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Addressing Discrimination and Inequalities through the MDGs

This topic considering the great efforts of the United Nations and the developed world to alleviate poverty in the developing countries, as well as the fewer efforts of mostly African leaders to implement these initiatives. A good example is continuous poverty in Nigeria despite there are enormous resources at its disposal. It should be noted that the country is still unable to achieve a greater part of the MDGs within the set time frame. However, other countries with fewer resources have managed to achieve the goals, thus getting ready for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is suggested that the countries that cannot achieve the MDGs within the set time frame should consult with those that have achieved it in order to help them to provide various benefits for their people.

Despite the success achieved by the MDGs, they have not been able to integrate all the principles that have been outlined in the millennium declaration which includes non-discrimination and equality. The MDGs may have inadvertently witnessed the channelling of resources away from the poorest population or from the disadvantaged due to the effects of gender discrimination, disability, residence, or ethnicity. However, the development goals focus on national and worldwide averages and progress can mask even growing disparities among specific populations and at the sub-national level. It is easier to increase progress towards some targets, especially when resources are concentrated among the better off. However, in order to share global opportunities for progress, there is an essential need for redressing such as discriminations and inequalities.

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Gender inequalities are still persistent in many countries in terms of measuring MDG targets and indicators. Significant under-representation in national parliaments, lower rate of enrolment into secondary education, wide gaps in access to decent employment and gender nature of HIV pandemic are all pointing towards the need urgently to address gender discrimination. Little progress has been achieved on MDG 5 to reduce maternal mortality which is the goal that highly depends on realizing women’s rights and achieving gender equality. Discrimination and inequalities based on location, income, disability and ethnicity all intersect with gender, and so, they are often mutually reinforcing. For example, there are a lot of countries where obtaining skilled childbirth assistance, a critical aspect of preventing maternal mortality and morbidity differs between wealthy urban women and the poor rural women by more than 50 %.

There has been a strong link between poverty eradication and economic growth. High growth rates in some developed countries have resulted in a considerable decrease in income poverty, with significant progress towards achieving the MDGs. It has been revealed over recent years that the right to non-discrimination is essential in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. However, there has been a growing consensus that unless discrimination is addressed, it will be difficult for governments to achieve the MDGs. They should establish actions that will eliminate inequalities between the advantaged and the disadvantaged groups such as between the rich and the poor ones, between those in the urban areas and those in the rural ones, between females and males, etc.

Income inequality is also on increase both within and across countries, especially in the African countries. Despite the robust economic growth, approximately two-third of countries with available data recorded a rise in income inequality between 1990 and 2005. Both low and high income countries have experienced jobless economic growth, with those at the top end of the income distribution benefiting far more than those at the bottom. In this regard, the MDG have enjoyed sustained support and interest from the global development community, governments, stakeholders and the civil society. The Millennium Development Goals have responsible for assistances and development policies that are beyond the amount of help that resulted in limited improvement in some rich countries.

Human Rights Principles

The obligation to address inequality was born out of both human moral perspectives and the international treaty standards. It is difficult to find someone who thinks it is acceptable for children to die before reaching their 5th birthday due to a preventable disease. It is hard to accept that a mother dies during childbirth just because she did not have access to skilled birth attendants. Also, it will be difficult for one to accept that a person does not have access to food and potable water. However, in the current environment of fiscal austerity, practically focusing on the worst-off also involves showing increasing inequalities have some negative social, political and economic consequences.

However, human rights must represent the standards against which all policies are judges and help accountable.

Some internationally long-established human rights principles that are associated with macroeconomic policies are:

  • Non-discrimination and equality- This means that governments are obliged to ensure that deliberate and targeted measures are implemented. This is done in order substantially to secure equality- ensuring that all individuals have equal opportunities to enjoy their rights.
  • The obligation of non-retrogression and progressive realization- This principle means that government have effectively and expeditiously to move in order to establish social and economic rights without taking any step backwards.
  • Principle of maximum available resources entails that a government, even in the face of limitations of public revenue, should utilize the maximum available resources in order to enjoy social and economic rights.

