Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here today to address this Civil Society Forum, focused on “Social Integration: Building a Society for All”.
The theme you selected highlights social integration as a process of creating an inclusive society – a society where all, regardless of their race, colour, religion, gender, age and physical or intellectual capacity have rights and responsibilities, and where all have a role to play.
In an inclusive society, all are protected from discrimination and social exclusion. And there is shared responsibility for the welfare and inclusion of all members, especially those at risk of poverty and marginalization.
At the World Social Summit in 1995, world leaders committed to building inclusive societies. Yet, years on, social integration is not high on the development agenda. This impedes progress towards not only the Copenhagen commitments but also other internationally agreed development goals.
Extreme poverty, discrimination, new forms of stigmatization, xenophobia, gender-based violence, abuse within families, resort to violence as a way of resolving conflicts all continue to be major obstacles to social inclusion.
Even in societies where most people benefit from economic and social opportunities, there are those who are marginalized and neglected.
Today, we confront an economic slowdown in both developed and developing countries, given the ongoing global financial crisis, which followed on food and energy price hikes. With more people suffering from poverty, hunger and unemployment, and with rising social tensions, the ranks of people at high risk of exclusion will only grow.
Yet, the current crises present us also with new opportunities. In Chinese, the word for crisis is weiji: wei means danger and ji means opportunity. So it seems natural to me to see crisis as an opportunity.
First, the adverse impact of the crises, which tears at the social fabric, underscores the importance of social integration. We have, therefore, an opportunity to raise the visibility of this pillar of social development.
Second, the financial crisis creates an opportunity to correct our over-reliance on markets to advance development, strengthen the role of the state in better regulating the market, curb speculation and redistribute shrinking resources in a more equitable way.
Third, the crises provide an opportunity to engage in more effective partnerships and to develop new ways of designing, implementing and evaluating socio-economic policies that are socially just and inclusive.
In the process, we should build upon last year’s High-level Event on the Millennium Development Goals, which showcased and launched an array of partnerships in support of the most vulnerable and excluded.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There are many policies we can put into practice to build a society for all. Some of them are universal, like expanding access to employment and education for all, eliminating child poverty, fighting gender-based and other discrimination, and widening access to social services and social protection.
Other courses of action may be required to facilitate the inclusion of specific groups, like persons with disabilities, older persons, youth, ethnic and other minorities, indigenous peoples and migrant workers.
Neither universal nor group-specific policies will have much chance of success unless all members of society are mobilized to be engaged in their design, implementation and evaluation.
Let us be clear that the primary responsibility for promoting social integration lies with governments. This responsibility includes promoting full participation in society by providing a legal framework and support structure that encourage the formation and contribution from civil society organizations.
Copenhagen recognized the importance of such broad-based participation in advancing a society for all. It explicitly recommended “giving community organizations greater involvement in the design and implementation of local projects, particularly in the areas of education, health care, resource management and social protection”.
Indeed, it is the civil society organizations, working on the ground with socially excluded persons and groups, that help translate global commitments into action.
Civil society organizations who reach out to marginalized persons and groups help to give them voice, so that their concerns can be heard.
You – civil society organizations – raise awareness about the importance of promoting social inclusion, through your tireless advocacy and multicultural education.
You can mobilize groups and individuals for collective action.
You can help to reveal the real impact of government policies and what should be done to improve them. You can both support government efforts and help to keep governments accountable for implementing policies that effectively promote social integration.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We need civil society to engage citizens for collective action, to uphold the principles of social justice and solidarity, to remind governments that economic and social policies must result in greater equality in access to services and opportunities. This task is more difficult yet all the more urgent in the midst of the current crises.
I thank you for your immeasurable contribution and count on your continuing partnership in building a society for all.