Helen Clark: Keynote speech on Combating Inequalities and Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

Apr 13, 2016

Special event organized by the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations to commemorate the 125th Birth Anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar


It is a great honour to join this celebration of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s life. My thanks go to Ambassador Akbaruddin for inviting me to deliver the keynote speech at this special event.

Dr. Ambedkar understood that rising and persistent inequalities pose fundamental challenges to the economic and social well-being of nations and people. His work on the empowerment and inclusion of excluded groups, reform of labour laws, and promotion of education for all, made him an icon for marginalized people in India and in other countries. The ideals for which he worked so hard are as relevant today as they were sixty years ago. 

Reducing inequalities and discrimination in all their forms is at the heart of the new development agenda the world has committed to achieving by 2030. The pledge to ‘leave no one behind’ is the cornerstone of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It calls on countries at all stages of development to reduce inequalities by tackling: 

•    the wide disparities between rich and poor - a UNDP study in 2014 found that in 75 per cent of developing countries, income is more unequally distributed than it was in 1990;  and by tackling

•    biases found in institutions, legal systems, and social norms, which are the systemic drivers of discrimination and inequality. When groups of people are prevented from fully accessing resources, markets, basic services like health and education, and the forums through which their voices can be heard in policy-making processes, the result is entrenched inequality. That is the situation faced by disadvantaged groups in many countries: from the poor, to women, rural populations, marginalized indigenous communities, and ethnic minorities.

What will it take to reduce inequality

Dr. Ambedkar also had a deep understanding of the far-reaching measures which are needed to address inequalities. Today, just as sixty years ago, all countries have work to do to ensure that marginalized people are fully included in society.

Promoting inclusive and sustainable growth which generates productive and decent employment opportunities for all is key to addressing inequalities. The benefits of growth need to be shared by all members of society. This calls for economic and social policies which prioritize lifting the incomes and circumstances of poor and marginalized groups at a higher rate than the national average.

Governance which responds to the needs of the poorest and most marginalized is also key to reducing inequalities. Thus, for UNDP, building the capacity of national and subnational governments and other stakeholders to address the social determinants of inequalities is a central pillar of our work. We are partners with governments in the implementation of social and environmental safeguards and grievance mechanisms, and in ensuring that communities can have a voice in decision-making processes which impact on their lives.

Giving top priority to leaving no one behind and to poverty eradication are now guiding principles for development around the world. To eradicate poverty, it is imperative to address inequality in all its dimensions.

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