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Also, increased inequalities are not just bad for the discriminated and human rights victims, but also for the society at large. Highly discriminative and unequal societies tend to grow more slowly compared to societies with low income inequalities. They are usually less successful in sustaining growth over the long periods of time, and they are likely to recover slowly from the economic crisis. High inequality level can jeopardize the well-being of a large segment of the population through low wages/earnings, as well as having subsequent effects on health, child development and nutrition. Low wages or earnings mean effective aggregate demand which usually results in limited domestic market size, hindering structural factors in the origin propulsion of financial crisis. This usually happens through the creation of various bubbles and subsequently collapsing the asset values and demands which can destabilize real economies. High levels of discrimination and inequality also reduce the influence of economic growth on the reduction of poverty. Discrimination and inequality are also exacerbated by crime, disease and environmental problems. When they reach extreme levels, they result in political instability, and in some cases they lead to conflicts and violence.

When a great number of people are excluded from access to economic resources, employment, inadequate food, health, sanitation, access to clean water, education and technology it results in the reduction of future productive human potentials. Due to the need for non-discrimination and equality in the MDGs, the post-2015 agenda should emphasize the critical need sustainably and adequately to invest in people, recognizing the fact that the greatest potential for most dramatic gains actually exist among the most discriminated ones. Well designed and sustained investments, especially in maternity and childbirth, social protection and education pay major dividends not only for some people, but also for the society at large.

Reducing child death by 4.25 per thousand children born to mothers with low educational levels can lead to almost 8 % increase in GDP after ten years. In education, a year increase in the mean schooling years has been revealed to be associated with the increase in per-capita income from 3% to 6 %. Apparently, no society can expect to achieve sustained social and economic progress with a significant but disproportionate number of women and girls, who are in poor health, poorly nourished, as well as lack the skills and/or the education required for their development and that of their families. Generally, political and economic instability as well as deterioration in social relations, human capital and health outcomes negatively affect citizens from the poorest to the richest ones. However, investment in social protection and services, inclusive of the most deprived can lengthen and strengthen the periods of development progress, peace and prosperity, and economic growth.

Addressing Inequalities and Discrimination in the Post-2015 MDGs’ Development Agenda

Addressing inequality in the post-2015 agenda means putting into consideration both the entrenched structural factors and the equality of opportunities, including discrimination all affect the equality of outcomes. Most of the poor people in the world occupy highly staring and disadvantaged positions which affects the development of their capabilities, and also affects their ability to capitalize on opportunities. Focusing only on the manifestations and symptoms of poverty or exclusion, e.g. the lack of education, income or health, rather than focusing on their structural causes such as discrimination, lack of representation and resources has often resulted in narrow and discretionary measures that are aimed at addressing short-term needs.
The post-2015 development agenda will not help to achieve long-term inclusive progress without paying attention to the underlying cultural, economic and spatial causes of poverty and inequality. There are roles that have to be played for more and better-targeted development finance from rich countries. Despite the tools provided by the MDGs for focusing attention on donors, there has not been actual increase in development financing for the poorest countries. Besides the funding considerations, it is essential to improve the conditions for the design and implementation of policies in order to achieve the goals.

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Some of the potential policy instruments that can help to address structural factors and produce greater equality of outcomes include:

  • Macroeconomic policies to ensure that decent, sufficient and productive employments are created in order to absorb the new entrants into the labour force, reducing vulnerable forms of employment as well as providing jobs for the unemployed.
  • Income and social policies that will help to ensure proper compensation of labour in a large global economy where the bargaining power has been reduced through liberalization and non-formalization.
  • Legislative reform and its implementation to address exclusionary and discriminatory practices as well as implementing resource mechanisms for individuals and the disadvantaged groups to claim their rights.
  • Widely accessible and good quality services for investing in people, their growth and capabilities, food, health, education, social security and housing.
  • Access to knowledge and information in order to overcome the barriers to social and political participation. Also, accessing services, sustained social communication and proactive policies that have great impact on social norms that perpetuate discrimination and exclusion.
  • Social protection programmes for protection, not only against rapid decrease in income due to contingencies, but will also protect persistently low incomes and their structural causes.
  • Good quality and widely accessible infrastructure, domestic technology and care services that will be used to support labour production, as well as reducing the unpaid care work that girls and women disproportionately engage themselves in.
  • Income and wealth redistribution of land reforms, adequate corporate and progressive income taxation, gender and child-responsive budgeting, pro-poor fiscal and trade policies as well as development assistance to finance widely accessible social provisions.

