SOCIAL INTEGRATION LACKS ATTENTION IT DESERVES, UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL SAYS AS COMMISSION FOR SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT BEGINS FORTY-SEVENTH SESSION

4 February 2009
SOC/4748

SOCIAL INTEGRATION LACKS ATTENTION IT DESERVES, UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL SAYS AS COMMISSION FOR SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT BEGINS FORTY-SEVENTH SESSION

4 February 2009
Economic and Social Council
SOC/4748
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission for Social Development

Forty-seventh Session

2nd & 3rd Meetings* (AM & PM)

social integration lacks attention it deserves, Under-Secretary-General says

as commission for social development begins forty-seventh session

Economic and Social Council President:  Global Economic Crisis

Turning Focus from Lifting People Out of Poverty to Widening Protections

Social integration created the enabling political and social environment that made it possible for societies to achieve national development and meet the internationally agreed development goals, but it still did not receive the attention it deserved on the development agenda, Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said today as the forty-seventh session of the Commission for Social Development got under way at Headquarters.

He noted that the challenges ahead were all the more urgent due to the negative impact of the current global crises, with many people struggling to survive, especially in the poorest and most vulnerable communities.  Many had lost their jobs and were unable to pay for food, shelter, health care and school for their children.  Such harsh circumstances created fertile ground for conflict and instability, and tough economic times had also reduced people’s ability to help others, as well as their support for inclusive social policies.  Such trends could have an adverse impact on social integration, a priority theme of the session, which is scheduled to run through 13 February.

Unavoidably, the global economic downturn, against the backdrop of intractable global challenges such as poverty, the food crisis, climate change and armed conflict, will inform debate within the 46‑member Commission, which is tasked with clarifying the content and meaning of the theme in this first year of a two‑year review and policy cycle in order to facilitate negotiations on an agreed resolution on the subject at the next session.

Attributing the persistence of social exclusion to entrenched prejudice, including gender‑based discrimination, racism and discriminatory education and employment policies and practices, the Under-Secretary-General said Governments must ensure that economic progress contributed to social progress and inclusion.  However, they could not achieve it on their own, and the international community must bridge the gap between legal provisions and enforcement, while also involving civil society and the private sector.

Sylvie Lucas (Luxembourg), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the current global crises not only jeopardized the development gains made thus far, they were also forcing the world to expand the focus from lifting people out of poverty to preventing them from falling into poverty by widening social protection systems.  Poverty itself was a form of social exclusion; when exclusion extended to the social, economic, political and cultural realms, it required concerted action in all those areas.

The Commission had the important task of guiding international efforts to fight exclusion and promote socially inclusive policies that placed people at the centre of development, she said.  Effective social integration policies could help prevent conflict, encourage dialogue and manage coexistence and natural‑resource exploitation.  Over the years, the Commission had put forward a broad perspective on development based on the assumption that, in both economic and social terms, the most productive policies and investments were those that empowered people to maximize their capacities, resources and opportunities.

Commission Chairperson Kirsti Lintonen ( Finland) stressed that full realization of social integration could not be achieved without the contribution of, and cooperation with, civil society.  Only through such cooperation could Governments make real progress towards eradicating discrimination and injustice, while paving the way for true participation.  The NGO Committee for Social Development and its partners had held a Civil Society Forum yesterday, which would provide input to the present session.  The Chair encouraged substantive debate in order to contribute, not only to negotiations on the policy outcome next year, but also to the actual well‑being of everybody everywhere.

Opening the general discussion on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, Sudan’s representative suggested that advanced social integration required comprehensive national strategies for promoting growth and equity through macroeconomic stability and sound public finances, coupled with fair and progressive tax systems and social protection mechanisms.  In some countries, social development was hampered by unilateral coercive measures that violated international law and the United Nations Charter while creating obstacles to trade relations among States, impeding the full realization of socio‑economic development, and hindering the well‑being of populations in the target nations.  The international community and development partners must collaborate in helping developing countries implement their social development agenda.

Speaking on behalf of the European Union, the Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Affairs of the Czech Republic described social integration and cohesion as overarching objectives of social and economic development.  Regretfully, in light of the financial crisis, the European economy and those of many other countries worldwide would face diminished growth rates in the medium term and experience significant cuts in long‑term growth.  The most vulnerable in societies would be most affected by the economic downturn, and appropriate measures should, therefore, be taken to mitigate the impact on vulnerable groups.  The European Union had already set in motion a recovery plan that would simultaneously support the goals of mitigating adverse social impacts on the most vulnerable situations and containing the impact of the crisis on the economy overall.

Namibia’s Minister for Health and Social Services, speaking on behalf of the African Union, said it was time for developing countries to seize the opportunity to work their way out of hunger, poverty, unemployment and social exclusion, while carving out a long‑term process that would involve setting concrete and actionable social development goals for the true enhancement of African livelihoods.  Improving the quality of life on the continent depended on radical social transformation that would place people at the centre of development.  Africa’s development challenges could not be met unless its countries worked with the international community.

Speaking for the Rio Group, Mexico’s representative said Latin America remained one of the more unequal regions in the world, noting that discrimination increased inequality in the region.  In some cases, indigenous peoples or Afro-descendants faced social indicators below national averages.  The Rio Group members had established programmes and national strategies to fight poverty, promote social inclusion and employment, and address the needs of the vulnerable.  Regional social programmes tended to support much of the excluded population by implementing comprehensive schemes that not only provided income transfers but also ensured access for children and older persons to basic health care and education.  Such schemes considered women to be central actors in the strategy to fight poverty.

