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In the past two decades, there has been an upsurge in support for global frameworks on freedoms and rights, anti-discrimination laws, and independent institutions aimed at protecting human rights in many countries. Gender equality is now recognized as a right and a principle that is critical for achieving all human development goals. UNECE countries have been some of the biggest champions of these progressive changes.

Research has revealed the drivers of vulnerability and inequality, and shown the importance of addressing social exclusion more comprehensively. For example, while in the past it was common to assume that obvious groups (e.g., migrants, ethnic minorities, single mothers) are the most vulnerable, we now know vulnerability is linked as much to individual characteristics and contexts as to group membership.

Nations with more in-country equality do better on nearly every measurable health and social indicator than countries with more inequality. Greater equality in a society makes the most difference among the poorest people, but also has positive effects on those in the middle and at the top. Addressing inequalities is a fundamental principle of the ICPD Programme of Action, and remains a vital intervention for all societies.

This brief is part of a series summarizing key issues and recommendations from the review leading up the July 2013 conference in Geneva. The briefs are meant to inform discussions on how to move ahead with implementing the ICPD agenda in the region in light of recent trends and developments.