Addressing the Challenges of Inequalities and Discrimination using Goals, Targets, and Indicators

Part of the consensus of the post-2015 UN task team is a set of targets, goals and indicators which are embedded and supported by a normative framework, i.e. the Millennium declaration and the broad international human rights architecture is of great significance. The goal and strategies required to pursue such a goal should be based on human rights standards and principles which in turn should have impacts on the identification of specific development outcomes that drive the rights for all. In this regard, a wish list of targets, goals and indicators that attempt to cover any and all developmental issues must be avoided. There is a high risk that an overly complicated framework will collapse under its own weight due to its incomprehensibility to ordinary citizens and government officials. However, goals, targets and indicators need to be carefully considered and selected in order most powerfully and effectively to address discrimination and inequalities as well as the factors that perpetuate them.

In addition, regardless of the format, there is need for substantial investment in disaggregated data collection, analysis and usage for setting targets that will address inequalities. Also, especially regarding inequalities, measurability and measurement must be seen as a servant rather than a master in the post-2015 agenda. Although many have identified the format of the MDG agenda as one of its major strengths, it is also of great necessity to know that the format served to exclude effectively some major issues form the development agenda as explicitly highlighted in the millennium declaration. One of these key issues includes ending the violence against women by implementing the Convention for the Elimination of all forms ofDiscrimination against Women (CEDAW).

More so, there seems to be a fundamental misconception about the relationship between discrimination and inequalities that may exist in a country as well as national priorities for data collection. In cases where chronic human rights violations are not been acknowledged by the state, or where a group of people is socially underrated, correspondingly, the relevant data will not be systematically collected. Therefore, there can be a negative relationship between the seriousness of the development challenge that needs to be addressed and the availability of comparable data across countries that will be used. Targets and goals at the global level need to be a balanced reflection of the priorities that have received endorsement from different governments, including through near-universal treaties ratification. In order to enable this responsible prioritization, there is the need to adopt a suitably flexible standard of measurement that captures tracks and reflects the dominant inequalities which need to be addressed and overcome by the development process.

Addressing Inequalities and Discrimination through Transformational Change

Integrating the sustained and significant reduction of inequalities goals and their causes on the post-2015 compass will generate actions and debates, but it will also realign the agenda with the original concept of the Millennium Declaration as well as holding governments accountable in terms of fostering non-discriminatory and inclusive development.  However, defining an inequality goal or target and indicators alone will not actually helpful in solving the issue. It will also require measures for transformational change such as:

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Placing many emphasises on sustainable, inclusive and pro-poor economic growth as well as on the creation of decent work. For example, the post-2015 development agenda needs to be integrated with concrete commitment on the nature of economic growth and more commitments to productive employment.

Decentralization and participation

Federal governments usually struggle to set national development policies that will promote social justice because there is often less political capital gain in investing in poor, marginalized and remote districts or provinces. Increasing government capacity to provide essential services and commodities as well as applying local solutions do not only bring international goals to local people but also improves their engagement, shared abilities and responsibility to exercise accountability in setting and achieving goals.

Having tools can be used to access, manage and monitor the impact of a wider set of policies on cultural, social and economic rights. For example, mechanisms such as social impact assessment ones that will be used to monitor the social impacts of broad set of strategies and policies for the reduction of negative social impacts and enhance positive outcomes could be established by the post-2015 development agenda.

Accountability and transparency

One of the major effects of omitting the MDGs in the lack of a mechanism for citizens to be able to hold governments accountable for progress towards development goals in their nationally-adopted formulations. Some governments incorporated in their national development objectives, allocating both resources and monitoring capacity accordingly, but other governments do not. Such mechanisms should be established for civil society groups in order to participate in the setting of strategies, priorities and for the allocation of resources. Also, they should be established for monitoring disaggregated targets and goals, and for them to be able to hold governments to account for them.

Strengthening governance

Apparently, countries that are furthest behind on MDGs are often those with the weakest governance, including both conflict and post-conflict countries. However, building government capacity at all levels should be the priority of the measures to foster social justice and development. This should be done with a far stronger focus on developing the local government capacities and administrators, together with the civil society.