Brazil’s representative said the challenges under discussion were compounded by the impact of the global financial crisis on social development; the greater the decline, the greater the social costs for developing countries.  While they were not responsible in any way for the current state of affairs, or for the economic policies that encouraged lack of financial responsibility at the centre of the ailing system, developing countries, including the poorest among them, would most certainly be the ultimate victims of a prolonged global recession or depression.  Global cooperation must aim to boost liquidity, so as to bail out the poor from impending disaster.

During its afternoon session, the Commission held a panel discussion on social integration, hearing opening remarks from:  Wim Kok, former Prime Minister of the Netherlands and a member of the Club of Madrid; Bience Gawanas, Commissioner for Social Affairs of the African Union; Maria Ines da Silva Barbosa, Executive Programme Coordinator of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in Brazil and the Southern Cone Region; and Bimal Phnuyal, Country Director of ActionAid Nepal.

Introducing the segment, the Minister for Health and Social Services of Finland, stressed the need for a comprehensive and effective social‑protection system to strengthen social integration and national competitiveness.  Finland had a well‑functioning social‑protection system covering the entire population.  As a result, poverty and social exclusion were relatively uncommon and gender equality had been achieved.  Social and health services played a vital role in increasing social cohesion and alleviating the impact of economic recession.  A first step towards integrating people living in poverty was to meet their basic needs.

During the ensuing exchange, delegates emphasized that poverty was often a major cause or result of social exclusion, with some suggesting that social policies should be transformative, taking an active approach to enable the most disadvantaged to participate in the economy and society at large.  It was particularly important in an economic crisis to adapt the workforce and ensure universal access to education, employment, health and opportunities across all segments of society.  Related questions revolved around the priorities of social integration in the current economic crisis and how social‑protection systems could be adapted to protect the most disadvantaged while minimizing the impact of the crisis on them.

Before embarking on the general discussion this morning, the Commission adopted its provisional agenda and organization of work.  It also heard a report by the Chairperson on the outcome of the elections held during the first meeting of the forty-seventh session in 2008.  The following were elected Vice‑Chairpersons:  Lalit Toutkhalian of Armenia; Tareq Md. Ariful Islam of Bangladesh; and Lorena Gimenez of Venezuela.  Today the election of Soha Gendi ( Egypt) as Vice-Chairperson and Rapporteur rounded out the Commission’s Bureau.

Other speakers during this morning’s general discussion included the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Development of the Russian Federation.

Also delivering statements were the representatives of Japan and Italy.

Elsa Stamatopoulou, Acting Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced documents to be considered by the Commission.

Reporting on the outcome of the Civil Society Forum held yesterday was Tahirih Naylor, Chairperson of the NGO Committee for Social Development.

The Commission will continue its work at 10 a.m. Thursday, 5 February.

Background

The Commission for Social Development met this morning to open its forty-seventh session, which is due to conclude on 13 February.  (For background information, see Press Release SOC/4747 of 2 February).

Introductory Statements

KIRSTI LINTONEN ( Finland), Chairperson of the Commission for Social Development, noted that social integration had been one of the three core themes of the World Summit for Social Development.  Since 2009 was the first year of the two‑year review and policy cycle, the aim was to discuss and clarify the content and meaning of the theme in order to facilitate negotiations on an agreed resolution on the subject at the next session.

She recalled that, nearly 14 years ago, world leaders had agreed to “promote social integration by fostering societies that are stable, safe and just and that are based on the promotion and protection of all human rights, as well as on non‑discrimination, tolerance, respect for diversity, equality of opportunity, solidarity, security, and participation of all people, including disadvantaged and vulnerable groups and persons”.  Unfortunately, that solemn declaration had not fully turned into deeds on the ground since social integration had not been achieved by all.  In many parts of the world, individuals faced unrest and even armed conflict, while discrimination and other human rights violations persisted in all regions.  Unless swift action was taken, the current global financial, food and climate‑related crises would have an adverse impact, particularly on the most vulnerable.  “We must not allow such marginalization,” she warned.

However, there had been some positive developments, particularly in the field of international cooperation and the normative framework, she said.  For example, the Global Forum on Migration and Development had brought together Governments to discuss the different aspects of migration.  She also cited the adoption of the Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and, most recently, the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

At the same time, full realization of social integration could not be achieved without the contribution of and cooperation with civil society, she stressed.  It was only through such cooperation that Governments could make real progress towards eradicating discrimination and injustice and pave the way for true participation.  There was a need for a multi-stakeholder approach that also incorporated the private sector.  The NGO Committee for Social Development and its partners had organized a Civil Society Forum which would provide input to the present session.  All participants should engage in substantive and thought-provoking debate in order to contribute, not only to negotiations on the policy outcome next year, but also to the actual well‑being of all individuals in all societies.

SYLVIE LUCAS ( Luxembourg), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the Commission had a unique role in helping to implement the commitments made at the 1995 World Summit for Social Development and subsequent reviews.  Over the years, the Commission had put forward a broad perspective on development based on the assumption that, in both economic and social terms, the most productive policies and investments were those that empowered people to maximize their capacities, resources and opportunities.

She noted that slowing growth in the global economy and a deepening financial crisis had already resulted in an increase in the number of working poor, rising unemployment and under-employment, deepening income inequalities and greater poverty.  The current global crises had not only jeopardized the development gains made thus far, they were also forcing the world to expand the focus from lifting people out of poverty to include preventing people from falling into poverty by expanding social protection systems.  Poverty itself was a form of social exclusion; when exclusion extended to the social, economic, political and cultural realms it required concerted action in all those areas.  Investment in public health required intervention at many levels and was important for social inclusion.

