Empowering people for social change

Promoting empowerment of people will be at the core when the Commission for Social Development convenes for its 51st session. “Empowering individuals and social groups requires a comprehensive set of policies and institutions. From education and health care to economic and social policy, activities that seek to empower people are expected to increase opportunities and improve people’s quality of life”, said Ms. Larysa Belskaya, Vice-Chair of the Commission’s Bureau.

Chaired by Ms. Sewa Lamsal Adhikari of Nepal, the Commission will meet from 6 through 15 February in New York with a focus on this year’s priority theme, “Empowerment of people in achieving poverty eradication, social integration and full employment and decent work for all”.

Ms. Adhikari described this upcoming session as crucial, given that the world community is now following up on the Rio+20 Conference, as well as preparing for the MDGs review, post-2015 development agenda and the design of sustainable development goals (SDGs).

She also pointed to the important track record of this functional commission, established by the Economic and Social Council in 1946. ”The Commission has been playing a key role in shaping social policies,” Ms. Adhikari said, pointing to one of its achievements at the World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995, when it “identified poverty eradication as one of the three mutually reinforcing and interdependent pillars of social development.”

Report features input from expert group meeting

Preparing for this event, the Secretary-General has submitted a report, exploring the linkages between empowerment and poverty eradication, full and decent employment for all, social integration, as well as sustainable development. The report also features input and recommendations from the expert group meeting, which was held in New York last September on the empowerment theme.

Leading up to that meeting, DESA and its Division for Social Policy and Development (DSPD) opened an online forum on Facebook to collect input and questions on empowerment from across the globe. And the engagement level was high. “The questions were sound, they were provocative, they reflected concerns,” said John Mathiason of Cornell University, commending the engagement and participation on Facebook and Twitter.

“One interesting thing about empowerment is that you got to engage participation. When people both looked at Facebook and made their presentations on Facebook, Twitter and the survey, they were actually demonstrating that you can have empowerment of people who are far away,” Mr. Mathiason added.

Opportunities for civil society to contribute

The Commission plans to organize its work in three main forums: the general debate, panel discussions and side events. There will also be many opportunities for civil society to contribute.

A Civil Society Forum was convened on 5 February under the theme “Civil society: Promoting empowerment of people to achieve the goals of social development”, as it relates to the priority theme of the Commission, as well as to the discussions associated with the preparation of the post-2015 development framework.

Held a day prior to the opening of the Commission, the Forum has set a tradition of bringing together prominent civil society actors, representatives of Member States and officials of the United Nations to reflect on a key issue relevant to the work of the current session. It will present its conclusions to the Commission at its opening session. In addition, more than 30 side-events, covering a range of relevant topics in regard to social development, will be organized during the Commission.

During this session, the Secretariat will make a room available to NGOs for briefings and other events.

Social groups in focus

In addition to the empowerment theme, this session will “provide an opportunity to exchange views on other important key issues, such as disabled persons, youth, ageing, family and others”, Ms. Adhikari said, referring to the provisional agenda which will feature discussions on several different plans related to various social groups. The Commission also plans to review several reports of the Secretary-General on each of these issues as well as on emerging matters.

”This is a very good opportunity for the Commission to highlight and visualize not only the need for vulnerable groups to be empowered, but to contribute directly to the ongoing discussion that the General Assembly, ECOSOC and other relevant bodies of the UN are going to have with regards to the upcoming 2015 agenda for development,” said H.E. Mr. Carlos García González, Vice-Chair of the Bureau.

The work of the Commission can be followed on the website of DSPD, where visitors can find links to all the documentation produced ahead and during the meeting. Statements made by delegates will also be made available online as the meeting takes place.

With the arrival of government representatives and civil society to UN Headquarters in New York, the stage is set for the important work of the Commission to begin. A vital platform for shaping future policies, it will help promote people’s empowerment across the globe.

The importance of empowerment for development has also been underscored by DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Mr. Wu Hongbo. As experts met last September to prepare for the Commission, he stated, “empowerment is critical to poverty eradication and to development. Indeed, I would even say that any long-term solution to poverty must start with empowerment.”

For more information:

Fifty-first Session of the Commission for Social Development

DESA’s Division for Social Policy and Development

Experts answer online questions on empowerment

Empowering people to advance development

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