DESA News Vol. 11, No. 12 December 2007

Trends and analysis

Employment and decent work, cornerstone of government policies

New DESA report cautions on the growth of job insecurity and most forms of inequality

“Employment and decent work need to be not a by-product but a central objective of development strategies,” said Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Sha Zukang, at a press briefing on 28 November in New York to launch of the Report on the World Social Situation 2007 subtitled The Employment Imperative. The report calls for making the promotion of employment and decent work the cornerstone of government policy, and for setting up basic universal social protection to address recent developments in the world of work.

On the employment front, “we see a number of worrisome trends,” advised Mr. Sha. Globally, despite robust rates of economic growth, “employment creation is lagging behind growth of the working-age population.” According to the report, global unemployment increased from 6.0 to 6.3 percent between 1996 and 2006 despite expansion of global output of 3.8 percent per year in the same period. “Economic growth and job growth are not trending together, to the detriment of our societies and citizens,” Under-Secretary-General Sha cautioned.

Meanwhile, employment conditions are deteriorating. “There is greater economic insecurity for most workers and greater levels of most forms of inequality in society,” he said. “Workers with low education and low skills have been hit particularly hard,” and “macroeconomic and social policies have not been successful in lowering unemployment rates to desirable levels.”

Johan Schölvinck, Director of DESA’s Division for Social Policy and Development elaborated that the report finds employment increasingly dominated by the service sector, with a global trend towards informal and casual forms of employment.

“Economic liberalization has not necessarily stimulated economic growth, as policy-makers had hoped,” he stressed. Rather, “Volatility in macroeconomic performance and employment has increased as a result of economic reforms, especially those relating to international trade and financial liberalization.” At the same time, emphasis on fiscal prudence has led to general reductions in public expenditures aimed at promoting growth and employment, further exacerbating job insecurity.

Income distribution has shifted towards capital at the expense of labour, Mr. Schölvinck noted, creating wage differentials that contributed to raising inequality. In these circumstances, “Redistributive policies should be implemented to expand access to productive assets and employment opportunities.”

With public health care on the retreat and pensions and social benefits under pressure, Mr. Schölvinck pointed out, “A consensus is emerging that the state should take the responsibility to establish a universal minimal level of social protection.”

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Open online discussion on women in leadership roles

The Division for the Advancement of Women, with support from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, will moderate a discussion on women in leadership roles from 19 November to 15 December. The objective of the discussion, which is open to the public, is to improve understanding of the factors affecting access and retention of women in decision-making positions, to share available data, to identify barriers to participation in decision-making bodies, and to learn about good practices that can enhance the role of women in these areas.

The full participation of women in decision-making processes has been recognized as a human right in international human rights conventions and global policy frameworks and as critical for the achievement of gender equality. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has repeatedly called for the promotion of women to management positions in the public and private sectors, while the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 recognized that inequality between men and women in the sharing of power and decision-making at all levels is not only a precondition for justice or democracy but is also a necessary condition for ensuring that women’s interests and rights are taken into account.

During the last decade, women’s participation in decision-making has been growing, albeit slowly. Women are increasingly assuming senior-level positions in different areas, including the economy, the public and private sectors, the judiciary, international affairs, academia, trade unions, the media, non-governmental organizations and others. The evidence suggests that women’s participation in and contributions to decision-making processes has improved the quality of policy outcomes. In many countries, for example, women inside the government and within civil society organizations have played a critical role in passing laws and developing policies that address women’s and children’s rights in areas directly related to poverty reduction and violence against women.

While data are increasingly available on women’s participation in decision-making in political bodies such as parliaments and governments since 1995, there is a persistent lack of information, including quantitative data and qualitative analysis, on the extent to which women are equally represented in high-level positions in public administration, including the judiciary, private sector, academia, media, civil society, trade unions and professional associations. Little is known about women’s leadership roles in civil society outside organizations dealing with women’s and children’s rights and needs.

