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Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, A/HRC/29/31, 27 May 2015

II. Defining and measuring inequality

A. Definition and recent figures

7. Economic and social inequalities are often categorized as “vertical inequalities”,[4] referring to the distribution of something such as income, health or power. Vertical inequalities can be distinguished from “horizontal inequalities”, which are group-based differences (describing between “whom” the relevant differences occur). Horizontal inequalities may for instance refer to: inequality between men and women, between majorities and minorities, between races, between groups of people with different sexual orientations or between generations. Horizontal inequalities often overlap with vertical inequalities, for instance when women are overrepresented in lower income segments or when a racial minority is underrepresented in political bodies.

D. Discrimination and inequalities

25. Although many forms of discrimination are inherently unjust, the correlation between gender-based discrimination and economic inequalities deserves special mention since it potentially affects half of the world’s population. While both men and women may experience myriad inequalities, based on factors such as their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability, gender-based discrimination is too often seen to be almost exclusively a women’s problem. In its World Development Report 2012, the World Bank describes the forms of discrimination that still exist in many countries and that directly affect economic inequality between men and women. According to the World Bank, men and women still have different ownership rights in at least nine countries, and in many countries, women and girls still have fewer inheritance rights than men and boys. In addition, women continue to fare badly in the labour market generally. A stocktaking by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) shows that almost 80 countries maintain restrictions on the types of work that women are permitted to undertake. Also according to UN-Women, at the global level, women’s labour force participation rates have stagnated since the 1990s. Currently, only half of women are in the labour force compared to more than three quarters of men. Despite considerable regional variations, nowhere has this gender gap been eliminated: globally, women earn on average 24 per cent less than men. In one study of four countries, lifetime income gaps between women and men were estimated to be between 31 and 75 per cent.[44]

Link to full text of the report: Report-SRPoverty-2015-eng


Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. 4. For a more detailed explanation of the difference between vertical and horizontal inequality, see the United Nations Development Programme, Humanity Divided: Confronting Inequality in Developing Countries (New York, 2013), chap. 1.
  2. 44. See United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, Progress of the World’s Women 2015–2016: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights (2015), p. 71.