A ‘society for all’ is a society where men and women, young and old, rich and poor, people with disabilities, indigenous peoples, minorities, and other excluded and disadvantaged groups and individuals are all equal participants. This is a society that is stable, safe, just and tolerant, respects diversity and promotes equality of opportunity and participation.
At the World Summit for Social Development, held in Copenhagen in 1995, Governments made a commitment to foster more inclusive societies where everyone has a stake and responsibilities.
The Commission for Social Development (as mandated by the Economic and Social Council) selected the theme of “Social Integration” for its 2009-2010 review and policy cycle, with a focus on the relationship between poverty eradication, full employment and decent work for all. At its forty-seventh session in 2009, the commission reviewed the theme, and at its forty-eighth session from 3-12 February 2010, the commission will complete the biennial cycle by adopting action-oriented policy recommendations.
We are not living in a society which is for all
The past decades have brought the unprecedented economic growth in human history. While such progress should have meant a better standard of living for all humanity, it has instead resulted in widening inequality and insecurity in most, if not all societies.
Poverty, discrimination, the food and energy crises, and the current global economic and financial crisis, pose significant challenges to governments and societies around the world. Rising unemployment, especially among youth, cuts in social spending and diminished access to credit have contributed to newly-emerging segments of the population falling into poverty, and further exacerbating inequality.
Faced with diminishing resources and growing hardship, people are less able to invest in the nutrition, health and education of their children, thus reinforcing the intergenerational transmission of poverty and exclusion. Socio-economic instability has lead to growing social tension and unrest, jeopardizing social cohesion.
Much has been done to promote social integration
Strategies to promote social integration have been adopted and implemented by many Governments around the world. Good examples of such a practice are policies targeting specific social groups, such as older persons, youth, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples; anti-discriminatory laws, regional framework for social integration and inclusion, basic social services for all, affordable social protection, conditional cash transfer as well as participatory planning and budgeting.
Statistical analysis of participatory budgeting in Brazil has shown that it increases the share of public expenditure devoted to health care and has resulted in major reductions in child mortality and improved access to basic services. Local governments in other parts of the world have experimented with various innovative approaches as well.
Employment strategies have been implemented in many countries to improve employability at different stages in life in an effort to enhance economic inclusion. Policy examples of this include removing discriminatory barriers to employment, such as those based on race, ethnicity, age, disability or gender, offering employers incentives to hire young, older and disabled workers, and facilitating self-employment.
In some regions, the demographic changes pose major policy challenges for the provision of adequate income support and appropriate health-care services for older persons. Other regions have a vast majority of young population. Some countries are experiencing increasing urban/rural gaps, or rapid urbanization. Consistent and disaggregated data is necessary to enable evidence-based analysis and policy-making to reflect the needs of these specific groups.
Regional, national and local social integration strategies have been developed to tackle the most urgent priorities. For most of the developing world, achieving the provision of basic services for all, including education and health care, is central to advancing social integration. In some countries, priority has been given to policy and regulatory frameworks designed to overcome entrenched discrimination, in others, Governments have focused on improving the situation of specific, vulnerable groups. Attempts have been made in many countries to transform policy and planning processes and make them more inclusive and participatory.
A lot more needs to be done to achieve a society for all
“There is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach to achieve social integration” said Makiko Tagashira, Social Affairs Officer, Social Integration Branch of DESA’s Division for Social Policy and Development.
“Every society is different, and it is important to take into consideration the historical, cultural and contextual backgrounds of one’s own society, when developing social integration strategies. Looking at the local level, there emerge a number of innovative initiatives towards social integration, and we have many encouraging cases to learn from,” Ms Tagashira said.
“A lack of understanding of the conception of social integration, however, remains a challenge, and there is a need for raising awareness of the importance of social integration among Governments, policy-makers and other stakeholders in civil society,” she said.
“It actually takes a long time to change people’s mindset, due to cultural and historical backgrounds and social norms of a given society. While Governments plays a key role in promoting social integration, the responsibility rests with the whole. Full participation of civil society is essential. Governments are responsible for creating an enabling environment to promote social integration for the people, and with the people and by the people.”
“During this 48th session of the Commission for Social Development, action-oriented resolutions are expected to be adopted. Topics such as formulating social integration policies and strategies concomitantly at the normative, institutional and programmatic levels will be addressed. This is the first time, since Copenhagen, that a resolution on social integration will be adopted at the intergovernmental level. This would be a corner stone in the realization of achieving a society for all.”
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