Image Source: United Nations
July 2018
REGION: Global

In “What Does It Mean to Leave No One Behind?” the United Nations Development Programme explains the pledge by 193 UN Member States to “take explicit action to end extreme poverty, curb inequalities, confront discrimination and fast-track progress for the furthest behind.” Over the last few decades, development has led to significant improvement in the lives of billions of people by enabling them to escape extreme poverty, improving access to key resources like water and energy, and lowering the child mortality rates across the globe. However, hundreds of millions of people are “left behind” because they have been unable to access or benefit from these development gains. The report defines those left behind as individuals or groups who “lack the choices and capabilities that enable others to participate in or benefit from human development.” The report begins by unpacking five key factors that contribute to the inequalities, deprivations, and disadvantages suffered by those left behind before it discusses how those factors can be measured and addressed. The main thrust of the report is to identify systemic barriers to accessing “human development, innovation, economic growth or globalization” and propose remedies for conditions that are conducive to creating inequalities, so they do not perpetuate and reinforce themselves.

The report identifies five key factors for states to assess who is being left behind, why, and how to act to alleviate the issues: 1) discrimination, 2) geography, 3) governance, 4) socio-economic status, and 5) shocks & fragility. Each of the factors is a category of conditions that can lead to specific types of deprivations and disadvantages, like extreme poverty, isolation, inequality, and a growing disconnect between the people and the state, which creates further barriers to those left behind.

  • Discrimination is defined as “a bias, exclusion, or mistreatment based on identity (ascribed or assumed)” that can lead to stigma, shame, and human rights violations for people of specific identities.
  • Geography is characterized as exposure to inequalities in access to social, economic, human security, and public services based on place of residence.
  • Governance refers to weak rule of law that results in under-resourced justice systems and inaccessible legal protections that expose marginalized people to abuse, setbacks and exhortation.
  • Socio-economic status tracks people left behind by a lack of social, economic, and political participation that stems from unequal access to income, health services, education, skills training, safety, and stability.
  • Shocks & fragility monitors vulnerability as it relates to violence, conflict, displacement, environmental degradation, climate impacts, and health shocks like pandemics.

The report notes that each of the five factors are often addressed individually but emphasizes the importance of creating a holistic approach that addresses all factors. The impetus for this approach is that many of the furthest behind often face an interconnected barrier of several factors. As an example, the report notes that the most likely to be left behind are women and girls in rural areas who are born to poor families and belong to a minority ethnic group. These individuals face barriers from three factors: geography (rural), socio-economic status (income-poor families), and discrimination (gender and ethnic minorities).

The report suggests a three-phased approach to accelerate the progress of those left behind: examine, empower, and enact. During the “examine” phase, countries should use a broad range of indicators like income, race, gender, and geographic location to identify who is left behind, how far, and why. One method is to look for patterns of conditions that indicate a greater likelihood of vulnerability among particular groups. The “empower” phase requires a blend of community-level participation and government facilitation to strengthen the capacity of those identified in the first phase to engage with, claim, and exercise their rights. Since the furthest behind often face complex, intersecting, and dynamic barriers, there must be ongoing feedback and engagement by implementers. In the “enact” phase, countries must use the data collected in the first phase and the coordinated efforts in the second phase to pass equitable laws, policies, and budgets that address the conditions that contribute to deprivations, disadvantages, and inequalities outlined in the five factors. This should be done by empowering local actors and improving intergovernmental coordination to develop a cohesive strategy on all levels (national, sub-national, and local). Successful examples of equitable and impactful policies include community outreach programming, sustainable energy initiatives, and redistributive efforts like raising the minimum wage.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

What Does It Mean to Leave No One Behind?

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