Helen Clark: Remarks MDG Side Event, "Social Justice and the MDGs"

21 Sep 2010

Opening Remarks for Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
On the occasion of MDG Summit Side Event on “Social Justice and the MDGs”
Co-hosted by Spain and the MDG Achievement Fund

It is a pleasure to welcome all of you here today.

I am delighted to be at the opening of this session with Soraya Rodriguez, Spanish Secretary of State for International Co-operation, and President Ramos-Horta of Timor-Leste.

We are also privileged to have an eminent panel, including, Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa from Ecuador; Dr. Jagadish Chandra Pokharel, Vice Chair of the National Planning  Commission in Nepal; Mr. Ashok Bharati, Chairman of the National Confederation of Dalit Organisations; Rebeca Grynspan UNDP Associate Administrator; Richard Morgan, Director of Policy and Planning; and Charles Abugre, the Regional Director for Africa of the UN Millennium Campaign.

I also welcome the many distinguished guests in our audience, including ministers and other high level government officials.

The report which you will soon have the chance to hear more about, “Can the MDGs provide a pathway to social justice ?”, by Naila Kabeer of the Institute of Development Studies, offers a valuable guide for approaching the MDGs from a social justice perspective.

The Report demonstrates that inequalities matter; they matter especially for excluded groups which are not able to benefit from aggregate trends, and they matter for the prospects of MDG achievement and long term sustainable development.  

This Report encourages us to look at the progress on the MDGs not just in numbers and charts, but also through the lens of social justice. 

Achieving the MDGs is in the interest of us all. Our world cannot be at peace with itself when so many of our fellow human beings continue to live in extreme poverty and are severely constrained in their efforts to build a better life for themselves and their families. These inequalities, this injustice matters to us all.

The question world leaders face this week is: how can we accelerate progress, to achieve the MDGs by the 2015 target date, despite the many obstacles in the way? And how can we achieve the MDGs with equity, so that we not see hundreds of millions of people left to live for the long term in extreme poverty and suffering chronic hunger.

Progress on the MDGs has been uneven – within and across communities, countries and regions and across the Goals themselves. As the Report before us today illustrates, progress for women, rural inhabitants, ethnic minorities, indigenous people, and other disadvantaged groups often lags well behind national averages – even when nations as a whole are moving towards the goals.

In Latin America, extreme poverty is much higher among indigenous and Afro-descendant populations. The region’s poor earn only three per cent of the regions’ total income.

In Asia, fourteen out of twenty countries have seen their Gini coefficient increase, and only six saw it fall. In Africa, poverty and social exclusion continue to have strong ethnic and geographical dimensions. 

To accelerate MDG progress, it is our duty to focus on those who have been missing out, as the MDG Achievement Fund, made possible by the generosity of Spain, encourages us to do.

The Fund has supported, for example, the “Leave No Woman Behind” programme in Ethiopia, which has provided thousands of poor women with peer-to-peer training on health, education and income generation. Increases in awareness and basic knowledge among women have led to a significant increase in visits to local health centers – including by pregnant mothers and teenage girls. By taking programmes like this to scale we can accelerate progress on the MDGs, and we can deliver progress with equity.

In the coming years we have a choice: will we allow MDG progress to bypass the most vulnerable and marginalized populations? Or can we rise to the challenge of transformative change which ensures equitable and inclusive development?

Each of us can play our role in contributing to the creation of a more just world. Change must be led from within countries, and while governments need to take the lead civil society groups have a strong role to play as well.

Some of the greatest changes have occurred where we find responsive states and active, organized citizens interacting.

As the UN, we support countries and their constituents in building this type of healthy dynamic, where citizens have a voice in the decisions that will affect their lives and where government policies and budgets are allocated where they are needed most.

This makes it all the more important that all parts of the UN development system work together to support each other’s mandates and the multipronged approaches needed to tackle the most challenging development issues. That is what the Spanish MDG Achievement Fund encourages us to do.

I would like to thank the Fund for its initiative in undertaking this relevant study and the Institute of Development Studies for doing such thorough research. 

And, once again, I thank the Government of Spain for its generosity which led to the establishment of the Fund – in order to accelerate progress on the MDGs.