Need to Eradicate Poverty while Ensuring Integration, Full Employment Emphasized as Commission for Social Development Resumes Fifty-first Session

6 February 2013
SOC/4800

Need to Eradicate Poverty while Ensuring Integration, Full Employment Emphasized as Commission for Social Development Resumes Fifty-first Session

6 February 2013
Economic and Social Council
SOC/4800
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission for Social Development

Fifty-first Session

3rd & 4th Meetings (AM & PM)

Need to Eradicate Poverty while Ensuring Integration, Full Employment Emphasized

as Commission for Social Development RESUMES Fifty-first Session

 

Chairperson Stresses Priority Theme of Empowerment

As Under-Secretary-General Cites ‘Uneven’ Progress in Improving Lives

With the world at a critical juncture in the lead-up to the elaboration of the post-2015 development agenda, poverty eradication, social integration and employment must play a pivotal role in defining that agenda, the Commission for Social Development heard today as it resumed its fifty-first session.

“The Commission has before it the exciting challenge of deliberating the issue of empowerment of people for the first time in its history,” Sewa Lamsal Adhikari ( Nepal), Commission Chairperson, said in her opening address.  Indeed, empowerment was a critical component of the session’s priority theme — “promoting empowerment of people in achieving poverty eradication, social integration and full employment and decent work for all” — objectives that, she said, remained “far from reached”.

She said that since the Commission was holding the review session of its two-year work cycle, its deliberations would explore experiences, challenges and effective strategies to promote people’s empowerment in the framework of social development, with a view to informing next year’s policy session.  She encouraged Commission members to consider how its thinking and outputs could contribute to the formulation of the global development agenda beyond 2015, as well as how the post-2015 development agenda itself could best contribute to socially sustainable development.

On the prominent issues of employment and decent work, Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said a recent International Labour Organization (ILO) report had found that 200 million people around the world were without jobs.  Young people represented some 40 per cent of the jobless worldwide, which translated to almost 74 million unemployed young people.  “These are not mere statistics, but are lives affected, livelihoods lost and opportunities missed,” he said, urging the Commission to hold a candid discussion and come up with concrete measures and actions for combating unemployment.

He noted that since the 1995 World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, enormous progress had been made in improving people’s lives, but it had been uneven.  The three dimensions of sustainable development — social, economic and environmental — must be balanced to reinforce one another, he stressed, adding that members of the Commission were the “custodians of the social dimension”.

Néstor Osorio (Colombia), President of the Economic and Social Council, agreed that the issues for discussion during the session were not only critical due to the present socio-economic situation, but also because the United Nations, especially the Economic and Social Council, was at the crossroads in view of two major events — first, the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held last June, of which the outcome document, “The Future We Want”, requested the elaboration of a set of Sustainable Development Goals.  It also recognized the Economic and Social Council’s role as being of key importance to achieving a balanced integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development.

Second, with the rapid approach of the 2015 deadline year for attaining the Millennium Development Goals, he said, various consultation processes had been initiated in the preparation and formulation of the post-2015 global development agenda.  With sustainable development at the core of both those processes, social development would and should play a central role as a cross-cutting issue, he said.  The Commission’s role, therefore, had become more critical in providing knowledge, expertise and good practices.

The Commission later held a high-level panel discussion on the session’s priority theme.  Moderated by Kim Campbell, former Prime Minister of Canada, it featured presentations by Maria Soledad Arellano, Vice-Minister for Social Development of Chile; Ahmad Zahir Faqiri, Deputy Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations; Lauris Beets, Director of International Affairs and Principal Adviser on International Matters to the Minister for Social Affairs and Employment of the Netherlands; and Ronnie Goldberg, Executive Vice President and Senior Policy Officer at the United States Council for International Business, part of the International Chamber of Commerce.

At the outset of the meeting, the Chairperson announced that, following consultations with the Bureau, it had been agreed that Vice-Chairperson Amira Fahmy ( Egypt) would assume the responsibilities of Rapporteur for the session.

The Commission also adopted its agenda and organization of work, as orally revised, and viewed a brief video on the work of its fiftieth session.

Participating in today’s general discussion were Ministers from Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon and Chile.

Also participating were representatives of Fiji (speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Ireland (for the European Union), Trinidad and Tobago (for the Caribbean Community), Indonesia (for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Mexico and the Philippines.

Margaret Mayce of the Dominican Leadership Conference and Chair of the NGO Committee for Social Development presented the outcome of the Civil Society Forum held on 5 February.

Introducing documents for the Commission’s consideration was the Chief of the Social Perspective on Development Branch in the Division for Social Policy and Development of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 7 February, to continue its general discussion.

Background

The Commission for Social Development met this morning to resume its fifty-first session, which runs until 15 February.  For background information, see Press Release SOC/4799/Rev.1.

