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UNGA Holds Thematic Debate on Inequality

UNGA8 July 2013: At a UN General Assembly (UNGA) high-level thematic debate on Inequality, Member States and panels of academics and civil society discussed income and social inequalities, the exclusion of vulnerable groups, structural causes of inequality, and access to health, education and social services. The debate was mandated by UNGA Resolution 67/230, and organized in consultation with the Permanent Mission of Guyana and the Organization of American States (OAS). 

Opening the debate on 8 July 2013, at UN Headquarters in New York, US, UNGA President Vuk Jeremic outlined global philosophical and ethical traditions that emphasize the equality of all persons, and highlighted evidence of rising inequality within both developed and developing countries, and the resulting unrest, conflict and instability.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlighted the social successes of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), while noting that progress is unequal between groups, regions, and countries, which he said is "a reproach to the promise of the United Nations Charter." Ban urged delegates to make tackling inequality and eradicating poverty the heart of the post-2015 development agenda.

José Miguel Insulza, OAS Secretary General, described the citizen unease and distrust in local authorities arising from inequalities, and stressed the need to restore this trust by reshaping institutions. Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guyana, described her country's pursuit for a "new global human order" in which multilateral actions promote equity with growth, eradication of poverty, employment and decent work, and gender equality. Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF, looked at the inter-generational nature of inequality, asking, "will our children replicate today's disparities?" Lakshmi Puri, Acting Head of UN-Women, called gender-based discrimination the biggest driver of inequality, while Héctor Salazar, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), emphasized the impacts of poverty and homelessness on youth.

A second panel, on 'Efforts Reducing Inequality,' was moderated by Heraldo Muñoz, Director, UNDP Regional Bureau for Latin America and Caribbean. Muñoz said the key concern for middle income countries (MICs) will be closing the inequality gap, and called for specific policies to promote inclusion. Judy Chen, Chairman, Council of the Hong Kong Committee for UNICEF, said every child should have the right to participate and to have their opinions and views heard.  José Antonio Ocampo, Columbia University, recommended including inequality in the post-2015 development agenda as a concrete goal that can be monitored and measured.

The final panel discussion, 'Reducing Inequality: Views from Civil Society,' brought together leaders from organizations attempting to tackle inequality. Wila Shalit, Fairwinds Trading, stressed the contrast between inequality of justice and the inequality of difference, while presenting her company's project of partnering Rwandan women with the international corporation Macy's to produce woven baskets. Jessica Espey, Save the Children, revealed the "loop" that exists between a parent's inequality of income with a child's inequality of opportunity and public service access. Nisha Das, a 15-year-old youth representative, spoke of her own difficulties in going to school, being a "poor, disabled, girl child," and said that she did not want any other children to face the challenges that she did. Das said while children are often invisible to their societies, they have "talents, abilities, and dreams of a better world."

The panel discussions were followed by interactive discussion and statements from Member States and civil society. [Thematic Debate Programme] [Letter Convening Debate] [PGA Statement] [UNSG Statement] [IISD RS Sources]