We work to reduce inequality, every day, everywhere. That vision is as important today as it was 75 years ago.


UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Nelson Mandela Lecture, New York, 2020

Rising inequalities across the world is one of the defining challenges of our time, putting sustainable development at risk, stirring social unrest, undermining social progress, threatening economic and political stability, and undercutting human rights. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed and exacerbated pre-existing inequalities and deep-rooted discrimination. Unless we take action to reverse this trend, inequalities will further deepen divides and threaten progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Inequality has multiple dimensions and varies depending on the context. It can include economic inequalities such as inequalities in income, wealth, wages and social protection, as well as social and legal inequalities where different groups are discriminated, excluded or otherwise denied full equality. Inequality can also refer to inequality within a country as well as inequality between different countries. 

The shared United Nations system framework for action on equality and non-discrimination, endorsed by the Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) in November 2016, aims to facilitate a more coordinated and integrated United Nations system approach to combating inequalities and discrimination at national and global levels in support of the pledge by Member States to leave no one behind. 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.

Further to reviews of progress in 2018 and 2019, the High-level Committee on Programmes concluded that targeted measures were needed to close gaps in the implementation of the shared framework. In October 2019, at its thirty-eighth session, the Committee decided to reconstitute an inter-agency task team on inequalities to enhance the United Nations system’s impact and visibility on Sustainable Development Goal 10 (Reduce inequality within and among countries), including with a view to aligning with, informing and supporting the Secretary-General’s call to action for human rights.

In his speech “Tackling the Inequality Pandemic: A New Social Contract for a New Era”, the Secretary-General outlined the threat posed to our well-being and our future by historic injustices and current trends, from colonialism and patriarchy to racism and the digital divide, and made concrete recommendations for a more equitable, just and sustainable way forward in line with the SDGs.

Developing the Shared Framework – putting the imperative to combat inequalities and discrimination at the forefront of UN efforts to support SDG implementation

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development - in large part an agenda for equality – pledges that no one will be left behind and calls for the disaggregation of data across all 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 inter-agency 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.

Work has been carried out within UNSDG to integrate the framework’s elements in a 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.

Implementing the Shared Framework - HLCP Inequalities Task Team

The HLCP Inequalities Task Team (ITT) was established to reinforce the implementation and operationalization of the shared United Nations system framework for action on equality and non-discrimination, and in follow up to the conclusions of HLCP’s 38th session which supported recommendations to strengthen the United Nations system’s leadership, coordination and impact on reducing inequalities. The ITT is co-led by UN-Women and OHCHR, with 22 entities currently represented.

The Inequalities Task Team held its first meeting in February 2020 and subsequently organized a virtual workshop in March 2020 on the key challenges and opportunities to be addressed. The workshop informed its time-bound workplan comprising measures to strengthen coordination to combat inequalities, promote joint analysis and advocacy, and intensify knowledge-sharing and management by drawing on the breadth of its members’ mandates and the depth of their expertise.

In the context of the COVID-19 crisis which laid bare the impacts of inequalities, in October 2020 the ITT produced a short policy brief on “COVID-19, inequalities and building back better”, to strengthen the UN’s common messaging and joint analysis and to ensure that combatting inequalities is a central part of the UN system's response to COVID-19.

Furthermore in 2020, task team members reinforced common system-wide approaches and messaging on the issue of inequalities by contributing to the preparatory session on “sharing economic benefits, addressing inequality within and among countries, decoupling growth from environmental degradation, and achieving sustainable development for future generations” held in June 2020 ahead of the high-level political forum (HLPF) on sustainable development. To strengthen the United Nations system’s collective engagement, visibility and impact on reducing inequalities, UN entities received key tools and policy references on inequalities, including the CEB framework and the operational guide for country teams on leaving no one behind developed by UNSDG. Specific support to United Nations country teams was provided by integrating inequality issues into the guidance on economic transformation provided by UNSDG in line with the CEB framework.

At the 2021 High-level Political Forum, the Inequalities Task Team held a virtual side event on “building back fairer: equality in a post-COVID world” on 8 July.  

The response to the [COVID-19] pandemic, and to the widespread discontent that preceded it, must be based on a New Social Contract and a New Global Deal that create equal opportunities for all and respect the rights and freedoms of all.


UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Nelson Mandela Lecture, New York, 2020



  • Gender Equality
  • Inequalities
  • Chief Executives Board (CEB)
  • High-Level Committee on Programmes (HLCP)

Related resources


Content type