Opening Remarks

SEWA LAMSAL ADHIKARI ( Nepal), Chairperson of the Commission for Social Development, opened the session by saying 2013 was particularly crucial considering there were several intergovernmental processes going on simultaneously, including the elaboration of a post-2015 development agenda.  Noting the Commission’s role as the intergovernmental body responsible for advancing the social development agenda established at the 1995 World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, she stressed that “the work before us remains as critical as ever” and that “the objectives of poverty eradication, social integration and full and productive employment continue to be far from reached”.  She added:  “As the barriers to the realization of these objectives evolve and adapt, we must do the same.”

During its fifty-first session, she said, Commission members would focus on the priority theme of “Promoting empowerment of people in achieving poverty eradication, social integration and full employment and decent work for all”.  Since it was the review session in the Commission’s two-year work cycle, deliberations would explore experiences, challenges and effective strategies to promote the people’s empowerment in the framework of social development towards informing next year’s policy session.  “The Commission has before it the exciting challenge of deliberating the issue of empowerment of people for the first time in its history,” she pointed out.

In preparation for that task, the Secretariat had convened an expert group meeting on the priority theme to articulate the concept of empowerment and to outline an enabling environment for it, she continued.  It would also explore the relationship between the empowerment of individuals and social groups and make recommendations for the Commission’s consideration.  The outcomes of the expert group meeting would be incorporated into the Secretary-General’s report on the topic.  She encouraged members to bear in mind throughout the Commission’s deliberations how its thinking and outputs could contribute to the formulation of the global development agenda beyond 2015.  During the forthcoming panel discussion on that topic, the Commission would address ways in which effectively to integrate the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.  “We will also discuss how the post-2015 global development agenda can best contribute to promoting such integration and to achieving socially sustainable development,” she said.

NÉSTOR OSORIO (Colombia), President of the Economic and Social Council, said that, as one of the Council’s oldest functional bodies, the Commission had played a key role in defining and promoting social development over the past five decades.  It had enhanced international understanding of social development through its recent focus on poverty eradication, social integration, and empowerment and decent work for all.  The issues for discussion during the current session were not only critical because of the present socio-economic situation, but also because the United Nations, especially the Economic and Social Council, was at the crossroads in view of two major events.

First, he said, was the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June, of which the outcome document, “The Future We Want”, defined sustainable development as consisting of three dimensions — economic, social and environmental.  It also recognized the Council’s role as key to achieving a balanced integration of those three dimensions.  Second, with the rapid approach of the 2015 deadline year for attaining the Millennium Development Goals, various consultation processes had been initiated in the preparation and formulation of a post-2015 global development agenda.  With sustainable development at the core of both those processes, social development would and should play a central role as a cross-cutting issue, he said.  The Commission’s role, therefore, had become more critical in providing knowledge, expertise and good practices.

Noting that the theme for the 2013 Annual Ministerial Reviews was “science, technology and innovation, and the potential of culture, for promoting sustainable development and achieving the Millennium Development Goals”, he said information and communications technology had a key role in empowering people by levelling playing fields.  People living in remote areas, or rural or disadvantaged communities were increasingly gaining access to information, knowledge and learning tools through information and communications technology.  Those tools had enabled them to make their voices heard and made them visible, he said, adding that “empowerment through the promotion of information and communications technologies, innovation and knowledge transfer” would be one of the four aspects of empowerment under consideration during today’s panel discussion.

WU HONGBO, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Secretary-General of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States, recalled the findings of the recent International Labour Organization (ILO) report stating that 200 million people around the world were without jobs.  It forecast higher unemployment this year and a worsening youth employment crisis, with young people representing 40 per cent of the jobless worldwide, and three times more likely to be unemployed than adults.  That translated to almost 74 million unemployed young people whose ranks continued to grow, he said.  “These are not mere statistics, but are lives affected, livelihoods lost and opportunities missed.”

Urging the Commission to hold a candid discussion and come up with concrete measures and actions for combating unemployment, he said it would also review the implementation of relevant United Nations action in respect of persons with disabilities, older persons and youth while addressing social issues relating to families.  That broad agenda was a unique strength of the Commission, allowing for an integrated approach to social issues, he said, also urging the Commission to examine the inter-linkages connecting social issues and address the nexus of the social agenda.

While enormous progress had been made in improving people’s lives since the 1995 World Summit, progress had been uneven, he said, stressing the crucial importance of sustainable development to the post-2015 global development agenda.  The three dimensions of sustainable development — social, economic and environmental — must be balanced in order to reinforce one another, he said, describing members of the Commission as “the custodians of the social dimension” and adding, “this speaks volumes of the importance of this Commission, and your work”.  Simply setting an agenda was not enough; successful implementation was essential.  Underscoring the need for the Commission to be open, inclusive and constructive, he emphasized:  “We must continue to incorporate inputs from all stakeholders — Member States, civil society and individuals.”  Empowerment involved investing in people, jobs, health, nutrition, education and social protection, especially for vulnerable groups, he said.  “When people are empowered, they become agents of change.”

