


ALICIA BÁRCENA, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said that her region was diverse and complex, not least because it was one of the most unequal in the world.  The recent financial crisis was rich in lessons of “what not to do”, she said, highlighting, in particular, the neglect of social fabric.  The region had learned to be more prudent in macroeconomic issues, but more lenient in social matters.  While there was still a need to control inflation and combat poverty, some 58 million people in the region had already been lifted out of poverty.  Indeed, the region was on track to meet most of the Millennium Development Goals, with the exception of the one related to maternal mortality, she said, adding that that target was affected by teen pregnancy — another effect of inequality.


Describing some of the policies that had helped to ease poverty in Latin America, she cited, among others, non-contributory cash transfer programmes, which benefited the most vulnerable.  Unemployment had also been reduced; however, the large informal work sector meant that employment remained “precarious” and did not necessarily constitute a solution to inequality.  Briefly summarizing an ECLAC proposal — known as the “Hour of Equality” programme — she stressed that equality should become not only a human right, but the final development goal.  “Equality is the horizon we are heading towards, and policy is the instrument to travel there,” she said, adding that “we need to listen to the demands that are rising in our streets and in our countries”.


LAKSHMI PURI, Acting Head of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), said inequality caused discontent worldwide and would remain the most significant development challenge.  The current “season of discontent” was a wake-up call and an opportunity to ensure that ending inequality became an imperative, and that it was used a means to achieve social justice, environmental sustainability and other aspects of the development agenda.


Gender equality, she stated, was the “mother of all inequalities”.  It intersected and underlay all other inequalities and was pervasive in all regions and countries.  It was vital, therefore, to mainstream gender into the post-2015 development agenda, not least because the denial to women and girls of their rights remained a major driver of inequality.  At the same time, efforts to fulfil the Millennium Development Goals had made a tangible difference in several areas, such as health, education and the eradication of poverty.  The stand-alone goal on women’s empowerment had no doubt paid real dividends, having spotlighted the issue globally.  Sustaining those gains meant addressing the root causes of gender discrimination.  That required a stand-alone goal on gender inequality in the sustainable development goals and it should be grounded in the human rights agreements already in effect, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Beijing Platform for Action.


In that vein, she said, the goal needed three main targets.  It must ensure that women were free from violence, including the fear of violence.  The physical and psychological harm caused by violence constrained women’s ability to fulfil their potential.  It also should focus on enhancing the capabilities of women and girls, in the areas of reproductive rights and access to resources that would help build women’s capabilities.  It was also important to boost women’s voice.  There was plenty of evidence to show that countries with higher status of women also had stronger social and economic governance.  Reducing gender inequality also reduced other forms of inequality and promoted sustainability.  Investment was vital and a real opportunity existed to drive lasting change women’s equality.


PEDRO OLINTO, Senior Economist at the Poverty Reduction and Equity Team of the World Bank, said an end to extreme poverty worldwide was within sight for the first time in history.  Although daunting, it would be possible to end extreme poverty by 2030 if current trends were sustained.  That, in itself, was a major challenge thanks to slowing growth in many countries.  But, it was also evident that growth itself was not necessarily the route to achieving eradication.  While income inequality had decreased between countries, internal inequality within most developing countries was on the rise.


Most recent global growth had been centred in countries where inequality had increased over the same period, he said, adding that that raised the question as to whether growth could continue to be expected to boost poverty reduction.  Focusing on reducing inequality was vital to eradicating poverty by 2030.


There was debate on where such policies should focus, whether on income inequality or inequality of opportunity, on which there was no consensus, he continued, adding, however, that everyone could agree that improving equality of opportunity would be beneficial.  People’s efforts and choices — and not their circumstances — should govern their opportunities.  Targeted social safety nets could also help to increase equality of opportunity by encouraging poor people to take risks.  The post-2015 development goals should focus more strongly on excluded groups.  Data monitoring was essential and the issue of domestic financing should also be tackled.  Wealthier developing countries were expanding their tax bases and were better placed to address their own issues.  At the same time, official development assistance (ODA) was still necessary for those countries that did not possess the necessary resources.


HÉCTOR SALAZAR, Manager ad-interim of the Social Sector at the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), said that the last decade had been an extraordinary one for Latin America.  Growth rates had risen, poverty had fallen and the region’s middle class had increased.  Most impressive was the reduction in inequality in many Latin American countries.  Two factors had been critical in that respect:  increasing the incomes of the poor and a dramatic extension of “cash to poor” social programmes.  While the region had much to be proud of, “more of the same is not enough” and could, in fact, be counter-productive.  What was needed now was a bold, imaginative social policy based on three pillars:  building the human capital of the poor; investing in infrastructure, including projects that benefited the poor; and ensuring that fiscal programmes were sustainable in the long term.


Turning to the situation of youth in Latin America, he said that training and education were needed in order to benefit from the region’s demographic boom.  There was also a high level of youth fertility, including teen pregnancy, he said.  Critical strategies for youth included ensuing educational continuity; improving employability; and integrating vulnerable young people into society.  Support should also be provided to parents across the region, he said.