The Economic and Social Council’s 2009 Annual Ministerial Meeting would focus on implementing internationally agreed goals and commitments in regard to global public health, she said.  The Council would attach great importance to the “social determinants of health” such as the distribution of power, income, goods and services and the circumstances of people’s lives.  The Commission had the important task of guiding international efforts to fight exclusion and promote socially inclusive policies that placed people at the centre of development.  Effective social integration policies could help prevent conflict, encourage dialogue, and manage coexistence and natural‑resource exploitation.

SHA ZUKANG, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said social integration created the enabling political and social environment that enabled societies to achieve national development and meet the internationally agreed development goals.  However, social integration still did not receive the attention it deserved on the development agenda.  The Commission had a unique opportunity to change that and to provide valuable input to the 2009 substantive session of the Economic and Social Council, to the 2010 comprehensive review of the Millennium Development Goals and to the General Assembly’s upcoming high‑level conference on the world financial and economic crisis and its impact on development.

The challenges ahead were all the more urgent due to the negative impact of the current global crises on social development and social integration, he said.  Many people, especially in the poorest and most vulnerable communities, were struggling to survive.  Many had lost their jobs and were unable to pay for food, shelter, health care and school for their children.  Such harsh circumstances had created fertile ground for conflict and instability, as seen in the recent food crisis which had brought violence and food riots to many developing countries.  Tough economic times had reduced the ability of people to help others, as well as their support for inclusive social policies.  Such trends could have an adverse impact on social integration.

Markets on their own could not deliver economic prosperity, social inclusiveness and justice for all, he said, emphasizing that Governments had a very important role to play in creating an enabling environment for markets and the private sector.  Governments must also ensure that economic progress contributed to social progress and inclusion.  Social exclusion persisted because of entrenched prejudice, including gender‑based discrimination, racism and discrimination in terms of access to employment and education.  The international community must bridge the gap between legal provisions and enforcement.  There was an urgent need to implement effective anti‑discrimination policies in order to ensure protection for all vulnerable social groups.

He recalled that, according to the Copenhagen Agreement, social integration was rooted in respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms, diversity, social justice and the special needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, democratic participation and the rule of law.  Governments were responsible for promoting, nurturing and ensuring social inclusion and integration, but they could not achieve social inclusion on their own.  Civil society and the private sector must also be involved.  Socio‑economic policies should be inclusive and equity‑enhancing.

ELSA STAMATOPOULOU, Acting Director, Division for Social Policy and Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced documents under Item 3:  Follow-up to the World Summit for Social Development and the twenty-fourth special session of the General Assembly.  They encompassed the priority theme of social integration, as well as the review of relevant United Nations plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups.  Those action plans included:  the World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons; the World Programme of Action for Youth; the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, 2002; and family issues, policies and programmes.

TAHIRIH NAYLOR, Chairperson, NGO Committee for Social Development, reported on the outcome of the Civil Society Forum held yesterday, saying that societies everywhere had marginalized and vulnerable groups, especially women and children, who bore the most severe consequences of social exclusion and conflict.  The primary concern, therefore, was social justice as a basis for social integration.  The intrinsic dignity and rights of all human beings must be recognized, acknowledged and promoted in all development policies.  Those excluded must be included as equal partners in all development planning, implementation and evaluation.  Both social and economic development must be people‑centred.

Describing the global economic crisis as a strong reality check for all, she said it highlighted the essential need for coherence and balance between economic and social-development policies.  Moreover, it dramatically showed the widening gap between the “haves” and the “have‑nots”.  Since most civil society organizations were direct‑service providers, they had seen first‑hand the harsh impact of the crisis on people struggling to survive around the world.  The crisis highlighted the need for effective, universal social protection to ensure income security, pension and health‑care provision.  It exacerbated existing crises relating to food security, energy and climate change, and would continue to have devastating consequences for already marginalized and vulnerable groups worldwide.

Social integration must respond to that reality, she stressed, adding that the concept merited the central place given it by the 1995 World Social Summit.  However, social integration must be expanded to address current realities.  All groups could, and must, participate fully in society, while maintaining their unique identity for themselves and for the mutual enrichment of all.  Some clear signs of hope were emerging within the non-governmental organization community.  Education was of key importance, and effective practices making optimum use of new technologies and enterprises would make high‑quality education more widely and economically available to all.

Systemic analysis must be undertaken to identify the root causes of marginalization and exclusion, she said.  It should start with a consideration of minority needs and suggest solutions linking social and economic growth to care for the environment.  It must avoid the pitfalls of current development models, which employed market‑based economic frameworks that measured only bottom‑line profit while often ignoring the human and environmental costs.  Solutions should lead to a “solidarity” or social economy.  That required a social model in which all work was recognized, including informal and unpaid work.

In terms of participation, she said that everyone affected by decisions should participate in their development, implementation and evaluation.  The current economic meltdown demonstrated that any system that did not place people at the centre would eventually find itself bankrupt.  Regarding effective practices, “Turning Rhetoric into Action”, the recent document produced by ATD Fourth World, outlined effective processes to assist those living in poverty towards meaningful participation in consultations, conferences and seminars.  Skills development described in the toolkit had already been used to prepare individuals living in poverty for participation in United Nations events.

