News, June 30 2019

The UN Secretary-General has issued a report on the 2019 theme of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), ‘Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.’ The report seeks to inform ECOSOC’s annual High-level Segment, which will take place from 16-19 July 2019 and serve as the culmination of the 2018-2019 cycle of ECOSOC meetings.

The first three days of the High-level Segment (HLS) overlap with the Ministerial Segment of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), while the fourth and final day will consist of discussions that allow UN Member States to broaden their discussion of the 2030 Agenda, with a focus on future trends and scenarios, and trends’ long-term impacts on realizing the SDGs, accounting for the annual theme of ECOSOC.

The report of the Secretary-General titled, ‘Empowering People and Ensuring Inclusiveness and Equality’ (E/2019/65), outlines the importance of political participation for equality, inclusion and empowerment, noting the impacts on decision-making processes that determine the allocation and distribution of social, economic, political and cultural assets. Among other measures, the report calls for:

  • adopting pro-equality public policies to advance the empowerment, inclusion and equality of all, such as policies to promote active participation in decision-making, labor inclusion and social protection, universal policies that are sensitive to differences in health and education, policies that address the challenges and vulnerabilities of specific population subgroups, and policies for digital inclusion;
  • invigorating civic engagement efforts by institutionalizing relevant stakeholder involvement within all policy processes, building the capacity of civil society organizations, and strengthening civic education;
  • ensuring that nationally owned data generation and analysis systems are capable of providing regular reports on progress made towards global and nationalized SDG indicators; and
  • exploring open source platforms developed by the private sector and civil society organizations, as they can help improve efficiency in service delivery to reach the poorest and most disadvantaged children and communities.

The report stresses that inequality is a multi-dimensional phenomenon that goes far beyond income inequality, and relates also to access to social services and various aspects of well-being. Noting that measuring inequality is complex, the report warns that while SDG indicators and targets are important for measuring progress against the Goals, an overly narrow focus on indicators “could be misleading.”

To reduce inequality, the report suggests to, inter alia: identify policy solutions across several interlinked areas; include refugees in national systems and economies; ensure participation channels in decision-making; and provide social protection policies and schemes that are “instrumental in breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty and vulnerability.” It indicates that only 35% of children are covered by social protection globally, and the rate varies widely between regions: social protection reaches 87% of children in Europe and Central Asia, but only 16% in Africa.

On the role of institutions and governance, the report notes that while much progress has been achieved in certain population groups, institutional frameworks and policies have not addressed deprivation and discrimination of other groups, such as migrants, which “have historically been neglected by public and social policies in many countries.” It stresses the need to adopt policy frameworks that encompass and set out institutional mechanisms that ensure both universal respect for human rights and the recognition of the needs and rights of specific population groups.

On frontier technologies, the report indicates that a large technological divide persists, with millions of people limited by technologies of the pre-industrial era and lacking access to modern education and health systems. It adds that while technology opens new avenues to reach out to the most vulnerable, rapid technological changes are also found to contribute to widening income and wealth inequality, and a polarization of skills has been observed in many developed countries. To take advantage of digital technologies, the report stresses the importance of national policies and strategies, and of regional collaboration to promote mutual learning and establish regional initiatives on empowerment and inclusion.

In addition to the Secretary-General’s report on ‘Empowering People and Ensuring Inclusiveness and Equality,’ ECOSOC’s High-level Segment also will be informed by the report on ‘Long-term impact of current trends in the economic, social and environmental areas on the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals,’ which is summarized here. [Publication: Empowering People and Ensuring Inclusiveness and Equality: Report of the Secretary-General]

Originally published on International Institute on Sustainable Development 

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