06.05.2014 - Social and Human Sciences Sector

The voices of the excluded must be heard in the post-2015 agenda

© World Bank / Ray Witlin

UNESCO, in collaboration with the International Social Science Council (ISSC), organized an expert group meeting, entitled “Global justice, poverty and inequality in the post-2015 development agenda” from 28 to 29 April 2014, at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France. Distinguished experts from different countries and regions gathered to reflect on how to achieve global justice by using knowledge that is already available, and how to empower excluded people with the aim of eliminating poverty, inequality and injustice.

The meeting took place in the context of UNESCO’s preparation of inputs into the process of the Sustainable Development Goals for the post-2015 development agenda, and the ISSC’s preparation of its two flagship programmes: the World Social Science Forum in 2015 and the World Social Science Report in 2016. The meeting was an opportunity, in this context, for social scientists and humanists to contribute through a renewed narrative on social justice to achieve an enhanced vision of poverty eradication and promote global equality.

Specific objectives included:

  • To advance a systemic framing for our understanding of extreme poverty, inequality and global justice;
  • To develop action-oriented messages and recommendations whereby global justice is incorporated into the post-2015 development agenda and its associated monitoring framework;
  • To set an agenda of priority topics and questions that the social sciences now need to address; and
  • To identify innovative contributions as well as critical gaps in what the social sciences have done and could be doing in this area of research.  

The experts stressed that the lack of justice is a tragedy in many parts of the world. In order to tackle that social scourge it is crucial to understand how poverty, inequality and injustice are created and perpetuated for vast sectors of the population.

Lively exchanges took place on several key questions such as: How can we create social change that is compatible with a just world? What type of critical thinking is needed in order to advance global justice? How to integrate the crucial role of context-specific phenomena into reflections on global justice? How to avoid technocratic approaches harming the poor and the excluded thus becoming further excluded?

Although responses to those questions revealed a rich diversity of ideas, experts shared the basic notion that advances towards global justice involves harnessing and using knowledge that is already available. The main challenge is of a political nature: empowerment of people in order to transform the mechanisms that produce poverty, inequality and injustice.

Participants agreed that the most important questions are: who sets the agenda and who is it for. Ensuring that the voices of the excluded are heard and included is of paramount importance and should be the guiding principle in designing the post-2015 development agenda.

The discussions aimed at providing conceptual clarification and exploring recent theoretical work in the context of sustainable development discourse and associated processes. Existing key contributions from the social sciences were assessed, identifying knowledge gaps, priority areas and questions and new, innovative ideas on the topic. The debate focused on the connections between normative ideas and public activism on global justice and explored the role and limits of academia in shaping public opinion. Participants reflected on the question of how to move from reasoned criticism of global injustice to a politically influential discourse on global justice, and the weight of “the local” in shaping public notions of “the global”.

The final session explored suggestions from the experts in terms of strengthening the relevance of global justice and the promotion of equality in the post-2015 development agenda. Experts also made suggestions for the preparation of UNESCO-ISSC contributions to the 2015 World Social Science Forum (WSSF), which will be held in Durban, South Africa, from 13 to 16 September 2015, under the theme “Transforming Global Relations for a Just World”, and to inform the design of the next World Social Science Report 2016.

UNESCO and the ISSC will prepare an outcome report, which will synthesize the presentations and debates and provide inputs into policy - including policy briefs, op-ed pieces and texts to be disseminated through social media.

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