“Concerns about equity in human development translate directly into an explicit focus on inequality” (Human Development Report 2010)
A sustainable future has to be, first and foremost, a future in which everyone is included. If some countries have achieved an unprecedented level of development, others are being left behind, and inequality has been growing both between and within countries. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) need to take in consideration that reducing inequalities between countries, within countries and considering present and future generations, is necessary to ensure a long term, sustainable development model.
The Millennium Development Goals helped to tackle some of the most critical development issues such as reducing absolute poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy. Nonetheless, there is increasing evidence that, even if great achievements were made in absolute terms, issues regarding inequality have not been given the necessary attention. Unequal societies tend to be less stable and less prone to social mobility, which can make people become trapped in a cycle of poverty across generations. In that sense, high levels of inequality can be harmful to the long term economic growth of countries.
A research published by Oxfam in the beginning of 2015 showed that, on current trends, by 2016 1% of the world’s population will be richer than the remaining 99%. The same research also revealed that the 85 wealthiest people on the planet owned the equivalent of the bottom 50% of the world’s population. Those numbers have has also been met with concern by the World Economic Forum, that considers growing inequality the most significant trend to be addressed in 2015.
Extensive evidence exists on the inequalities found both between and within countries. Data from 2011 suggests that the poorest 5% of Americans earn 35 times more than their Zambian counterparts[i], while in South Africa the income of black African households are on average 13% of the income of white households[ii]. It is clear that a new development agenda must be concerned with reducing such impressive disparities.
There are different dimensions of inequality that must be taken into account in the S DG agenda. To adequately address them they will need to be understood as a web of mutually reinforcing inequalities that together create social exclusion. Markers such as race, religion, gender, caste, location, lack of voice/political influence and more generally a disadvantaged position in relation to the distribution of economic opportunities and gains interact to create persistent exclusion, which has proven to be resistant to piecemeal efforts of change. In addition to facing cultural, economic, spatial and political inequalities, many of the world’s poor and excluded suffer disproportionately from the negative impacts of environmental degradation caused by unsustainable economic activities often undermining their health, dignity and livelihoods. Such characteristics are often seen as a disadvantage, so that some individuals or groups are more constrained than others in their life chances[iii]. These sources of inequality, poverty and resulting vulnerabilities will need to be addressed through a combination of government policies, practices and budgeting, civil society participation and clear accountability mechanisms.
Tackling inequality is a central concern of the SDGs, so that it is not only explicit in the Goal 10 (“Reduce inequality within and among countries”), but it is also a cross-cutting issue and it is present in at least 24 targets in the other goals as well. For instance, achieving universal health coverage (Goal 3), assuring free and equitable access to quality education (Goal 4) and ending discrimination against women and girls (goal 5) are all necessary steps in order to achieve a more equitable world.
See Oxfam’s #EvenItUp campaign video and learn that extreme inequality is not accidental or inevitable. Let’s reduce the gap between the rich and ‘the rest’, and contribute to a more equal and sustainable world! Learn more about the other SDGs at www.globalgoals.org.
[i] Milanovic, B 2011. “Global Inequality: From class to location, from proletarians to migrants.” Policy Research Working Paper 5820. The World Bank, Washington, DC