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Harnessing information technology to mitigate climate change

Conference explores role of ICT in both assuring and undermining environmental sustainability

Information and communication technologies are making a positive contribution to climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts, and are a key instrument for tackling the problem. That was the view of several leaders from business, government, academia and diplomacy who gathered at a conference on the positive impact of ICT on the environment and climate change on 27 and 28 November in New York. The meeting was organized by the DESA Global Alliance for ICT and Development, together with AIT Global Inc., to address the broad effects of these technologies on the environment and their role in promoting environmental sustainability.

“The Secretary-General sees overcoming the threat of climate change as the defining challenge of our times,” said Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Sha Zukang, adding that information technology is “crucial to understanding the environment and the impact of climate change” by providing tools to help cut greenhouse gas emissions, and are instrumental in providing information on climate change.

The President of the General Assembly, Srgjan Kerim, went on to say that “ICT will be instrumental in helping to develop new, climate-friendly technologies that can help economies grow sustainably and reduce emissions in the years ahead.” Technology, he added, has already offered climate-friendly solutions to curb greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon sequestration.

Calling for “very proactive problem-solving through the deployment of technology,” Alexander Karsner, United States Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, said that “while waiting for the big solution we should take every bit of existing solutions along the way.” On the positive side, he said, technology is proliferating solutions “faster than our global political leadership can enforce them” and energy efficiency has become paramount for all sectors, starting from the oil industry. The right approach involves science and technology, capital markets and policy, he said, since “markets alone do not make global strategies.”

The private sector, for its part, was equally upbeat about the potential of ICT. IBM Vice-President for Corporate Environmental Affairs, Wayne Balta, said ICT could improve the energy efficiency of all economic sectors, measure the carbon emissions of a product or process, and help in the redesign of production methods. Vice-President for Environment at Xerox Corporation, Patricia Calkins, pointed out that the pulp and paper industry is the fourth largest consumer of fossil fuels in the world. Sadly, nearly half of all office paper used becomes waste paper within a single day. The paperless office has not materialized, Ms. Calkins noted. Perhaps industry could begin to make “smarter, more efficient choices” by plugging in energy-efficient appliances that shut down automatically when not in use.

“For environmental impact, it all starts with design,” said Tod Arbogast, Dell Computer Director of Sustainable Business, since design will have an impact throughout the life of a product. Efficiency is dictated by economics since servers, personal computers and monitors account for more that 60 percent of global ICT-related carbon emissions and world average electricity prices have grown by 56 percent since 2002. Companies, he concluded, have started to reduce packaging and dematerialize products while offering customers convenient recycling services. For Dell, recycling is a smart way to reduce carbon emissions that would otherwise result from raw material extraction, product manufacture, landfill and combustion.

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World forum on gender statistics

Gender statistics are vital for developing policies at the national and international levels with sufficient specificity to take the needs of men and women into account. Discussed at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, a global programme of gender statistics may be relaunched at an upcoming forum hosted by the Government of Italy in Rome from 10 to 12 December.

The World Forum on Gender Statistics as it is officially known is being organized by the Italian National Institute of Statistics (Istat) together with DESA’s Statistics Division, Division for the Advancement of Women, ECE, UNFPA, and World Bank. The main purpose of the forum is to foster action on the part of international organizations and national institutes for statistics, emphasizing best practices and promoting the debate between users and producers of statistical information.

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Windsor knowledge management roundtable

An untraditional gathering of dignitaries, leading policy-makers, international strategists, educators, science and technology experts and the private sector are gathering in the most traditional setting of Windsor Castle in the United Kingdom from 30 November to 1 December for a brainstorming session on public sector capacity-building in developing and transitional countries. Led by DESA’s Division for Public Administration and Development Management, the circle of innovators will explore ways of expanding existing training programmes on electronic and mobile service delivery to promote social inclusion and participatory government.

Formally an initiative of the United Nations Online Network in Public Administration and Finance, or UNPAN, it is expected that the roundtable discussion will lead to “partnerships in practice” that can strengthen existing institutions and spearhead implementation of recommendations of the World Summit on the Information Society on training and skills development. While the benefits of enhanced knowledge and expertise are clear to government, some private sector firms also see potential gains from improved government services and access to more highly skilled personnel. The result is an improved quality of life for all.