In conclusion, she stressed that words must lead to action, and ways must be found to build the principles of open participation, transparency and accountability into programmes and policy development.  In today’s times of growing and nearly unbearable stress on so many people, an increase in measurable social development and social integration/inclusion was essential.  To determine the level of progress in promoting social integration, there would be a need to develop concrete benchmarks and indicators that could assess levels of inclusion, participation and social justice within each State.  Such an index, which would also measure the quality of social relations in a given society, could be incorporated into human development reports.  Those social measures, coupled with economic indicators, would give a more complete picture of social progress.  The challenge was to turn the forces of globalization into a new global ethic based on unity and diversity and the enjoyment of human rights for all.

General Discussion

ABDALMAHMOOD ABDALHALEEM MOHAMAD (Sudan), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, expressed hope that the theme of social integration would provide substantial input and guidelines for all forthcoming events and sessions.  Social integration was a prerequisite for the creation of harmonious, peaceful and inclusive societies; the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms; the promotion of a culture of peace, tolerance and non-violence; respect for cultural and religious diversity; the elimination of all forms of discrimination; equal opportunities for access to productive resources; and for governance.

Social exclusion was often seen in developing countries as a direct result of poverty, which hindered people’s participation in the economic, social and political spheres, he said.  Poverty was exacerbated by income inequalities; unequal rural‑urban development; unequal distribution of land and other assets; discrimination based on gender, race, disability and ethnicity; unequal access to social services; the lack of social‑protection strategies; and market failures.  Social integration of people living in poverty should begin by meeting their basic human needs, including nutrition, health, water, sanitation, housing and access to education and employment, through integrated development strategies.  Social integration could not advance when basic needs went unfulfilled.  It was also necessary to empower people living in poverty by involving them in the planning, design, implementation and monitoring of poverty eradication programmes.

He said advanced social integration required comprehensive national strategies for promoting growth and equity through macroeconomic stability and sound public finances, coupled with fair and progressive tax systems and social protection mechanisms.  The task should be shared by all sectors of the economy.  In some countries, social development was still adversely affected by unilateral coercive measures that violated international law and the United Nations Charter while creating obstacles to trade relations among States, impeding the full realization of socio-economic development, and hindering the well‑being of affected nations’ populations.  The international community and development partners must collaborate in helping developing countries implement their social development agenda.  The Group of 77 and China also recommended highly that the Commission make preparations for the twentieth anniversary of the International Year of the Family a priority in its upcoming programme of work.

MICHAL SEDLACEK, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Affairs of the Czech Republic, speaking on behalf of the European Union, described social integration and cohesion as overarching objectives of social and economic development, saying it played a vital role in long‑term sustainable development.  Regretfully, in light of the financial crisis, the European economy and those of many other countries worldwide would face diminished growth rates in the medium term and experience significant cuts in long‑term growth.  The most vulnerable in societies would be most affected by the economic downturn.  Appropriate measures should, therefore, be taken to mitigate the impact on vulnerable groups, in both developed and developing countries, in line with long‑term commitments.  The European Union had already set in motion its recovery plan, which would simultaneously support the goals of mitigating adverse social impacts on the most vulnerable situations and containing the impact of the crisis on the economy overall.

He said Europe had made full employment and the promotion of decent work for all its main objectives at all levels.  The promotion of enterprise and entrepreneurship was of key importance, not only in encouraging economic growth, investment and wealth creation, but also in creating jobs.  That, together with the consistent provision of minimum standards, access to social protection and social dialogue, was the basis for achieving decent work for all, thus reducing poverty and ensuring sustainable development and social inclusion.  Social protection systems must be universal, adequate, adaptable, efficient and accessible.  Financial incentives should motivate women, men and young people to seek employment, while employment and social policies should reinforce monetary, fiscal and structural policies.  It was also crucial to focus on training so as to increase the employability of the workforce.  Comprehensive policies should be aimed at raising the quality of education and enhancing individual adaptability.  Investment in human resources, children and youth would minimize the negative effects of the financial crisis and stimulate economic and employment growth.

Stressing the need to sustain an increased focus on social inclusion, he called for special measures to tackle homelessness, an extremely serious form of exclusion, and to prevent over‑indebtedness.  It was also necessary to ensure universal and flexible social security schemes with adequate and sustainable pensions.  The European Union, strongly committed to tackling poverty and social exclusion, had decreed that 2010 would be the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion so as to strengthen its initial political commitment in that regard.

He said the Year’s main objectives were:  recognizing the rights of poor and socially excluded people to live in dignity and play a full part in society; shared responsibility and participation; and the promotion of a more cohesive society by raising public awareness of the benefits for all of a society in which social integration was a primary goal and poverty was eradicated.  The European Union was committed to mainstreaming and promoting social integration and social cohesion policies throughout the multilateral system.  That could only be achieved through the involvement of all relevant stakeholders, including social partners, civil society and non-governmental organizations.

PAULA RISIKKO, Minister for Health and Social Services of Finland, noted that changes within societies were increasingly dependent on globalization, climate change, ageing populations and strong technological development.  However, too many people were living in areas fraught with conflict and war.  Globalization, particularly economic integration, created immense opportunities for those with skills, knowledge and economic resources.  The financial crisis had brought about uncertainty and misfortune and it was important to bear in mind that it had hit the most vulnerable people the hardest.

She said States had the responsibility to ensure access to well‑functioning and sustainable social protection on equal grounds, which was necessary for the creation and maintenance of social cohesion.  Well‑functioning social protection, including social and health services and income security, helped people to cope with crisis.  A strong welfare society based on democratic values, respect for human rights and comprehensive social protection, employment and education, could prevent and alleviate the negative effects of globalization and phenomena such as the current financial crisis.  Promoting participation in society, as well as equality and independence required innovation, concerted action and strong political leadership.

