An urban slum in Hanoi, Viet Nam. UN Photo/Kibae Park

Rising inequalities across the world have become one of the defining challenges of our time, putting sustainable development at risk, stirring social unrest, undermining social process, threatening economic and political stability, and undercutting human rights. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development - in large part an agenda for equality – seeks to counter this force. The Agenda pledges that no one will be left behind and calls for the disaggregation of data across all sustainable development goals (SDGs) to measure the extent to which that pledge is met. SDG 5 (gender equality) and SDG 10 (reduced inequalities)  focus explicitly on equality and non-discrimination; other goals stress more equitable development.

In March 2015, anticipating the centrality of equality to the yet-to-be-adopted 2030 Agenda, the High-level Committee on Programmes (HLCP) began exploring the concept of inequalities as a guiding element of post-2015 agenda and a driver for greater human rights mainstreaming, along with its practical implications for UN system activities. This launched a collaborative interagency effort towards developing a framework to guide the United Nations system organizations’ work related to inequalities, grounded in the 2030 Agenda and also reflective of the United Nations Charter mandate to promote and encourage respect for human rights, including the principles of equality and non-discrimination. The work was carried out through a time-bound HLCP Consultative Group on Inequalities under the leadership of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and UN-Women.

In April 2016, the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination endorsed a policy statement on inequalities and the 2030 Agenda. In its statement, the Board affirmed the United Nations system support to Member States’ ambitions for a more equal world, respectful of human rights and dignity, and called upon member organizations to put this imperative at the centre of their strategic frameworks, policy guidance and global plans of action in support of implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and in this regard to ensure both that United Nations efforts prioritize the needs of those furthest behind first and that no one is left behind.

In November 2016, the Board endorsed the shared framework for action to put equality and non-discrimination at the heart of sustainable development, which HLCP had approved in September 2016.

In 2017, the shared framework was released as a publication with the aim of stimulating widespread awareness and adoption of the framework across the UN system.

At the global level, CEB member organizations have committed to reflecting the framework’s core elements in their strategic frameworks, policy guidance and plans of action in support of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Work is ongoing within UNSDG to integrate the framework’s elements in policy guidance for UN Country Teams to enable the provision of context-appropriate assistance to governments and national stakeholders in implementing the commitment to leave no one behind while striving to reach the SDGs.


UN System Framework for Action on Equality

Rising inequalities across the world have become a defining challenge of our time. Unless we take action to reverse this trend, inequalities will further deepen divides, stirring social unrest, undermining social progress and threatening political and economic stability. This could imperil all pillars of the work of the United Nations from development to human rights to peace and security. Development will only be sustainable if it is also more equitable. Joint action is needed now.