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Ensure gender equality, human rights, the rule of law, and universal access to public services. Reduce relative poverty and other inequalities that cause social exclusion. Prevent and eliminate violence and exploitation, especially for women and children.

Targets and Indicators

4a. Monitor and end discrimination and inequalities in public service delivery, the rule of law, access to justice, and participation in political and economic life on the basis of gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, national origin, and social or other status.

24. Percentage of children under age 5 whose birth is registered with a civil authority

25. Compliance with recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review and UN Treaties

26. Percentage of seats held by women and minorities in national parliament and/or sub-national elected office according to their respective share of the population (modified MDG Indicator)

27. Average number of hours spent on paid and unpaid work combined (total work burden), by sex

28. Ratification and implementation of fundamental ILO labor standards and compliance in law and practice

4b. Reduce by half the proportion of households with incomes less than half of the national median income (relative poverty).

29. Percentage of households with incomes below 50% of median income (“relative poverty”)

30. [Indicator on inequality at top end of income distribution: GNI share of richest 10% or Palma Ratio]

4c. Prevent and eliminate violence against individuals, especially women and children.*

31. Violent injuries and deaths per 100,000 population

32. Prevalence of women 15-49 who have experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the last 12 months

33. Percentage of referred cases of sexual and gender-based violence against women and children that are investigated and sentenced


Despite major progress, gender inequality persists in many societies and violence against women and girls remains widespread. The lack of access to secondary education and to sexual and reproductive health services for girls and women is a key driver of gender inequality. In addition, discrimination against ethnic minority groups, indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, and geographically-isolated populations is widespread throughout the world. Gender inequality and other forms of discrimination violate the universal standards of justice enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other agreements. Societies that discriminate against women and social groups obstruct the economic potential of large shares of their populations, which lowers economic growth and limits poverty reduction. Pervasive discrimination and high levels of inequality are also associated with higher risks of conflict and violence.

In response, many countries have successfully instituted legal and administrative reforms to reduce inequality and realize the human rights of all members of society, with a specific view towards reducing disparities by gender and other status. In some cases, practices that are inconsistent with sustainable development and the realization of human rights, such as child marriage, child labor, and sexual violence, need to be tackled head on. Some countries have also actively promoted social support for children in poor households as a way to ensure that poverty is not “vertically transmitted” from poor parents to their children. Ensuring registration at birth has also proven successful in enhancing equal opportunities and legal rights.

Societies and political systems differ in their responses to inequality. Some resist it strongly through aggressive policies and transfers; others seem to tolerate very high levels of inequality. We call on all societies to ensure that all individuals and households are empowered to fully participate in political, economic, and social life. To ensure sustainable development, economic gains must not only be inclusive, but the quality of social interactions that are based on trust, honesty, voluntarism, and solidarity needs to be enhanced through the promotion of social ethics and the observance of human rights for all.

An ambitious objective should be that every country halve “relative poverty,” defined as the percentage of households in a country that earn less than half the median household income in that country.[1] Relative poverty leaves households out of the mainstream of social life, facing discrimination, lack of access to skills and decent work, and a loss of dignity. It also adds to personal stress and can reduce life expectancy and health more generally.

Pathways towards addressing inequalities, overcoming discrimination, and improving social capital are complex and uncertain. Yet there is strong evidence that policies and investments targeted towards social inclusion can play an important role in lowering inequalities and promoting equal opportunities for all. Means to reduce inequalities include greater respect for the rule of law; equal access to education, healthcare, and basic infrastructure services through adequate public financing; effective legal and administrative reforms including laws on ownership and inheritance of land, and measures to combat corruption; promoting human rights and combating discrimination; affirmative action programs for the poor and marginalized; and social safety nets to better manage the risk of sickness and the consequences of aging.

A central focus of the post-2015 agenda must be on providing universal access to high-quality public services and infrastructure. To achieve universal access, we call on countries to collect data on access and utilization that is disaggregated by gender and major social, economic, or other dimensions, so that inequalities in access can be detected and addressed through policy and public awareness.

The most important public good is peace and security, including personal security. Conflict especially is a mortal threat to development, and development cannot thrive without safety from personal and psychological violence, which are all too often directed against women and girls. Even in peaceful countries, interpersonal, criminal, and gang-related armed violence can be a barrier to development. Governments should prevent armed violence, e.g. by disarming ex-combatants and civilians, strengthening the security sector and police, ensuring access to justice, and by working with civil society organizations to end pervasive violence, especially against women and girls. Children must also have special protection from the impact of armed conflict, including the use of child soldiers, and from all forms of physical or mental violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Personal security, ending conflict, and consolidating peace are all essential components of good governance for sustainable development.

[1] Note that halving “relative poverty” is a stretch target for all countries comparable to universal access to basic services or ending extreme poverty since rising median incomes will push up the relative poverty line through to 2030.

