Reducing inequalities, advancing human rights

Women in Buenos Aires, Argentina take part in a protest for reproductive rights. Photo: Shutterstock

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” — Article 1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

This Human Rights Day UNDP is celebrating the achievements of those who have fought for and protected human rights, as well as reflecting on what still needs to be done to make society fairer for everyone.

UNDP is answering the Secretary-General’s Call to Action on Human Rights, with its focus on how human equality and dignity are at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Ninety percent of the goals correspond to human rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines the rights of all people, from the moment of our birth. Photo: UNDP Zimbabwe

A pandemic is about more than just health

While progress has been made, two years of a global pandemic have pushed the most vulnerable farther back, particularly women, those living with disabilities and minorities.

Over 60 percent of countries regressed on basic human rights in 2020 as a result of measures to tackle the pandemic.

Human rights need a framework of support to be nurtured and to grow. UNDP works with partners around the world to strengthen the human rights systems and increase the civic spaces that make this possible.

Building systems and creating space for rights to flourish

In the past decade, conditions for civil society have worsened overall. According to CIVICUS, only 13 percent of countries have open civic space.

In Pakistan, UNDP reinforces the judiciary, police, prosecution departments, alternate dispute resolution mechanisms, access to justice and legal aid. Photo: UNDP Pakistan

In Pakistan, UNDP is harmonizing data collection and reporting on human rights and the SDGs through a digital solution to bring the various platforms together to increase efficiency, accuracy, and cross-fertilization of knowledge and approaches.

To achieve this, Pakistan is developing a National Strategic Framework on Human Rights Data Collection and Reporting Mechanisms, that sets out an overall vision of coherence between human rights and sustainable development across the decentralized governments.

A digital dashboard keeps track of progress.

In Latin America, the government management project UNDP-SIGOB provides a practical tool that helps countries follow up on implementation of recommendations from human rights mechanisms such as the Universal Periodic Review process, including analysis of over 1,400 human rights recommendations that will impact and contribute to the fulfilment of the 2030 Agenda. It facilitates external transparency, contributes to the effectiveness of policies, and encourages high levels of interaction with citizens.

More than 1 billion people experience some form of disability. Without adequate laws and policies, they face obstacles to exercising their human rights. Photo: UNDP Moldova

Catching those farthest behind

Women’s food insecurity levels were 10 percent higher than men’s in 2020, compared with 6 percent higher in 2019.

In Sierra Leone, UNDP is working with communities at all levels — from chiefs to youth groups to to develop its Gender Equality Strategy. Its aim is to maximize emerging opportunities that will respond to gender challenges.

It is estimated that more than 1 billion people experience some form of disability.

UNDP supported the Government of Botswana as it ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as well as the policies and laws that support it. And UNDP has worked on a COVID-19 response that supports people with disabilities.

UNDP is supporting the rights of non-binary people in Pakistan. With civil society, transgender persons and the Ministry of Human Rights working together, Pakistan has adopted a progressive law on transgender rights.

This Act has given much needed hope to the transgender community in protection and promotion of its rights. However, as a transgender person myself, I believe it is equally important that we as members of this society take responsibility in reshaping behaviours and attitudes toward the transgender community and address transphobic stigma and discrimination.”
— Reem Sharif, transgender expert in the Pakistan Ministry of Human Rights

Sheela is a community mobilizer at Dareecha, an organization that works with the transgender community to raise awareness about and prevention of HIV in Pakistan. Photo: UNDP/Jamil Akhtar

Healthcare as a right

Vaccine distribution is unequal. As of June 2021, Europe and Northern America recorded 68 vaccinations for every 100 people, while in sub-Saharan Africa the number was fewer than two in every 100 people.

Every person has the right to healthcare and to affordable and non-discriminatory access to the vaccine. As the coronavirus continues to mutate and spread, UNDP stands with WHO and organizations around the world calling on global, national and local leaders to accelerate the equitable rollout of vaccines in every country and reject vaccine nationalism.

A UNDP-supported health centre in the Shila camp for internally displaced persons in Puntland, Somalia. People forced to leave their homes because of conflict and/or extreme weather often struggle to access healthcare and other rights. Photo: UNDP/Mark Naftalin

Rights leaders

UNDP takes a human rights-based approach to our development work, based on national ownership. It assists governments to meet their human rights commitments at this crucial moment. The UNDP Global Dashboard for Vaccine Equity compiles the latest data on the global roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines, along with the most recent socio-economic information.

In Sierra Leone, more than 400 mobilizers, including religious and youth leaders and have been preparing communities for mass COVID-19 vaccinations.

Aiming to leave no one behind, Sierra Leone has activated hundreds of mobilizers to prepare communities for COVID-19 vaccination. Photo: Shutterstock

331 human rights defenders were killed in 2020, up 18 percent from 2019.

From young people marching in the streets to Indigenous communities’ stewardship of their homes, human rights defenders are active everywhere.

UNDP supports human rights defenders around the world. Photo: Shutterstock

The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders recognizes their work as fundamental if our human rights are to be respected and protected.

UNDP supports human rights defenders around the world, including the important work of national human rights institutions that have supported important rights-based COVID-19 responses in countries around the world. They play a crucial role in holding governments accountable. A recent study of the role of these institutions during COVID-19 showed many examples of ways that they addressed human rights challenges.

Moving forward amidst global challenges

The 2030 Agenda envisages a world of ‘equality and non-discrimination’ and full participation across society. UNDP’s new flagship report on ‘Legal Frameworks for Civic Space: A Practical Toolkit’ outlines the foundations for inclusive legal frameworks for civic space.

“Society is stronger and more resilient when everyone can play a meaningful role in political, economic and social life.” — UN Secretary-General, António Guterres

Read UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner’s message for Human Rights Day.




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