Poverty and exclusion were a growing challenge in all societies and there was an alarming widening of national income and health gaps worldwide, she noted.  It was also necessary to combat child poverty, which was an important part of the agenda for the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion.  Reinforcing social integration was a question of will, requiring national, regional and global solidarity in order to make the world more just and equitable.

RICHARD NCHABI KAMWI, Minister for Health and Social Services of Namibia, spoke on behalf of the African Union and as Chairperson of the First Session of the African Union Conference of Ministers in Charge of Social Development, held in Windhoek last October, saying the continent’s multifarious social problems had persistently affected marginalized, disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.  That had been compounded by globalization, the current economic crisis and climate change.  Those challenges were devastating millions of Africans, threatening their livelihoods and making them poorer.  The challenges of stable, sustained economic growth and sustainable social development had also been compounded as a result, further exacerbating the disproportionate imbalances in the distribution of economic resources.  That cycle further excluded vulnerable groups from essential benefits and social services.

He emphasized that it was time for developing countries to take hold of the opportunity to work their way out of hunger, poverty, unemployment and social exclusion, while carving out a long‑term process that would involve setting concrete and actionable social development goals for the true enhancement of African livelihoods.  Improving the quality of life on the continent depended on radical social transformation, which placed people at the centre of development.  Africa’s development challenges could not be met unless its countries worked with the international community.  The Windhoek meeting had considered several pertinent social development issues, such as social protection, social security, people with disabilities, the family, youth and older people.

The meeting, he recalled, had noted that, while significant strides had been achieved in certain areas of social and economic development -- such as raising literacy rates, reducing unemployment and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, increasing democratization and reducing civil strife -- Africa still faced compelling and persuasive social challenges.  Considerable gaps also remained in implementing various social development policy documents.  It was with that concern in mind that the Social Policy Framework had been adopted as an overarching policy structure aimed at helping Member States develop national social policies to promote human empowerment and development.  In the African Common Position on Social Integration, ministers had reaffirmed their commitment to global and continental instruments on social development and to creating a more stable and safe society for all.

He said that, among other things, the ministers had highlighted the need to protect human rights; build inclusive societies; and address the special needs of the vulnerable and disadvantaged by promoting universal access to education and skills development, health, shelter and urban development, environmental protection, food and water security and appropriate nutrition, information and technology, as well as professional training.  The ministers had expressed confidence that Africa could meet its social development challenges and attain sustainable social development, if its countries worked in effective partnerships with each other, with the international community, with United Nations agencies and with civil society organizations.  The African Union requested that the session consider the African Common Position on Social Integration as one of its working documents.

YURY VORONIN, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Development of the Russian Federation, said social integration was important for protecting social rights, combating poverty and ensuring employment and decent work for all.  It was necessary to find appropriate steps to enhance social integration, increase large‑scale unemployment and reduce social safeguards.  Recent fluctuations in energy and food prices had compelled many countries around the world to adopt unpopular social decisions.  The Russian Federation had, at the end of 2008, adopted several documents that set parameters for medium- and long‑term social and economic development.  They included working to achieve high standards of living, social prosperity and harmony, as well as combating social polarization.

He said his country aimed to reduce poverty to the same levels as those in developed countries, improve health standards, create a market for affordable housing, protect citizens from criminals and manage natural and man‑made emergency situations.  The Russian Federation had adopted several decisions to ensure that social support in all its forms remained at the proper level during the current global financial crisis.  The country was focused on implementing broad‑scale national projects and meeting key indicators in education, health care and housing, including expediting support for military veterans and small and medium‑sized businesses.

In 2009, the Russian Federation intended significantly to improve the living conditions of pensioners, he said.  The country, agreeing with the Secretary‑General’s major provisions and recommendations on social promotion and integration, called for the creation of a suitable global financial architecture.  Also this year, Moscow would host the first specialized conference for ministers of the Council of Europe on investing in social rights.  Special attention would be paid to the need to observe social standards.

MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI ( Brazil), associating herself with the Group of 77 and the Rio Group, recalled that her country had hosted the Second Intergovernmental Regional Conference on Ageing in December 2007.  The resulting declaration reaffirmed the commitment of participants to promote the rights of all aged persons, eradicate all forms of discrimination and violence against the elderly and create networks to protect their rights.  Further progress was needed in that regard and the present session could explore different possibilities, including the appointment of a special rapporteur.

She said her country also supported the United Nations initiative to review the World Programme of Action for Youth in order to adjust its approach by incorporating the notion that young people were strategic agents in the promotion of economic and social development.  The Programme must also address the special vulnerability of young people to violence and, in light of the global financial crisis, assess the impact of higher unemployment rates on youth and their integration into the labour market.  As for the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons, it must include among its goals implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the associated challenges of which were compounded by the impact of the global financial crisis on social development.

In fact, she emphasized, the greater the economic downturn, the greater the social costs for developing countries, which were not in any way responsible for the current state of affairs, or the sponsors of the economic policies and economic thinking that encouraged the lack of responsibility at the centre of the ailing financial system.  Nonetheless, developing countries, including the poorest among them, would most certainly be the ultimate victims of a prolonged global recession or depression.  The priority at the United Nations must be to reinforce social‑protection mechanisms targeted towards the lower‑income segments of the population, particularly in developing countries.  International cooperation must be aimed at increasing liquidity in order to “bail out” the poor from impending disaster.