Discussion


In the brief discussion that followed, the representative of Brazil said that the wide promotion of economic, social and political empowerment was vital to combating inequalities.  Economic expansion and market forces could not provide solutions alone; in fact, sustainable, equitable economic growth was needed.  By placing social policies at the core of its development policies, Brazil had proved that it was possible to grow while lifting people out of poverty and protecting the environment.  He went on to describe the country’s “Bolsa Familia” programme, by which a monthly stipend was provided to families that were committed to keeping their children in school and attending regular medical checkups.  Such programmes had helped to cut extreme poverty by 52 per cent since 2003.  Protection schemes must have the broadest possible coverage, and build in extra support for vulnerable groups and indigenous peoples.  “It always seems impossible until it’s done,” said the delegate, of confronting the challenge of inequality.


Speaking for the European Union, another delegate said that foremost among global challenges were eradication of poverty and the achievement of sustainable development in all its dimensions.  Those were huge challenges, especially since the world’s poorest billion people held 1 per cent of its wealth, while the richest billion held 72 per cent.  Global action was required, and he urged that that be prioritized in setting the post-2015 agenda.  Recent movements in North Africa and the Middle East showed the importance of inclusive political systems and employment.  Empowerment was essential to poverty reduction, especially for women and marginalized groups who were at the highest risk of suffering social exclusion and poverty.  The European Union had adopted a rights-based approach to tackling inequality and social exclusion, with non-discrimination and freedom of association essential aspects.


A representative of the Russian Federation stressed the complexity of social inequality, and added that discrimination based on inequality was a violation of human rights and provoked conflict.  Some countries had laws that discriminated on the basis of race, gender, nationality or language, which meant that some national minorities were unable to speak their mother tongue and unable to receive proper educations.  Tackling such exclusion was a pressing challenge for the Russian Federation.  Governments should focus on protecting their populations, with laws that were geared towards social services; better access to social infrastructure was also needed.  He described his country’s efforts to improve the effectiveness of the assistance it offered, which included building a single database of welfare recipients, aimed at providing more targeted assistance.  Answers were needed to complex issues associated with inequality, such as how to avoid discrimination and ensure that inequality did not ignite conflict.


Panel Discussion I


Moderating the first panel, “Efforts reducing inequality”, was Heraldo Muñoz, Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the Regional Bureau for Latin Amercia and the Caribbean at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  Presentations were made by Aida Opoku-Mensah, Senior Adviser to the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA); Judy Chen, Chairperson of Council Hong-Kong for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); and José Antonio Ocampo, Professor at Columbia University, New York.


Mr. MUÑOZ, introducing the panellists, noted that Latin America remained the most unequal region of the world.  Its performance on the Human Development Index dropped 25.7 per cent when adjusted for inequality.  Income-based inequality could be tackled through social policy and a dynamic labour market.  The main challenges for Governments trying to close the equality gap were fiscal and institutional.  To improve fiscal capabilities while limiting the impact of taxation on the poor, Governments needed to increase direct taxes and reduce indirect taxes.


Ms. OPOKU-MENSAH described the situation in Africa, where, she noted, extreme poverty was in decline, albeit, too slowly.  Inequality persisted between urban and rural areas and threatened gains made.  There was promise in education, with primary school enrolment improving.  Especially impressive were the numbers of girls enrolling, which boded well for women’s empowerment and gender equality.  Women were also taking up seats in Parliament at a high rate, and they were better accessing economic opportunities.  They were also less susceptible now to maternal mortality.  However, progress in reducing mortality was inadequate and would not be enough to reach the Millennium Development Goal target by 2015.  She stressed the importance of tackling such issues through sound public policies that reduced the “staggering” inequalities and supported the most vulnerable.


Ms. CHEN noted that many children remained defenceless against recruitment as soldiers, food shortages, disease, poverty and enslavement and trafficking.  She was sad to report that the situation for children was “far from good”.  Too many did not get the love and care that they deserved, with hardships that too often proved fatal.  UNICEF had helped to “rescue” tens of thousands of children in recent years, she said, stressing that every child had the right to reach their full potential, regardless of the situation in which they lived.  UNICEF had also promoted effective social policy reforms in China to help protect children.


Mr. OCAMPO said that, although the world had experienced a major reduction in poverty, the same could not be said for inequality.  Thus, that must be addressed as a concrete goal in the 2015-development agenda.  The experience in developing countries was uneven in terms of reducing inequality.  In Africa, for instance, some countries had performed well and contributed to the global economy, while others had virtually failed to grow.  The most worrying concern, however, was the inequality within countries.  Four fifths of the world population lived in countries where inequality had increased in the last 30 years, and there could be “no doubt” that the elements impacting world development were reflected in that ratio.  The Latin American region remained the “most unequal” in the world.  He expressed particular concern over Chile and Colombia, where the richest 1 per cent controlled 20 per cent of the income, the greatest disparity in all of Latin America.  For that reason, he suggested that the welfare policies of Europe should become increasingly universal.