Introduction of Reports

WENYAN YANG, Chief, Social Perspective on Development Branch, Division for Social Policy and Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the following reports of the Secretary-General on behalf of Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development:  Social dimensions of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (document E/CN.5/2013/2); Promoting empowerment of people in achieving poverty eradication, social integration and full employment and decent work for all (document E/CN.5/2013/3); Preparations for and observance of the twentieth anniversary of the International Year of the Family in 2014 (document A/68/61-E/2013/3); Second review and appraisal of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, 2002 (document E/CN.5/2013/6); Implementation of the World Programme of Action on Youth (document E/CN.5/2013/7 ); Proposed set of indicators for the World Programme of Action for Youth (document E/CN.5/2013/8); Mainstreaming disability in the development agenda:  towards 2015 and beyond (document E/CN.5/2013/9); and a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur on disability on monitoring of the implementation of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (document E/CN.5/2013/10).

MARGARET MAYCE, of the Dominican Leadership Conference and Chair of the NGO Committee for Social Development, reported on the outcome of the Civil Society Forum held yesterday, outlining, among other things, several “non-negotiable” elements of the priority theme.  For the impoverished, she said, the most important need was opportunity.  “Persons living in poverty want no more than any one of us sitting in this room today,” she said, adding that, in a sense, each of those present had been able to realize “the future we want”.

Recalling that the “playing field” remained extremely unequal, she said that, in a globalized world too often driven by financial engines, it was all too easy to lose sight of both people and the environment.  Empowerment had emerged as a key tool for countering the pernicious effects of social inequality, and its key elements were choice, freedom, capacity and participation.  They all contributed to a holistic environment in which empowering conditions tended to emerge more easily.  “Participation is power,” she said, adding that a shared society was based on mutual respect that flowed from human rights and equality.  Seen through that lens, participation therefore demanded addressing society’s “asymmetries” and empowering those living in poverty, as well as other vulnerable groups.

To that end, she urged Member States to implement the newly-adopted Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights.  In addition, comprehensive social security systems, including a social protection floor, were needed to enhance participation and to protect against social shocks.  “The programme ultimately pays for itself,” she said, recounting the experiences of several countries that had successfully implemented such social protection schemes.  In that regard, she also urged the adoption of ILO recommendation 202.  Education, access to information, technology transfer and capacity-building were also needed so as to empower people and eradicate poverty.  Finally, she called for the elaboration of “millennium consumption goals” that would require the world’s rich to consume more equitably and responsibly, and stressed the need for the Sustainable Development Goals to be holistic, equitable and universally applicable.

Statements

PETER THOMSON (Fiji), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, noted that, with only two years remaining in the Millennium Development Goals framework, eradicating poverty remained the world’s greatest challenge.  The global economic and financial crisis had only compounded the problem, and although economic opportunities were expanding in the developing countries, “the gap between the rich and poor is increasing, rather than decreasing”.  The current theme for the current session was therefore aptly chosen, he said, adding that focusing on that area would ensure that social policies were maintained at the core of international development, with an enhanced action-oriented policy outcome on the three pillars of sustainable development.

An enabling environment that would expand choices and enable empowered participation in decision-making was crucial, he said, calling for synergy between empowerment policies on the one hand, and ongoing work on the social pillar of the Rio+20 outcomes and elaborating the post-2015 development agenda on the other.  In addition, macroeconomic policies should prioritize the creation of full employment and decent work for all.  The need to strengthen the social capital existing in poor communities must be adequately addressed, he said, emphasizing also the need to further mainstream sustainable development at all levels, integrating its economic, social and environmental aspects and recognizing inter-linkages so as to achieve sustainable development in all its dimensions.

“The Group welcomes the continued focus placed on various groups,” he said, citing family, ageing, youth and persons with disabilities, and emphasizing the importance of the review of programmes of actions pertaining to their situations.  Further, there was a need for a strengthened and scaled-up global partnership for the eradication of poverty, based on the recognition of national leadership and ownership of development strategies.  “International cooperation must be enhanced, including the fulfilment of commitments to provide internationally agreed official development assistance (ODA), debt relief, market access, capacity-building and technical support, including technology transfer,” he said.

ANNE ANDERSON (Ireland), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the three core targets identified in the Copenhagen Declaration — poverty eradication, social integration, and full employment and decent work for all — were goals to which the bloc remained firmly committed and had enshrined in all relevant policies.  Since the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals, the European Union had increasingly been supporting developing countries in their efforts to alleviate poverty, in particular through improved access to health, education, water, food and nutrition security, and the promotion of social protection and decent work, but also by means of trade policy and by reinforcing democracy and good governance.

