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World’s most marginalized still left behind by global development priorities: UNDP report

World’s most marginalized still left behind by global development priorities: UNDP report
Photo credit: UNDP

22 Mar 2017

Millions of people are not benefiting from progress, with the gap set to widen unless deep-rooted development barriers, including discrimination and unequal political participation, are tackled.

A quarter-century of impressive human development progress continues to leave many people behind, with systemic, often unmeasured, barriers to catching up. A stronger focus on those excluded and on actions to dismantle these barriers is urgently needed to ensure sustainable human development for all.

These are the findings of the Human Development Report 2016, entitled ‘Human Development for Everyone’, released on 21 March 2017 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The report finds that although average human development improved significantly across all regions from 1990 to 2015, one in three people worldwide continue to live in low levels of human development, as measured by the Human Development Index.

“Leaving no one behind needs to become the way we operate as a global community. In order to overcome the barriers that hamper both human development and progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, inclusiveness must guide policy choices,” said Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, speaking at the launch of the report in Stockholm on Tuesday, alongside UNDP Administrator Helen Clark and the report’s lead author and Director of the Human Development Report Office, Selim Jahan.

“The world has come a long way in rolling back extreme poverty, in improving access to education, health and sanitation, and in expanding possibilities for women and girls,” said Helen Clark. “But those gains are a prelude to the next, possibly tougher challenge, to ensure the benefits of global progress reach everyone.”

This is a concern in developed countries too, where poverty and exclusion are also a challenge, with over 300 million people – including more than one-third of all children – living in relative poverty.

Left behind and unable to catch up: systemic discrimination against women, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, among others

The report notes that not only are deprivations high, but disadvantages disproportionately affect some groups.

“We place too much attention on national averages, which often mask enormous variations in people’s lives,” stated Selim Jahan. “In order to advance, we need to examine more closely not just what has been achieved, but also who has been excluded and why.” 

The report shows that in almost every country, several groups face disadvantages that often overlap and reinforce each other, increasing vulnerability, widening the progress gap across generations, and making it harder to catch up as the world moves on.

Women and girls, rural dwellers, indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants and refugees, and the LGBTI community are among those systematically excluded by barriers that are not purely economic, but political, social and cultural as well.

In the case of women, the largest of these groups, the report notes that while global gender disparities are narrowing slowly, longstanding patters of exclusion and lack of empowerment for women and girls remain pressing challenges.

Women tend to be poorer, earn less, and have fewer opportunities in most aspects of life than men. In 100 countries, women are legally excluded from some jobs because of their gender, and in 18 countries, women need their husband’s approval to work. Dangerous practices like female genital mutilation and forced marriage continue.

Populations living in rural areas also face multiple barriers. For instance, children from poor rural households attending school are less likely to be learning reading, writing and mathematics.

Moreover, migrants and refugees often face barriers to work, education and political participation and more than 250 million people in the world face discrimination on the basis of their ethnicity, the report notes among other examples.

It is time to face up to deep-rooted barriers to development

“By eliminating deep, persistent, discriminatory social norms and laws, and addressing the unequal access to political participation, which have hindered progress for so many, poverty can be eradicated and a peaceful, just, and sustainable development can be achieved for all," Helen Clark said.

Marginalized groups often have limited opportunities to influence the institutions and policies that determine their lives. Changing this is central to breaking the vicious circle of exclusion and deprivation.

For example, indigenous peoples account for five percent of the world’s population, but 15 percent of people living in poverty. And members of the LGBTI community cannot actively advocate for their rights when same-sex acts between men are illegal in more than 70 countries.

The report calls for far greater attention to empowering the most marginalized in society, and recognizes the importance of giving them greater voice in decision-making processes.

The report also calls for a more refined analysis to inform actions, including making a shift toward assessing progress in such areas as participation and autonomy. Key data, disaggregated for characteristics such as place, gender, socioeconomic status and ethnicity, is vital to know who is being left behind.  

Moreover, the report warns, key development metrics can overstate progress when they focus on the quantity, rather than the quality, of development. For instance, girls’ enrolment in primary education has increased, but in half of 53 developing countries with data, the majority of adult women who completed four to six years of primary school are illiterate.

Human development for everyone is attainable

“Despite progress gaps, universal human development is attainable,” said Selim Jahan. “Over the last decades, we have witnessed achievements in human development that were once thought impossible.”

Since 1990, one billion people have escaped extreme poverty, and women’s empowerment has become a mainstream issue: while as recently as the 1990s, very few countries legally protected women from domestic violence, today, 127 countries do.

The report stresses the importance of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to build on these gains, noting that the agenda and human development approach are mutually reinforcing.

The report includes recommendations to reorient policies to ensure progress reaches those furthest behind, and urges reforms of global markets and global institutions to make them more equitable and representative.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Despite outpacing global human development growth rates over 15 years, sub-Saharan Africa remains burdened by the world’s most uneven distribution of development gains, with women, girls, people living in rural areas, migrants, refugees and those in conflict-affected areas systemically left behind. Gender inequality remains a serious challenge to human development in the region.