Getting Ready for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

However, the SDGs seek to achieve the economic and social progress in ways that will not exhaust the earth’s natural resources. These natural resources are finite, and so, poorly managed and un-sustained growth will result in deteriorating conditions for all. Africa has been working hard towards the convergence and harmonization of the post-2015 agenda and the SDGs. It has been observed that countries under special circumstances often find their space in order to make squeezed domestic policy choices. As a result, tension arises from the dilemmas of the way countries maintain manifold benefits from unconditioned and extensive international development engagements. The international community needs to re-establish its commitments to translate different good intentions into real benefits for the disadvantaged and poor nations.

The scope of the discussed post-2015 MDGs in relations to the Sustainable Development Goals cannot be everything to everybody; more issues result in less clarity and fewer clarity results in decreased impact. Achieving three key conditions could help to make the post-2015 agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals become a success based on comparable communications, especially in those African countries that have reported significant MDGs achievement.

The countries need to define new but equally simple global anti-poverty goals for use with the MDGs.

The core idea of the goals should be able to cut through the ever-increasing noise nose for the social networks as well as the media.

These goals need to garner an even larger social consensus for them to be adopted by diverse development communities that can gain the attention and support of new audience.
Furthermore, it should be noted that the Millennium Development Goals are not purely based on socio-political agenda, neither are potentials Sustainable Development Goal be environmental in nature. Despite the fact that these two approaches are based on similar ideologies, they differ basically with respect to their underlying thinking. While the MDGs are basically established on the need to improve the living conditions of the poorest people, the SDGs have been designed for shaping development sustainability.

In this regard, the post-2015 agenda in relation to the SDGs could be anchored in at least four conceptual areas that will help the countries achieve the targeted goals:

  • Forward Planning – This element could be based on a problem-solving concept that will assist in creating sustainable future.
  • Sustainability – This refers to the set global sustainability goals as the global goals for eradicating poverty.
  • Universality – This is the common ground for the frame to be established on universal preference for education, jobs, healthcare etc.
  • Empowerment- This concept makes the goals to be centred on the idea of participation whereby the entire global community will shape and deliver the future development agenda.

Legal obligations to end discrimination and ensure quality are the basis for major human right treaties that were adopted since UDHR. Apparently, non-discrimination and equality are often closely related to each other, and under human rights law, states must ensure that people and groups do not fall victims of discrimination and inequality. However, a lot of human right treaties explicitly pair discrimination clauses with guarantees of equality. The International Covenant on Civil and Political rights for example, includes a separate provision specifying that all people are equal ones before the law, in addition to the non-discrimination provisions discussed earlier. However, the concept of equality and non-discrimination do not necessarily mean that equal treatment will be granted in any case. This same principle was articulated by the United Nations human rights committee which states that “enjoying freedom and human rights on a similar scale does not mean granting identical treatment in any case.

Eight goals have been designed in the Millennium Development Goals which are as follows: eradicating extreme hunger and poverty; improve maternal health; reduce gender inequality and empower women; establish universal primary education; reduce child mortality rate; ensure sustainable environmental; fight HIV/HELPS, malaria and other related diseases; establish global partnership for development. In terms of conception, one of the basic problems is that the MDGs specify outcome but they do not define the process of realizing the objectives. The second problem is that the MDGs are stipulated with no reference to initial conditions, but wherever a country gets at any given time horizon at least depends on the starting point. Global goals are often considered as norms, but are often read as targets without recognizing the fact that there may be significant variations in national priorities.

The MDGs focus on comparing between a desirable state and an undesirable state without recognizing the significance of the change process or the transition path between different states. The implicit separations of the ends from the means compound the problem. Also, the goals have been set out in terms of aggregate averages that often conceal as much as reveal that there is no reference to outcome redistribution. In terms of design, there are some basic limitations to assessing MDGs as a framework. The first limitation is the multiplicity of objectives. In this regard, there 8 goals and the 18 quantifiable targets which have now increased to 21 and 48 indicators that also increased to 60. The second limitation is that objectives are specified in several ways. Some of the objectives were set out in proportional including: the reduction in the rate of child mortality by two-thirds; reducing the number of people living in hunger or poverty by one-half; reducing the number of people without access to basic sanitation facilities and safe drinking water by one-half; or reducing the rate of maternal mortality by three-fourths