Similarly, she continued, the European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion initiative, launched as part of the Europe 2020 Strategy, aimed to lay the foundations for a strong and balanced recovery from recent global crises.  It underscored the European Union’s commitment to ensuring an equitable approach that prioritized and valued social inclusion while recognizing the interdependence of the other two core goals — poverty eradication and full employment.  She went on to stress the utmost importance of tackling youth unemployment, which had reached unprecedented levels in many countries.

It was essential to involve young people in partnerships and to engage them in becoming part of the solution to the unemployment crisis.  Full and productive employment, decent work and social protection should have a central place in the development of the global development agenda beyond 2015.  “These are all challenges that cannot be overcome without empowering people to be agents of their own positive change,” she stressed.  Noting that the European Union recognized the role of trade unions and employers’ organizations, she stated:  “Social protection is a human right.”  It was essential for the eradication of poverty and should also be seen as part of the infrastructure of human development, without which sustainable and inclusive growth would not be possible, she said, underscoring also the need to intensify efforts to promote economic, social and cultural rights.

EDEN CHARLES ( Trinidad and Tobago), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the priority theme provided the Commission ample scope for tackling current social development challenges.  He congratulated the Secretary-General on his “insightful” report, which rightly emphasized the principles outlined in the Copenhagen Declaration and other relevant international instruments, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Stressing the similar importance of the Rio+20 outcome, he noted that it recommended a wide range of relevant actions and recognized the need for broader measures of progress to complement the gross domestic product (GDP) standard.

He reiterated CARICOM’s position that climate change was one of the principal challenges impeding efforts by small island developing States to achieve their social development objectives.  Indeed, small islands could have their entire economies wiped out by a single weather event, which would exacerbate poverty, increase unemployment and destroy infrastructure.  As for broader issues, CARICOM Governments and institutions were continuing to develop strategies to help the region’s people surmount social development challenges, he said, emphasizing that those efforts were impacted by the failure of some development partners to live up to internationally agreed goals and objectives.  That situation had forced one CARICOM member country to seek redress through the World Trade Organization dispute-resolution mechanism.

Noting that the Caribbean rum industry was being negatively impacted by unfair manufacturing subsidies, he emphasized that achieving social development objectives, in that region and elsewhere, required allowing viable and sustainable economies to grow without being hampered by the unfair policies of large States.  As for other CARICOM measures, he said the bloc was promoting coherence and synergy among the three pillars of sustainable development while focusing on regional competitiveness and the adoption of Millennium Goals-based policies in the area of socio-economic advancement.  The region’s Governments were well aware that all their strategies could be impacted by external shocks such as volatile food and fuel prices, as well as climate change, he said, noting also that recent conferences and meetings had considered possible ways to tackle unemployment and empower young people.

ANTÓNIO GUMENDE (Mozambique), speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and associating himself with the Group of 77, said that SADC member States had adopted a number of instruments aimed at the development of national and regional policies and actions to promote social progress and justice, and to better human living conditions.  Key among them was the 2003 Charter of Fundamental and Social Rights, the main objective of which was to facilitate a spirit conducive to harmonious labour relations within the region.  Among other things, the Charter provided a framework for regional cooperation in the collection and dissemination of labour market information, while promoting the establishment and harmonization of social security standards as well as health and safety standards in workplaces across the region.

He said SADC member States had also included in their national strategies the achievement of key dimensions of political, economic, social and legal empowering sectors of youth, older people and persons with disabilities.  Meanwhile, they were deploying increasing resources for education and training as well as providing health care and sanitation, basic elements contributing to poverty eradication, employment creation and social integration.  “Despite the progress made on uplifting the living standards of our peoples, there are still enormous challenges to overcome,” he noted.

The food crisis and the global economic and financial crisis had had a negative impact on the gains made in the SADC region, he continued, pointing out that the situation had been exacerbated by the vicious cycle of flooding and drought that was affecting many Member States as a consequence of climate change.  Poverty remained high in the region, and its reduction and total eradication would therefore remain at the top of the global agenda today and in the post-2015 period.  He further noted that, since vulnerable groups were often most affected by poverty, food insecurity and disease in Southern Africa, the region had initiated the Strategic Framework and Programme of Action for Orphans, Vulnerable Children and Youth, as well as a number of other related programmes.

YUSRA KHAN (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the biggest challenge in global development today was finding a way to reduce poverty, unemployment and social inequality.  Addressing those issues required policy-level action targeting such areas as education, infrastructure, basic and financial services, and connectivity.  Implementing those types of policy interventions — and bolstering global cooperation to help countries and regions make progress in health and education, especially for rural areas — could significantly reduce the gap between developed and disadvantaged areas.

