Mr. Jorn Sorensen - UNDP Samoa Multi-Country Office Resident Representative. Photo credit: UNDP/L.Lesa

Theme – Inequality
Inequality has become a defining issue of our time.

Defined as the state of not being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities, inequality comes in many forms, but the understanding of inequality has evolved from the traditional outcome-oriented view, whereby income is used as a proxy for well-being. The opportunity-oriented perspective acknowledges that circumstances of birth are essential to life outcomes and that equality of opportunity requires a fair starting point for all.

Whilst this is evident on a large scale in bigger countries, it is equally as important and perhaps felt more by small islands such as those under this multi-country office, namely Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tokelau.

This year’s Human Development Report focuses on this pertinent issue. To reference UNDP’s Administrator, Achim Steiner, the Report sets out that despite growing progress against poverty, hunger and disease, systematic inequalities are deeply damaging our society, and this Report analyses why.  

Inequality is not just about how much someone earns compared to their neighbor. It is about the unequal distribution of wealth and power, the entrenched social and political norms that are bringing people onto the streets in cities and towns across the world, and the triggers that will do so in the future unless something changes.

The Human Development Report 2019
The HDR is the latest in a series of Reports from the United Nations Development Programme. It is basically analytical work based on empirical evidence carried out by UNDP. The HDR has been the calling card for UNDP’s work since 1990. At the country level, many countries are today also issuing a National Human Development Report that address some of the core challenges that are characteristic of the core national level development issues.

This particular report is examining inequalities and ways of better understanding the multi-dimensions of inequality.

There is economic inequality of course, but there are also inequalities in key elements of human development such as health, education, dignity and respect for human rights.

A human development approach to inequality takes a people-centered view: It is about people’s capabilities to exercise their freedom to be and do what they aspire to in life. For UNDP and in regard to the report, it is important not to leave anyone behind!

Understanding income disparities requires examining other forms of inequality such as disadvantages in health and education. We know that children from poor families may not be able to afford an education and are therefore at a disadvantage.

We have known this for many years and many researchers have tackled complex issues around social selection and reproduction.

We need however to keep exploring, and while some of the previous HDRs since 1990, and the many National HDRs that UNDP has produced have provided some clarity, the world is constantly changing, and we need to keep being at the forefront with insightful studies and in-depth research.

While some groups of people are systematically disadvantaged in many ways, today the largest disadvantaged group are women. The HDR highlights many of the inherent and intrinsic challenges that are faced by women.

The Report argues that tackling inequalities is possible. But it is not easy. Better understanding of the patterns of inequality and what drives them is imperative to our work at UNDP.

The Report argues for the value of looking at inequalities beyond income, beyond averages – and summarize measures of inequality – and beyond today.

Looking ahead
Looking beyond today means scanning ahead to recognize and tackle the new forms of inequality.

The Report does not claim that any one set of policies will work everywhere. But it does argue that policies must get beneath the surface of inequality to address their underlying drivers.

Power imbalances are at the heart of many inequalities. They may be economic, political or social.

What to do to address inequalities in human development is ultimately for each society to determine. That determination will emerge from political debates that can be charged and difficult.

The 2019 HDR contributes to those debates by presenting facts on inequalities in human development, interpreting them through the capabilities approach and proposing ideas to reduce them over the course of the 21st century.

For small island nations like Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tokelau, the kind of data and information that the Report provides, is crucial in aligning their plans for the future and achieving the all-important Development Goals.


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