Former Deputy Public Defender, Ekaterine Skhiladze
How would you explain SDG 10? What does it mean to overcome inequality within the country and between countries?Although the principles of equality are mainstreamed in the Sustainable Development Goals, overcoming inequality is recognized as a standalone SDG to be achieved by 2030. The goal calls for reducing social, economic, and other inequalities in our communities so everyone lives in a dignified and equal environment. This includes reducing income inequalities and those based on social, economic, and other categories. SDG 10 also calls for the necessary changes in legislation, policy, and practice to promote equal rights by 2030. These measures are aligned with the main spirit of sustainable development so that no one is left behind in development processes, and benefits are equally accessible to all people.
Ambassador of SDG 10: Ekaterine Skhiladze, Former Deputy Public Defender, Ekaterine Skhiladze
Various circumstances, including the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine, have hindered us from achieving SDG 10, and we have faced a setback. What is the situation in Georgia in this respect regarding the level of inequality in society, and what are the prevailing challenges?
Achieving equality is a process we will probably never be fully satisfied with. This is a continuous development process, and it is clear that, by 2030, we will not be able to reach equality for all so that people live in equal environments and enjoy equal opportunities. This is especially due to the developments in the world in recent years – starting from the Covid pandemic, including the case of Georgia and the conflict situation in the region, as well as Russia’s armed attack on Ukraine, the negative impact of which extends beyond Ukraine. This is an attack on the democratic states of the whole world, further deepening inequality, including in Georgia. As for the achievement of equality in general, we see many positive changes. Despite the fact that society has received more information about equality, we have relevant legislation and policies in place. However, the achievement of substantive equality, which means that all people have equal access, equal rights, and equal opportunities, is still a distant prospect.
One of the priority areas of SDG 10 concerns the adoption of anti-discrimination laws, policies, and practices. The Public Defender is actively working toward eliminating discrimination in our country. How would you assess the situation in Georgia in this regard?
One of the indicators used to measure the achievement of the goal of reducing inequality is the existence of relevant, non-discriminatory legislation and policies that respond to the existing challenges.
Georgia’s effort to have nationalized the Sustainable Development Goals and take relevant measures should be welcome. This task is also integrated into our state policy. Regarding the current situation, in 2014, Georgia’s Law on Equality was adopted, which further improved policy related to equality issues, including institutional guarantees for the victims of discrimination to access existing services. According to the law, the Public Defender’s Office was defined as an equality body, and the mandate of the courts to examine issues related to equality was strengthened. If we look at the legislation of Georgia, we can say that we have some of the best anti-discrimination laws in Europe. However, the actual implementation of the legislation is another challenging issue for Georgia. Although certain institutional guarantees have been introduced, existing societal attitudes, the shortcomings of state policy, and the lack of measures that would promote more effective implementation of these laws hinder the effective implementation of the anti-discrimination legislation.
Discriminatory practices are common in the private sector. What is the situation of Georgia in this regard, and should the business sector consider these issues? It would be supportive if they assumed responsibility for eliminating discrimination and promoting equality. Also, how does the Public Defender work with the business sector in this direction?
Inequality cannot be overcome without a coordinated effort of the private and public sectors. When we talk about the private sector, we mean the population and the business sector, which play an essential role in promoting social responsibility and equality in the country. The Sustainable Development Goals also imply a similar approach – coordination and cooperation to achieve each SDG. For example, economic inequality can only be overcome with the active participation of the business sector. We should consider the business sector as our ally.
Based on our practice, we have observed that, in many cases, the lack of awareness or absence of information leads to discriminatory practices. Our primary approach is to deliver informational and educational events for the private sector so that they have sustainable internal policies and awareness of equality issues. The next level is to follow to what extent they fulfill the responsibilities established by the internal or external regulations and how they contribute to achieving equality in the country.
We should remember the private sector’s special role in adhering to non-discriminatory policies. In doing so, they contribute to the elimination of discriminatory practices and the reduction of general inequality, for example, inequality in terms of income. Suppose more people with disabilities and women are employed, and there is no difference between their salaries. In that case, we will not have the so-called ‘glass ceiling’ that prevents the career promotion of members of different groups, and then we can overcome inequality between these and other groups. Companies should understand that anti-discrimination policy is not only for us, the people, but also for them to increase their capital, improve organizational culture and motivation of employees, and thereby benefit themselves.
The second issue I would like to highlight is the prevailing alienation and fear. For example, when it comes to the employment of people with disabilities, there is always this alienation and fear from the side of the employing companies that this will require extra costs, and so on. Several studies demonstrate that the reasonable adaptation of certain organizational aspects to the needs of people with disabilities – be it infrastructure, physical information, and so on – is associated with relatively small costs.
How would you assess the scope of coordination in our country regarding implementing the sustainable development agenda, particularly achieving SDG 10, and is the business sector actively involved in this process?
This direction clearly needs to be strengthened. Perhaps all of us remember that during any legislative change – be it the labor code, anti-discrimination legislation, or so on – the argument that often came up during discussions was that it would have a negative impact on the business sector and would not be acceptable for them. However, the business sector was not represented in these discussions, and we needed to know their position and the rationale for this negative impact. Accordingly, this part of communication, including implementing international commitments at the national level, should be strengthened. More systems must be created for the private and public sectors to plan and work together in different directions. We should move beyond the charity-oriented model and develop a people-empowerment model that is more about social responsibility. It should not be a unilateral process. Instead, the process should be directed through well-designed communication and coordination by involving the agencies that know best the needs at the individual level.
What advice would you give to the business sector, stakeholders, and wider society on accelerating progress toward achieving SDG 10?Each of us, regardless of our social or other status, has a role to play in overcoming inequality, and we can play this role effectively, which will help us to have a much better situation in Georgia by 2030. The situation will change substantially if we overcome fears, alienation, and stereotyping of vulnerable groups and be more open to diversity. As for the private sector, it is important that non-discrimination policies are strengthened and developed, and we face less discrimination in labor relations. Discrimination in employment affects not only specific individuals but also entire groups of people. As for the state obligation, the legislation must be implemented in practice; we must obtain tangible results. However, this implementation must be based on partnership relations and with the active involvement of both individual members of society and the private sector. And finally, of course, we are ready to provide informational support to each stakeholder, including the private sector representatives, to help them strengthen their internal policies so that we have fewer cases of discrimination and more success stories and good practice to discuss.