“We need effective partnerships to reach a dynamic and healthy balance in the twenty-first century global economy,” he continued, noting that while the Millennium Development Goals had identified a universal, open, and non-discriminatory multilateral trading system as a key objective, unfortunately, inequities in trade and international finance remained.  As a result, developing countries could not close the resource-requirement gap to realize equitable and sustainable growth and development.  Against that backdrop, ASEAN would stress the importance of inclusive and comprehensive development, involving all economic actors, as a way to encourage strong and well-balanced socio-economic growth and ensure environmental protection.

He went on to highlight several strategies that ASEAN would be carrying out between 2011 and 2015 with the aim of, among others things, empowering its member countries through human-resource development and building on the “ASEAN Help ASEAN” ethos that promoted the sharing of experiences, training strategies, best practices and information.  Further, the bloc was taking action to help its members accelerate their Millennium achievements through a five-point road map covering advocacy and linkages, knowledge, resources, expertise and regional cooperation, and regional public goods.

“Undeniably, vulnerable groups have been a cross-cutting issue that impacts other strategic priorities, such as sustainable development,” he said, noting that a programme to assess ASEAN polices for those groups had been carried out in 2012 at a meeting underscoring the need to strengthen social polices for vulnerable communities.  He also highlighted the 2011-2015 ASEAN Strategic Framework on Social Welfare and Development as a key initiative aimed at safeguarding the rights of the elderly, persons with disabilities, children and families.  By way of conclusion, he reiterated ASEAN’s call for continued regional and international efforts to achieve the common goal of empowering people through poverty eradication, social integration and full employment.

HAJIYA ZAINAB MAINA, Minister of Women’s Affairs and Social Development of Nigeria, said her country had put “substantial efforts” into implementing various United Nations-backed social development programmes and initiatives.  For example, the Government had put a programme in place to promote and ensure the welfare of persons with disabilities, which included data collection to ensure targeted local, state and national decision-making.  Further, the National Policy on Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities had been reviewed to reflect current realities, and skills-acquisition and economic-empowerment programmes were now being carried out countrywide, she said.

Turning next to youth-targeted initiatives, she said Nigeria had made significant progress in following up on the General Assembly’s 1995 World Action Plan for Youth, including by creating the institutional and policy frameworks to facilitate activities in priority areas.  Established in 2007, the Ministry of Youth Development now ensured that relevant critical issues were addressed at the federal level.  It had issued a youth policy that set guidelines and outlined the framework for all national stakeholders to empower young people and help them achieve their potential.

As for elderly persons, she said, Nigeria was working to improve their living conditions, in line with the Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing, and had elaborated a draft policy on ageing.  That policy was now under consideration by the National Assembly and, once approved, it would be the blueprint for service delivery to older persons.  Meanwhile, Nigeria had observed the International Day for Older Persons in 2012, which had brought together policymakers, civil society, medical professionals and other relevant stakeholders to assess the effectiveness of existing services for the elderly.  She said the Government was also taking action to comprehensively address the welfare of families through a plan of action being implemented at the state and local levels.

CATHERINE BAKANG MBOCK, Minister for Social Affairs of Cameroon, said this year’s theme was an extension of the previous session’s theme.  With a few years remaining between now and 2015, the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, empowerment should be the heart of any policy.  For its part, Cameroon was implementing many programmes along that line, empowering people and improving their lives.  For the remainder of the decade until 2020, Cameroon was committed to development by taking the social dimension into account, she said.  A framework had been put in place to empower the population, and jobs had been created through decentralization and other schemes in such sectors as energy and mining.

Government resources had been spent on improving equality in education, she said, adding that health had also been improved through the provision of education on sexually transmitted diseases.  Mosquito nets had been distributed to primary and secondary schools, and psychological health for those living with AIDS had been addressed.  For the disabled, technical facilities had been improved for their rehabilitation and training, and social security was now accessible to a large number of people.  About 160,000 jobs had been created, but funding for the implementation of projects depended on partnerships and other innovative approaches, she said.  Cameroon expected recommendations made during the current session to help address global poverty, she added.

NZET BITEGHE, Minister for Family and Social Affairs of Gabon, associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, said the elimination of poverty remained at the crux of international development efforts.  In that fight, “empowerment makes it possible for individuals to obtain the best possible resources […] to act, individually or collectively, to improve their living conditions”.  Therefore, the availability of jobs, health care, legal measures for social protection and participation in decision-making was necessary.  She outlined several national policies aimed at combating poverty and exclusion, saying they paid special attention to vulnerable populations.  They included a new legal regime that had created a body to address the rights of families, as well as the National Fund for Social Assistance, which empowered those benefiting from social assistance.