Understanding patterns of exclusion in the region

The report notes that some groups are more disadvantaged than others in almost every country. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, women and girls, rural dwellers, people living in areas afflicted by conflict, and ethnic minorities have fewer opportunities than others.

Women in sub-Saharan Africa tend to live longer than men but receive less schooling and lower incomes. The report indicates that the HDI for women is 0.488 (classified as low human development) while that of men is 0.557 (medium human development). On average, the region loses an estimated US$95 billion annually to women’s lower participation in the paid labour force – and in 2014, that figure soared as high as $105 billion.

Women also suffer disproportionately in crises: during the Ebola outbreak, for example, women faced higher risk of infection due to their role in caring for the sick.

“Closing the human development gap for women and girls, excluded groups and people living in fragile situations is the challenge of our time,” said UNDP Africa Director Abdoulaye Mar Dieye. “We need policies that reach those left out and we need to invest more in empowering them economically and politically while building their resilience.”

In addition to women and girls, the report notes that rural populations also suffer deprivations both overt and hidden. In sub-Saharan Africa, 74 percent of those living in rural areas live in multidimensional poverty – reflecting acute deprivation in health, education and standards of living – versus 31 percent of those living in urban areas, where the poor tend to be isolated in slums with lower access to services.

But there are positive examples from the region of how things can improve. For example, the global under-five mortality rate was more than halved between 1990 and 2015, with the steepest decline in sub-Saharan Africa, which also extended life expectancy by six years. In 2010, Senegal targeted 191 rural villages for improved access to electricity, increasing access in those areas from 17,000 people in 2010 to 90,000 in 2012.

“We place too much attention on national averages, which often mask enormous variations in people’s lives,” stated Selim Jahan. “In order to advance, we need to examine more closely not just what has been achieved, but also who has been excluded and why.”

Conflict remains a challenge for the region, although over the past 15 years the number of countries in conflict has dropped. For example, the Central African Republic and South Sudan have experienced HDI declines over the past five years due to crises.

It is time to face up to deep-rooted barriers to development

The report argues that obstacles to human progress can compound over generations and make it harder to catch up. For example, lack of access to high-quality education, including in early childhood, risks perpetuating poverty later in life and for subsequent generations. Children from poor households and girls attending school in rural areas are especially disadvantaged and less likely than others to be learning critical skills like reading, writing and mathematics. Policy interventions are critical to enhancing learning outcomes, and also for future employment prospects and civic participation.

Further, the report points out that even as many basic deprivations are being addressed in the region, new challenges can emerge. Key development metrics can overstate progress when they focus on the quantity, rather than the quality, of development. For example, while more children are attending school and the education gap is closing, pupil-teacher ratios exceeded 40 to 1 in 23 countries in sub-Saharan Africa in 2011. And dropout rates are still very high, at 42 percent.

Sub-Saharan Africa leads the world in mobile banking, with 12 percent of adults having mobile bank accounts compared to 2 percent globally. Yet only 25 percent of the population is online. Lack of access to the Internet is increasingly a barrier to education, livelihoods and political participation, and many in the region risk falling further behind unless digital access is expanded.

“By eliminating deep, persistent, discriminatory social norms and laws, and addressing unequal access to political participation, which have hindered progress for so many, poverty can be eradicated and a peaceful, just, and sustainable development can be achieved for all,” Helen Clark said.

The report calls for far greater attention to empowering the most marginalized in society and recognizes the importance of giving them greater voice in decision-making processes. Key data, disaggregated for characteristics such as place, gender, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity, is vital to identifying who is being left behind.

Policies that prioritize inclusiveness are key to closing gaps

The report recommends a four-pronged national policy approach to ensure that human development reaches everyone.

First, it advocates reorienting universal human development policies to reach to those left out. Universal access to quality healthcare, education and other services are critical for extending human development to everyone. Ghana has made such efforts, including in early childhood education.

Next, it calls for removing barriers to particular groups with special needs, who may be disadvantaged by discriminatory laws and social norms. For example, gender gaps can be closed with policies that balance care work between women and men in the home and that use quotas to expand political representation among women, following the example of Rwanda.

Third, strategies can be put in place to make human development more resilient, such as for marginalized groups who are most at risk to public health crises like Ebola and climate-related natural disasters.

Finally, the rights of minorities can be guaranteed with anti-discrimination legislation, a fair judicial system and improved access to legal assistance through, for example, legal aid services.

With the inter-governmental commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that includes the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, global attention has focused on leaving no one behind. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa can leverage this to build cooperation in the region and beyond to tackle persistent deprivations and inequalities. Regional and global cooperation will be especially important for reducing the vulnerabilities of marginalized groups to climate change, conflict and economic volatility.

Source UNDP
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Date 22 Mar 2017
 
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