Interactive Exchange


In the ensuing discussion, several representatives agreed that it was vital to address inequality and its underlining causes in the post-2015 development agenda.  The representative of Sweden, speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, said that uneven distribution of wealth was not just bad for people living in poverty, but also for entire economies.  Equitable socioeconomic progress was important, not only for low-income countries, but for developed countries, as well.  For that reason, Nordic countries combined a business-friendly economy with policies of fair distribution, welfare, gender equality and respect for the rule of law.  Indeed, Jamaica’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said social and economic inequality impeded achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, which, themselves, had “fallen short” of prompting leaders to be productive in addressing inequality.  Therefore, it was necessary to ensure that all growth was people-centric.


Chile’s delegate stressed the need to study alternative solutions to inequality as the market failed to respond to many concrete challenges.  The representative of Argentina said that, although it was very much “in fashion” to say that progress had been made in Latin America, challenges persisted.  It was important to not attribute the progress to the markets, alone.  Progress would come once middle-income countries addressed several systemic challenges, which prevented them from modifying their structures fully.  That was where the United Nations must step in, he added.


Also speaking in that exchange were the representatives of Serbia, Paraguay, Mexico and Viet Nam.


Panel Discussion II


The second panel entitled “Reducing inequality:  Perspectives from Civil Society” featured presentations by Wila Shalit, Chief Executive Officer of Fair Winds Trading; Jessica Espey, Senior Research and Policy Adviser at Save the Children; Nisha Das, Representative of the youth; and Miriam Masaquiza, Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.


Ms. SHALIT described a partnership where inequality as difference had been used to tackle inequality of justice.  In Rwanda, women faced huge inequality and injustice, but one inequality set them apart positively — their basket-weaving skills.  Macy’s, an American department store, had partnered with the weavers to produce baskets for sale in Macy’s stores.  The project had helped to reduce violence against women because they were perceived as being more important in society due to the wages they were earning.  It was also a source of great pride for the women.  The project boosted employment, allowing families to spend money on education and malaria nets.  The model had since been replicated in Haiti, following the 2010 earthquake, she said, adding that the project could be applied in other scenarios to use “difference” as a means to healing communities.


Ms. ESPEY said country of birth, colour of skin, language, and the wealth of a child’s parents could determine a child’s ticket in the “lottery of life”.  Save the Children found that children suffered the greatest burden of inequality with the gulf between rich and poor children far wider than between adults.  The gaps were growing because of non-equitable growth recorded in two thirds of countries  worldwide.  Health and education were crucial to addressing inequality, with free services dramatically improving outcomes for children.  She also pointed to the importance of fair labour and social protection policies, as well as taxation, noting that many countries had emphasised indirect taxation, which tended to spoil the positive impacts on inequality caused by direct taxation.  She hoped the post-2015 development agenda would address the vulnerabilities of excluded groups directly, and set a target for reducing income inequality.


Ms. DAS expressed sadness that many children around the world were not treated with “dignity, equality and respect”.  Many were not educated or properly included in society.  Poor girls with disabilities, such as herself, were often “invisible”, while the rich stayed in their rich houses and did not help.  Things were particularly bad for girls, who were not given the same freedoms as boys, including attending higher-level school.  People did not see that talents of poor, female children with disabilities or understand that they had hearts and hopes.  Two thirds of Indian children did not get to secondary school, with dropout rates highest among girls.  India also had the largest number of newborn deaths, mainly due to malnutrition.  She called on Governments to ensure that children attended school and that schools were “disabled-friendly”.  Teachers should be trained to handle disabilities, and all children should be given equal opportunities.


Ms. MASAQUIZA said that, in most countries where indigenous people lived, they had been “left behind”.  Although there were commonalities within people living in the same country, there were still existing inequalities between the indigenous and non-indigenous people in terms of access to education, health and employment.  Violence was one of the clearest manifestations of that discrimination.  Indigenous peoples were affected by armed conflict, militarization of their land and enforced displacement.  In addition, there were few opportunities to gain political representation.  Understanding the complexities of indigenous peoples required a cross-cutting approach, and she underlined the need for them to gain access to information and education.  Political support must be forthcoming, together with institutional and financial support.  She expressed particular concern that many indigenous people lived in bio-diverse areas highly vulnerable to climate change, urging, therefore, that the post 2015-development agenda take those peoples’ needs into account.


Closing Remarks


Mr. MIGUEL INSULZA, Secretary-General Organization of American States, said the problem of inequality was a global one, and as it continued to grow, it could exacerbate instability.  Several countries had tried to implement poverty-reduction initiatives.  Yet, inequality had grown as the rich became richer.  It was concerning that inequality affected the most vulnerable people of society — women, children and persons with disabilities.  The impact of inequality was not only manifested in relations between countries and regions, but also inside every single nation.  In countries in which policies had been carried out, such as access to global markets, poverty and inequality had been reduced.  However, in order to have a real and lasting impact, it was necessary to invest in human capacity and create decent jobs.  Education went “hand in hand” with reducing inequality.


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For information media • not an official record