Since training was one of the best ways to ensure decent work for all, Gabon had created a national office to promote associations in the areas of social action and the family, she said, noting that it connected associations and helped them carry out their projects.  Aware that it could only achieve the Millennium Development Goals if appropriate policies were implemented, Gabon had adopted, in December 2012, a basic document establishing a more equitable social policy, which would help more Gabonese people gain access to basic social services.  That showed the Government’s determination to ensure social welfare for all, she said.  Gabon agreed with all regional African initiatives, including the Common African Position on the Rights of Older Persons and others.  Finally, she appealed for the social aspect of sustainable development to be accorded a proper place on the post-2015 development agenda.

MARIA SOLEDAD ARELLANO, Acting Minister for Social Development of Chile, said her country believed in attaining social and sustainable development targets by empowering people, and understood that while creating policy was not the easiest or shortest path towards that goal, it was definitely the most effective.  Therefore, since 2010, Chile had geared its social policies towards achieving “a society of opportunities, a society of guarantees and a society of values, with a good quality of life”.  She went on to explain that principle, saying Chile understood that a society of opportunities comprised an environment in which people could achieve happiness and in which they could enjoy the advantages provided by social solidarity.  A society of guarantees was one that had a network providing protection from social challenges, and lending assistance in such areas as employment, education, health care and others.

She said a society observing quality of life was one in which the family was the basic pillar; women were encouraged to take the lead in seeking equal opportunity; children and young people were protected and the elderly protected; human rights were promoted; and attention was devoted to culture, sports and the environment.  To put that philosophy into practice, Chile had identified a set of national empowerment-related goals aimed at, among other things, ensuring strong and sustained economic growth, creating good jobs with fair wages, combating crime, enhancing democracy and laying the foundations for poverty eradication.  Overall, Chile aimed to ensure that families and individuals, not the State, took the lead, with the support of strong and efficient national institutions, she said.  As an example of the Government tackling key challenges like lingering income inequality, she cited a 2012 law that provided a series of bonuses for nearly 170,000 of the country’s most vulnerable families.  She also highlighted maternity-leave programmes and job-creation initiatives that shaped an environment in which pressure on families was reduced.

BLANCA LILIA GARCIA ( Mexico) said the empowerment of people to eradicate poverty, bring about social inclusion and create jobs and decent work for all were strong convictions of the Mexican Government.  Mexico fostered people’s empowerment, in particular that of vulnerable groups, and the country was working to strengthen an array of institutions and policies aimed at improving opportunities, so that people could live in dignity.  National policies and programmes aimed to give a role to individuals, as “this is the meaning of empowerment” in the context of the eradication of poverty.

The idea was to eradicate extreme poverty and allow people to promote their collective interests and fully enjoy their human rights, she said.  The “multidimensional angle” of poverty eradication was important, as was the promotion of a family perspective, access to a basic social minimum for those living in extreme poverty, and the establishment of an affirmative action strategy.  That new focus had several elements, including the cross-cutting pillars of gender, as well as a citizen-based approach.  Nevertheless, poverty elimination remained a major challenge for Mexico, she said, noting that the Government had therefore launched a national crusade against hunger on 21 January.  “There can be no full democracy where there is poverty and hunger,” she emphasized in conclusion.

MATEO G. MONTANO, Undersecretary for Social Welfare and Development of the Philippines, pointed out that, nearly two decades after the 1995 World Summit on Social Development, the promises made had yet to be realized and poverty remained as elusive as ever, even as the Philippine Government repeatedly emphasized that national efforts must be complemented by regional and international efforts.  Underscoring the importance of inclusive development cooperation within the framework of bilateral, regional and multilateral initiatives, he said his country remained committed to the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action as well as other social development initiatives adopted by the twenty-fourth special session of the General Assembly and the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, in addition to the outcome of the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

He went on to stress the importance of including disability in the emerging United Nations development agenda for the post-2015 period, noting that this year’s high-level meeting would not only bring the visibility needed to strengthen efforts to support people with disabilities.  “Social development is an integral part of our national development agenda,” he said, adding that his country’s Development Plan 2011-2016 consisted of three broad strategies:  high and sustained economic growth, providing productive and decent employment opportunities; equal access to development opportunities across geographic areas and different income and social spectrums; and implementation of effective and responsive social safety nets to assist those left behind by rapid economic growth.

Panel Discussion

During its afternoon session, the Commission held a high-level panel discussion on the priority theme, “promoting empowerment of people in achieving poverty eradication, social integration and full employment and decent work for all.”

Moderated by Kim Campbell, former Prime Minister of Canada, it featured presentations by:  Maria Soledad Arellano, Vice-Minister for Social Development of Chile; Ahmad Zahir Faqiri, Deputy Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations; Lauris Beets, Director of International Affairs and Principal Adviser to the Minister for Social Affairs and Employment on International Matters of the Netherlands; and Ronnie Goldberg, Executive Vice President and Senior Policy Officer, United States Council for International Business of the International Chamber of Commerce.