TAKASHI ASHIKI ( Japan) said that in order to achieve social development, it was essential to protect and empower children, women, the elderly, persons with disabilities, indigenous people, minorities and other vulnerable groups.  To that end, it was important to adopt policies aimed at their expeditious integration into society.  Japan worked to promote human security by protecting and empowering the individual, and in doing so it was working to create a “Society for All”.

The United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security provided financing for projects to protect women and children and other vulnerable people and to promote their participation in socio-economic and political life, he said.  The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme promoted international volunteerism to respond to natural disasters and to assist in capacity‑building in developing countries.  Community‑based UNV activities, carried out wherever there were vulnerable people, embodied the idea of human security advocated by Japan.  The country wished to enhance its cooperation with UNV so as to advance social integration by promoting the participation of all members of society in its activities.

According to the 2009 Global Employment Trends report of the International Labour Organization (ILO), he said, the number of unemployed worldwide could exceed 200 million and a deepening recession could cause a global jobs crisis, which would pose a real danger to vulnerable people.  Employment should not only be considered from the perspective of economic recovery.  Its impact on efforts to end poverty should also be taken into account, as should the need to ensure that work available for vulnerable people befitted their human dignity.

He said his country was supporting an ILO‑led project in Sri Lanka to alleviate unemployment and promote decent work for young people in rural areas by offering vocational and entrepreneurship training, and by improving employment and recruitment services.  Japan was also targeting education in its development aid.  In addition, the country was working to ratify at an early date the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

SOCORRO ROVIROSA ( Mexico), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said social integration and the creation of a social order for all was perhaps the most ambitious commitment of the Copenhagen Summit.  Its main focus was the creation of a social order based on full respect for human rights and a form of Government that ensured effective and democratic participation, tolerance and respect for diversity.  Social integration also entailed adequate living standards, employment opportunities and development.

Noting that Latin America remained one of the more unequal regions in the world, she said discrimination increased inequality in the region.  In some cases, significant segments of the population, such as indigenous peoples or Afro‑descendants, faced social indicators below national averages.  Rio Group members had established programmes and national strategies to fight poverty, promote social inclusion and employment, and address the needs of the vulnerable.  The most effective way to ensure social cohesion was to close the income gap.  Thus, social programmes in Latin America tended to support much of the excluded population by implementing comprehensive schemes that not only provided income transfers, but also ensured access for children and older persons to basic health care and education.  Such schemes considered women to be central actors in the fight against poverty.

Investing in children and young people was tantamount to breaking the generational cycle of poverty and exclusion, she said, stressing that the Rio Group also recognized the importance of fighting gender inequality.  The feminization of poverty had made its member countries aware of the importance of increasing economic opportunities for women as a precondition for their effective participation in decision-making and their full access to resources.  It was essential not to exclude women from basic services and social participation.  Despite such policies, however, the Rio Group still faced great challenges in social inclusion, poverty reduction, discrimination, employment creation and social integration.  It encouraged the international community, especially the financial institutions and donors, to increase international cooperation for development and effectively support national efforts.

GIAN LORENZO CORNADO ( Italy) said his country was adopting a broad set of measures to achieve new social and economic goals.  The current worldwide financial crisis would heavily impact Italian households and individuals, putting the most vulnerable groups and regions at risk.  The number of children in jobless Italian households had declined steadily in recent years to 5.4 per cent in 2006.  Over the same period, the number of people in jobless households had decreased to 9.2 per cent in 2006.  The rate of people at risk of falling into poverty in 2007 was still 20 per cent, and as high as 25 per cent for children under 18 years of age.

Social policies were aimed at providing jobs, teaching new skills to the unemployed or people at risk of losing their jobs, providing greater security to the needy and tackling poverty and social exclusion, he said.  To achieve those goals, it was necessary to adopt coordinated and mutually reinforcing economic and social policies with long‑term public financing, while promoting economic recovery and growth.  In Italy, various measures had already been approved and financed to achieve social integration.  Among them were a doubling of resources for unemployment benefits, and a significant broadening of the categories and number of beneficiaries.

He said his country’s housing plan ensured decent low‑cost housing for low‑income families and its social programmes supported indigent families and the elderly.  The national plan for social and educational services included a series of initiatives for children, including those in nursery school and day care.  It also included actions to reduce the number of school dropouts and eliminate child exploitation through prevention programmes.  Italy was addressing the challenges of social integration in a manner consistent with the European strategy and United Nations actions for poverty eradication, full employment and decent work for all.  For that to succeed there was a need for the widest possible participation, as well as the involvement of social partners and civil society representatives in every stage of the process.

Panel Discussion

Ms. RISIKKO, Minister for Health and Social Services of Finland, introduced the panel discussion on social integration, saying that reducing poverty was in line with the Millennium Development Goals and a challenge for everyone.  There were clear links between poverty and illiteracy, unemployment, poor health, disability and old age.  In many countries, children and older women were particularly at risk.  A first step towards integrating people living in poverty was to meet their basic needs.  Comprehensive social security systems and universal social and health services were also needed to reduce poverty.

In order seriously to achieve international development goals, people facing specific barriers or discrimination must be included in the socio‑economic advancement process, she stressed.  A comprehensive and effective social protection system was needed to strengthen social integration and national competitiveness.  Finland had a well‑functioning social protection system covering the entire population.  As a result, poverty and social exclusion were relatively uncommon and gender equality had been achieved.  Social and health services played a vital role in increasing social cohesion and alleviating the impact of economic recession.