Even though the MDGs seem to be compatible with human rights, especially the economic and social rights, there seems to be substantial overlap in focus which brings about the suggestion that the MDGs have the potential of raising the profile of economic and social rights. Those goals contain quantitative and precise standards to which all governments have made commitments. It appears that global national and global power inequalities have been glossed over and there appears to be no quantitative targets for the goal of developing global partnership for development; rather, the goal tends to reflect a strong technocratic focus. In response to this critique, states and donors need to adopt human rights approach to the goals that are strengthened by the evidence of almost total absence of human rights in the MDGs. More so, establishing the millennium development goals by OHCHR establishes a human right approach to the goals. However, it was organized based on the relevant elements of human rights approach to the MDGs, as well as the main cross-cutting themes that are identified under each of them.

The eight set goals have got linkages between the targets and human rights; this will be critically analysed using country by country basis. Despite the failure of some African countries in tackling poverty eradication, we do have some who have being able to achieve a significant improvement towards meeting the goals; these countries’ activities were elaborated and discussed. Considering the amount of efforts of the United Nations and the developed world in alleviating poverty in developing countries, little or fewer efforts have been put by mostly African leaders in implementing these initiatives. Better illustration of this as discussed in this paper is the continuous poverty in Nigeria in recent times despite the enormous resources at its disposal; it is still unable to achieve a greater part of the MDGs within the time frame.

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The strength of the MDGs is that they comprise a manageable number of direct goals that are easy to comprehend and evaluate based on specified deadlines. This helps to rekindle the interest and strengthens the willingness to put in more resources into help for development, especially in the African countries. The weakness of MDGs comprises an incomplete agenda based on the Millennium Declaration but only cover only some parts, leaving out peace and security. Also, The MDGs do not consider distributive issues. This means that countries do not always take note of the effect of a particular goal on other issues. More so, some MDGs only evaluate inputs or outputs, instead of evaluating the impacts or outcomes of development.

However, other countries which have fewer resources have achieved the goals getting ready for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Therefore, it was suggested that countries that could not achieve the MDGs within the time frame should try to learn from those states that have achieved it in order to assist them to achieve the MDGs.

As earlier it was mentioned, this would require the development of some measures for transformational change such as:

  • Establishing decentralization and participation strategies that will increase government capacity to provide essential services and commodities as well as the application of local solutions do not only bring international goals to local people but also increases their participation, mutual abilities and responsibilities to exercise accountability in setting and achieving goals.
  • Placing many emphasises on sustainable, inclusive and pro-poor economic growth as well as on the creation of decent work. In this regard, the post-2015 development agenda should include concrete commitment to the nature of economic growth and more commitments on productive employment.
  • Developing tools such as social impact assessment mechanisms that will be used to monitor the social influence of broad set of strategies and policies for the reduction of negative social impacts and enhance positive outcomes could be established by the post-2015 development agenda.
  • Strengthening governance by building government capacity at all levels should be the priority of the measures to foster social justice and development. As earlier discussed, this should be done with better focus on developing the local government capacities and administrators, together with the civil society.
  • Establishing accountability and transparency for civil society groups in order to participate in the setting of strategies, priorities as well as for the allocation of resources. Also, they should be established for monitoring disaggregated targets and goals for them to be able to hold governments to account for them.

Furthermore, it should be noted that the Millennium Development Goals are not purely based on socio-political agenda, neither are potentials Sustainable Development Goal be environmental in nature. Despite the fact that these two approaches are based on similar ideologies, they differ basically with respect to their underlying thinking. While the MDGs are basically established on the need for improving the living conditions of the poorest people, the SDGs have been designed for shaping development sustainability.

Finally, incorporating human rights principles of equality and non-discrimination helps governments better to realize the UN vision of the just world and to achieve the MDGs. Human rights and development policies use different but complementary tools and strategies to achieve the same target. Just as economic growth is the priorities of development strategies, human rights also establish universally accepted legal guarantees for protecting the liberty and equality of people. These human rights obligations and standards help the government better to serve its citizens, ensuring that everybody benefits from the achieved goals and enjoys dignified life.

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