Ms. ADHIKARI, Commission Chairperson, said that, in the context of the Commission, “empowerment” referred to the enhancement of the capabilities and functioning of all individuals and groups — particularly persons living in poverty, those with disabilities, indigenous peoples, youth and older persons — to participate fully in all aspects of society and in decisions affecting their lives.  Its key aspects included social, economic, political and legal empowerment.  “The realization of empowerment is thus a long-term dynamic process, one that requires actions along multiple fronts,” she said, adding that the promotion of empowerment also called for inclusive and coherent cross-sectoral policies; a strong, just and non-discriminatory legal framework; institutional arrangements to facilitate civic engagement and broad-based participation; and the aspiration and determination of vulnerable communities, groups and individuals to improve their own well-being.

Ms. CAMPBELL said that for many years the focus of social development had been not on empowering people, but on creating strong policies that would benefit them.  However, leaders had learned that such a centralized approach was not very effective, she said, adding that in her experience, none of the difficult issues she had dealt with within Government would have moved forward without engagement in a broad-based dialogue.  One of the reasons why empowerment was so important was that “democratic government is not an abstract exercise”, she said.  Even the wisest leaders could not fully understand all the issues affecting communities, and empowerment could facilitate the collection of knowledge.

According to recent studies, she continued, institutions were the bottom line in enabling nations to move ahead, in particular those that prevented high concentrations of power.  Indeed, when economies were too centralized, powerful interests often formed against innovation; vested as they were in current ways of doing things, they often resisted “new and better ways”.  As for empowerment, it was “not just a cliché”, but a “fundamental dynamic” to help people contribute to moving ahead.  The Commission had taken hold of one of the most important ideas in social development — one which was easy to talk about in a superficial way, but which actually went to the heart of the very problems that the Commission sought to solve, she said.  One of its main tasks was therefore to turn such discussions into concrete guiding principles that could lead communities forward.

Ms. ARELLANO said her country faced two major challenges, the first being to overcome poverty, especially extreme poverty, since 14.4 per cent of the population presently lived in poverty.  In that regard, there were three main groups upon which to focus in that regard — children, women, and single-parent households.  The second challenge concerned inequality.  Chile had made some progress in that area, but inequality rates remained very high, she noted.  While the easiest way to lift people out of extreme poverty was for the State to spend money — just under 1 per cent of gross domestic product — that “passive” strategy did not place the individual at the centre of decision-making, she noted.  “We would not be empowering people,” she said of that approach.  Indeed, poverty eradication must be sustainable in the long term, and in order to achieve that goal, “people must be masters of their own destiny”.

In that regard, the State had a role to play in creating an environment in which people could exercise that power, improve their lots and overcome poverty, she continued.  Chile was therefore focusing on the freedom of individuals, and the State was there to “create a choice” for them.  Furthermore, “we live in a society of rights and duties”, she said, emphasizing that people had obligations and must undertake commitments to alleviate their own problems.  Meanwhile, solid, efficient and transparent institutions were also needed across the board to govern the interventions by the State.

She went on to say that, in terms of concrete policy, the State’s first task was to establish conditions for the creation of employment and strong, sustainable economic growth.  Chile had created more than 700,000 jobs since 2010, most of which had gone to women.  Secondly, those living in poverty must be able to gain access those jobs, which would necessitate a broad range of employment at all levels.  “We need to work on training of those living in poverty” so that employment would trickle down to poor families, she said.  Some social protection was also needed.  Chile had implemented the Ethical Family Income Policy, complementing it with monetary transfers for a limited time.  Since it was critical for women to join the labour market, the country had also created a temporary benefit for women wishing to rejoin the labour force.

Mr. FAQIRI said the United Nations had transformed the way in which the international community tackled disability policy, bringing the topic to the forefront of world attention and out of the shadows.  Its policies had transformed the lives of millions of persons with disabilities worldwide, including in the areas of socio-economic development, preventive activities and legislation to eliminate discrimination regarding access to facilities, social security, education and employment.  Afghanistan was now reversing, with significant assistance from international donors, decades of economic and social decline caused by conflict through a series of initiatives.

A conservative estimate showed that one in every five households had a person with disabilities, he said, adding that it indicated that most of them were under the age of 14.  Those children faced many challenges, including poverty, poor health and lack of nutritional support.  Literacy was lowest among children with disabilities, especially girls.  The survey also pointed out that about 73 per cent of children with disabilities who were over the age of 6 did not receive education, with school attendance even lower among girls.  Economic difficulties and burdens on families to arrange transportation were the main causes of high drop-out rates among children with disabilities, he noted.

In addition to the Constitution, the Government had formulated several legal frameworks and strategies to empower people with disabilities in overcoming poverty and being integrated in society, he said.  It had passed a law requiring 3 per cent of Government and private sector jobs to be reserved for the disabled.  Among other measures envisaged were:  promoting decent employment for all, including people with disabilities by developing an efficient labour market; reducing the risk of poverty among people with disabilities by developing social insurance; and strengthening capacity to lead the development and implementation of national labour and social protection policy.