Universal access to services was a matter of political will, she said, pointing out that municipalities in her country were responsible under the law for arranging social and health services for residents.  National legislative reforms aimed to strengthen the status of health‑care service users.  A good society was measured by the way in which it responded to the needs of its weakest members.  It was necessary, therefore, to create an enabling society based on democracy, equal opportunity and full participation.  It was also important to focus more on removing barriers.  Voicing support for mainstreaming all the needs and perspectives of special groups in relevant policies, she stressed the importance of ensuring that social integration went hand in hand with employment, education and financial policies.

Also addressing the Commission was WIM KOK, former Prime Minister of the Netherlands and presently a member of the Club of Madrid and representative of The Shared Societies Project:  Leadership for Dialogue, Diversity and Social Cohesion, a global initiative to promote better understanding of the benefits of social cohesion and the means for its advancement.  He said the Project’s approach was based on celebrating difference as the basis for living together.  The aim was to create a world safe for difference, a place where people could feel at home.  The focus of activities was political leadership and the question of political will, which was critical in determining whether a society was inclusive.

He said there were abundant examples of civil society groups working to improve community relations and bringing marginalized groups into the mainstream, but those efforts would be limited if political leadership was not sufficient in that regard, and in many cases it was not.  There was a need to examine ways in which international bodies could work with and support leaders in recognizing the importance of that approach.  Leaders should be challenged not to ignore problems until societies had broken down.  The Shared Societies Project had identified 10 areas of social organization and policy to be kept under review -- the “Ten Commitments”.  The Commission could use them as a way to frame what needed to be done.  “Either we learn to live together, or we’ll die together.”

BIENCE GAWANAS, Commissioner for Social Affairs of the African Union and an ombudsman in the Government of Namibia, said she had just arrived from the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, where Heads of State and Government had endorsed the Social Policy Framework and the African Common Position on Social Integration.  The regional body’s development agenda promoted the development of human beings and had set empowerment objectives for itself as a means to improve living standards for all Africans.  It saw development as based on a human-centred approach, including all social groups as integral parts of African society.

The concept of social integration was not new to Africans or to the African Union, she said, noting that it had surfaced officially with the Organization of African Unity in 1963.  At that time, however, the regional bloc had focused on decolonization, whereas the focus now was on socio‑economic development and the building of a stable, prosperous and peaceful Africa.  The effort was aimed at coordinating and harmonizing policies and strategies to ensure the well‑being and empowerment of Africa’s people.  Although the continent had made progress in certain areas of social and economic development, it still faced troubling challenges, including extreme poverty and unemployment, violence, disease and lack of access to social services.

She said African communities had always provided social protection and they also knew the impact of certain negative developments on families and kinship systems.  Still, social protection remained a critical component of social policy and development.  Since the 1990s the African Union Commission had taken explicit measures to address diverse challenges at the continental level by developing various policy instruments like the African Common Position, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children, the African Youth Charter, the Plan of Action on the Family, and many more on ageing, women and persons with disabilities, among others.  Social protection had traditionally been a viable method of guaranteeing basic services and catering to the welfare of people in general and to marginalized groups in particular.

Significantly, she pointed out, the Social Policy Framework for Africa focused on 18 key thematic areas of social development, spelling out a broad range of recommendations under each to guide African Union members.  The African Common Position on Social Integration was Africa’s contribution to the present session.  There was no one model framework and each country would have to adopt its own social development architecture, taking its prevailing realities into account.  Safety nets must be put in place to help the poor and correct inequities.  Strategies to enhance social integration included:  integrating economic and social goals and policies; promoting a rights‑based approach; empowering families; encouraging the role of the informal sector; scaling up social protection programmes at the community level; harmonizing available social policies; and promoting the cultural, traditional, religious and social values of African peoples.

MARIA INES DA SILVA BARBOSA, Executive Programme Coordinator, United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in Brazil and the Southern Cone Region, said racial discrimination against the black population in Brazil had led to its social exclusion.  It was not enough to have national development plans that had only a social component; they must also be macroeconomic in nature.  It was important to ask whether different nations existed within the same country.  The black and indigenous populations of Latin America ranked lower on the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) human development index than white populations in those countries.  Social inclusion must address those racial inequalities.  It was important to have universal social policies, and countries must implement international agreements on social inclusion and development.

She said Brazil had many programmes for the social integration of black and indigenous families, among whom there was a higher unemployment rate than that of white families.  Despite affirmative action legislation for female domestic workers, black women were still 10 years behind their white counterparts in terms of employment gains.  Despite universal free access to health care, 32 per cent of women in urban areas had never had a mammogram, a figure that rose to 62 per cent in rural areas.  Racism was not innate but learned.  Racism and sexism must be measured to understand their respective impacts, and goals must be set to reduce those impacts.  Governments must set short- medium- and long‑term goals to overcome inequality among social groups.

The Millennium Development Goals did not go far enough, she said.  While it was important, for example, to ensure a primary education for all by 2015, the world would be a very technologically advanced place by that time.  Indigenous, black and other underprivileged groups needed the skills to keep up.  Black women in Brazil had a 65 per cent higher maternal mortality rate than their white counterparts.  Good guidelines and intentions were not enough; monitoring was important.  The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) must have a unit to examine the inclusion of racial and ethnic groups and to set goals for ending racial discrimination and xenophobia.  There was also a need to guarantee the rights of domestic workers in the labour market.