  • Bradshaw, S., Castellino, J., and Diop, B. (2013, May 20). Women’s role in economic development: Overcoming the constraints. Background Paper for the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Paris, France and New York, USA:Sustainable Development Solutions Network. 2013. Available at
  • Castellino, J. (2013, January 15). Social inclusion and human rights: Implications for 2030 and beyond. Background Paper for the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Paris, France and New York, USA: Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Available at
  • Inequality. (2013, March 13). Addressing Inequalities: Synthesis Report of Global Public Consultation. Co-led by UNICEF and UN Women with support from the Governments of Denmark and Ghana. Available at
  • Melamed, C., and Samman, E. (2013, April). Equity, inequality and human development in a post-2015 framework. London, UK: Overseas Development Institute. Available at
  • World Bank. (2012). World Development Report: Gender Equality and Development. Available at
  • UN Secretary General. (2010). Women and peace and security. Security Council Report S/2010/173. New York, NY: United Nations. Available online at
  • UN Women (2013).A Transformative Stand-Alone Goal On Achieving Gender Equality, Women’s Rights And Women’s Empowerment: Imperatives And Key Components. New York, NY: United Nations. Available online at:



What is transformative about goal 4 “Achieve Gender Equality, Social Inclusion, and Human Rights”?
Goal 4 on gender equality, social inclusion and human rights builds on and expands MDG 3, which focused on gender equality, predominantly through education and political participation. This proposed goal casts the net wider, aiming to bring about transformative change within societies, institutions and economic structures to end gender inequality and all other forms of discrimination. The goal focuses on the most pernicious manifestations of discrimination (e.g. gender-based violence) as well as social and economic inequalities (including income inequality, labor standards). Using a human rights framework, this goal encourages each country and the international community to consider income distribution, equal access to services, the rule of law (including reporting on human rights), and access to justice. The proposed Goal 4 is universal and applies to all countries, regardless of their level of development.

How do the proposed SDGs deal with inequalities?
The proposed SDGs deal with inequalities in several ways:

i. SDG 4 has explicit targets on ending discrimination and reducing relative poverty, which describes the proportion of households with incomes below 50 percent of the national median. Relative poverty is a widely used measure of inequality.

ii. Many of the goals emphasize universal access to various public services and infrastructure that give every person, especially women, a fair chance at prosperity (note in particular SDGs 3 to 9). Achieving universal access will require that special strategies address deep-rooted inequalities across regions, gender, ethnicities, income levels, and other dimensions.

iii. We recommend that the SDG indicators be disaggregated as much as possible by geography, income, socio-economic group, and other identifiers to track inequalities in SDG outcomes. As described in Section V, for every SDG we call on countries to monitor and to end inequalities in outcomes across sub-populations.

Why is there no stand-alone goal on peace and security?
We underscore the importance of peace and security as a central component of the four dimensions of sustainable development. Goal 1 includes a focus on vulnerable regions, including post-conflict regions, and a target to address conflict and violence. Goal 4 includes a target on reducing violence against individuals, especially women and children, which needs to be operationalized at the country level. This target addresses issues of gender-based violence and child protection, as well as personal security, which represent a critical challenge in conflict and post-conflict settings. Indeed many of the proposed goals address the structural causes of conflict such as inequality and exclusion, extreme poverty in all its forms, and poor governance.

The broader political issues of peace and security, which are typically addressed by the Security Council of the United Nations, go beyond the scope of the proposed SDGs. The post-2015 global policy framework, which will include more than the SDGs themselves, should also draw attention to the long-standing but still unfulfilled objective of ridding the world of nuclear weapons

Why do some goals focus on outcomes whereas others focus on outputs or means?
Where possible, the SDGs should focus on outcomes, such as ending extreme poverty. Yet, the distinction between outcomes, outputs, and inputs needs to be handled pragmatically, and the design of goals and targets should be – we believe – guided by approaches that are best suited to mobilize action and ensure accountability. For example, ensuring universal access to healthcare or high-quality early childhood development (ECD) are important commitments for every government. Goals and targets that focus on these outputs will ensure operational focus and accountability. In some instances it also makes sense to target inputs. For example, official development assistance (ODA) is critical for ensuring many SDGs and needs to be mobilized in every high-income country. Mobilizing resources for sustainable development is difficult, so subsuming ODA as an implicit input into every SDG would make it harder for government leaders, citizens, and civil society organizations to argue for increased ODA. It would also weaken accountability for rich countries. Similar considerations apply, for example, to the proposed target on integrated reporting by governments and businesses on their contributions to the SDGs.

What does reducing to “zero” or “universal access” mean?
Many targets call for “universal access” (e.g. to infrastructure) or “zero” deprivation (e.g. extreme poverty, hunger). For each such target, the technical communities and member states will need to define the precise quantitative standard for their commitment to “universal access” or “zero” deprivation. We hope that in most cases these standards will indeed be 100 percent or 0 percent, respectively, but there may be areas where it is technically impossible to achieve 100 percent access or 0 percent deprivation. In such cases countries should aim to get as close as possible to 100 percent or 0 percent, respectively.

Why are some targets not quantified and marked with an asterisk? Why do some targets have numbers in square brackets?
It is important that every target can be measured at the national or local level, but not every target can be defined globally in a meaningful way, for three distinct reasons:

i. The starting points may differ too much across countries for a single meaningful quantitative standard at the global level;
ii. Some targets need to be adapted and quantified locally or may be relevant only in subsets of countries (e.g. those that refer to specific ecosystems);
iii. For some targets no global consensus exists today, and these still need to be negotiated, as is the case with greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. In the meantime, countries should establish their own plans and targets.

In some cases proposed numerical targets are presented in square brackets since these numbers are preliminary and may need to be reviewed by the corresponding technical communities.