BIMAL PHNUYAL, Country Director of ActionAid Nepal, said social justice movements highlighted the need to stop excluding certain groups from essential human rights.  Democracy rights movements seen from a social integration perspective were movements to achieve social integration.  Nepal had experienced a violent, decade‑long armed conflict, in which rebels had fought for social inclusion and a say in political and constitutional decision‑making.  Given the necessity of full citizenship rights, social integration must be seen from a global policy perspective, particularly in light of the current global financial crisis.  Social integration was multidisciplinary and multidimensional.  Immigrant workers contributed to the economies of host countries, but did not necessarily enjoy the same rights of citizens, a trend that must be taken into account.

Unequal and discriminatory power structures in society based on gender, ethnicity, class, geographical regions and other factors must be addressed in order for social integration to occur, he said.  In Nepal, women and ethnic groups were increasingly gaining representation in political parties and the Constituent Assembly, which gave them a voice in decision‑making on farm and land policy, among other issues.  The country had progressive social policies at the national level, but not all civil society actors on the ground were aware of them.  It was important to create a critical mass from the local level to the global level in order to ensure social integration.  Pro‑social integration policy and governance was necessary to ensure proper and balanced procedures.  Mass employment in rural areas was necessary to keep rural people in the countryside because when they migrated to urban areas they often lost their rights.  There was a need for just rural land reform in order to socially integrate marginalized groups.  Social integration also required the protection of social diversity.

As the Commission turned to the interactive segment of the discussion, delegations emphasized that poverty was often a major cause or result of social exclusion, with some suggesting that social policies should be transformative and take an active approach to enabling the most disadvantaged people to participate in the economy and in society.  It was particularly important during an economic crisis to adapt the workforce and ensure universal access to education, employment, health and opportunities across all segments of society.

Questions revolved around the areas in which the international community could be helpful in light of the current situation, including how it could improve the exchange of good practices and data.  Suggestions were also sought as to how social integration and coherence among different groups could be better targeted.  There were also questions concerning the priorities of social integration in the current economic crisis, and how social‑protection systems could be adapted to protect the most disadvantaged and minimize the impact of the crisis on them.

One delegate was particularly interested in social integration between host and migrant and refugee communities, and the role of education and the media in forming perceptions and limiting prejudice.  The situation of people living under foreign occupation was another feature of the discussion, as another participant stressed the need to address obstacles to exercising the right to self‑determination, lest there be no way for the occupying Power to evolve policies to achieve social integration.  Still other questions centred on whether inequalities were systemic and institutional or reflective of tradition, as in many post‑colonial societies.

Mr. KOK emphasized in one response the critical importance of media and education, on top of economic empowerment in raising awareness of the advantages of a shared society.  In Europe, where there were no specific guidelines for media, it was still important to have an active dialogue in the media and in society at large about the advantages of a shared society.  The Netherlands had a long tradition of dialogue, but that did not always mean that everyone agreed with each other; it was possible to disagree, but at least the reason for the disagreement was known in the end.  The important thing was to respect differences of opinion, explore what was behind them and then try to build bridges.  There was a role for education and the media in that task.

Indeed, it was a big challenge for industrialized societies to protect the weakest in the labour market against the negative consequences of the current economic downturn, he said in response to another series of questions.  The priority of the Netherlands was to keep those who lost their jobs as close as possible to the labour market -- and to provide them with training and re‑training -- so that once the downturn ended, they could participate once again in the workforce.

The current crisis was not just financial and economic, but also systemic, he pointed out.  It would have a fundamental impact on the ability to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and on capacities to address global challenges like poverty and climate change.  It was, therefore, necessary to act quickly to reduce the effect of global recession.  The time had come for an in‑depth reform of the global financial architecture.  However, solutions could not be sought at the cost of social and economic well‑being.  An unjust and disastrous outcome must be avoided, as must a return to protectionism.

Ms. GAWANAS, addressing the question of refugees, said that integrating them was not just about integration; the differences among the refugees must be recognized.  They often did not wish to be assimilated, a fact that must be taken into account when discussing migration.  People who crossed borders contributed to the development of the societies they entered, and they were not necessarily security threats.  African refugees who left for Europe were not always uneducated.  The continent was experiencing a major brain drain and an exodus to the developed world.  Refugees did not lose their humanity when they crossed borders.  The African Union was organizing a summit on refugees, to be held in April in Kampala, Uganda.

Ms. DA SILVA BARBOSA, addressing the need to adapt social‑protection systems to protect the most disadvantaged and minimize the impact of the current crisis, said that, when countries entered into economic agreements, their impact on vulnerable groups was often not taken into account.  That also tended to be the case with financial and trade agreements, as well as major investments by corporations.  Economic conditions were taken into account, but human rights and the environmental impact of such agreements usually were not.  All countries must understand the full make‑up of their societies and citizens.  Too often the interests of a privileged few were met at the expense of the masses.

Turning to racial discrimination, she said the election of President Barack Obama had shattered the paradigm of racism in the Western Hemisphere.  In the United States 1 in every 9 black men was in prison, a stark contrast with 1 in every 100 white men.  It was important to be able to observe and change those inequalities.  Social integration could not be seen as an isolated event.  People should not be penalized for migrating because their countries did not provide them with the necessary socio‑economic conditions for survival and well‑being at home.

Mr. PHNUYAL, spoke about special rights for certain groups, saying they were needed for social integration.  It was important to do context mapping from a social integration perspective in order to see who was in fact excluded, such as a certain ethnic or geographic group.  Social integration was not fully neutral.  Social justice was required for all groups.

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*     The 1st Meeting was covered in Press Release SOC/4745 of 22 February 2008.

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.