Through development and humanitarian work, disability was emerging as a cross-cutting issue in policy and programme development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation processes, he said.  The Government had identified the following principal areas of intervention to create an enabling environment for people with disabilities:  access to education, especially for girls and women; access to justice; access to decent and full employment; and good governance for persons with disabilities.  “No single agency can fulfil the needs of people with disabilities alone,” he stressed, calling on all development agencies to include disability as a key component in their efforts.

Mr. BEETS said that social protection was one of the main aspects of the social policy of the United Nations as a whole.  It offered people support in cash or in kind, and should lead, if well designed, to greater socio-economic equality.  In Europe, social protection had proven to be an effective incentive for participation in labour markets, he said, noting that the best social protection a Government could provide was a good working labour market.  At the global level, more than 80 per cent of the world’s population lacked any form of social protection, he noted, adding that he therefore supported the principles and goals mentioned in the ILO recommendation “National Floors of Social Protection”, adopted unanimously in June 2012.

Whereas the characteristics of national systems were different, there were several key lessons on how a sustainable system could be built, he said.  In the first place, gradual development was important.  Secondly, a sound national fiscal basis was necessary for sustainability, with social protection paid for through taxes and by social premiums levied on employers and workers.  Thirdly, broad support from and the involvement of social partners was important.  Fourth and last, there must be a clear division of responsibilities.

“Of course, Governments do carry the ultimate responsibility for the development of social protection systems and for the proper use of money,” he said, adding that good, transparent governance should become normal practice, at the steering level as well as the implementation level.  Noting that the informal sector formed a substantial part of the national economy in many countries, he said it usually showed a high incidence of “black” or “grey” work whereby taxes and social premiums were not fully paid.  “It is important that Governments and social partners convince informal employers and employees that, in the long run, they have much to gain through the formalization of their activities and by entering into social protection systems,” he said in conclusion.

Ms. GOLDBERG agreed with the concept of an essential link between employment on the one hand and well-being, human dignity and empowerment on the other, but took issue with the assertion that such measures as wage-setting mechanisms, mandatory benefits, employment-protection legislation and collective bargaining were the most effective means to improve employment opportunities.  “All are laudable, important and have a role, but some far more fundamental and more important concepts are missing there,” she pointed out, adding that job creation required economic growth, good governance, functioning markets, a healthy private sector and an enabling framework for enterprises.

She went on to highlight five things that Governments could do to promote employment and decent work for all.  First was committing to growth and opportunity, she said.  For most countries, developed or developing, the main source of economic growth and job creation was a competitive domestic market and the creation of small and medium-sized enterprises, she noted.  Second was support for entrepreneurship and private enterprise.  “No other human activity matches private enterprise in its ability to assemble people, capital and innovation in order to create productive jobs and produce goods and services profitably,” she said.  “Governments must ensure a fair, competitive playing field for all business.”

Third was establishing a conducive operating environment, she said.  All forms of enterprise, public or private, required an operating environment conducive to growth and development, including peace and stability, the rule of law, and good governance with accountability and transparency, the absence of corruption, adequate infrastructure, an educated workforce, clear property rights and enforceable contracts.  Fourth was investing in people, infrastructure, and connectivity, she continued.  Empowerment began with education, and Governments should focus on basic education, while building up their science, technology, engineering and mathematics educational resources and vocational skills training capabilities.  Railroads, highways and information and communications technology were essential links between regional and international markets, supply chains and value chains, she added.  Fifth was creating open markets.  Foreign investment was a vital source of capital and increased competitiveness and productivity in the national market, as well as a source of significant secondary job creation by domestic enterprises.  Just as open domestic markets were critical for development, open international markets were also critical to realizing growth potential, she noted.

The ensuing discussion saw the emergence of a conversation about the informal economy.

Mr. BEETS described it as an “ugly animal” that caused many problems.

Ms. CAMPBELL, in response, pointed out that the informal economy provided opportunities and a force of innovation for those unable to participate in the formal economy.  Employees must believe in the formal economy in order for social protection to function properly, she stressed.

The representative of the European Union delegation raised three questions.  First, considering that human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as the rule of law and other elements, were critical to establishing an enabling environment for empowerment, what could be done to further promote a rights-based approach?  Second, what mechanisms were most useful in promoting the involvement of all relevant stakeholders with regard to employment and decent work?  Third, while education, employment and social protection were all essential to empowerment, what did the panellists feel were the key elements enabling social protection systems to promote sustainability and empowerment?

The representative of Mexico said no single product or approach to empowerment could be applied, as they would be different for different countries.  It was necessary to distinguish between economic, political and social empowerment, she said.  There must be cultural education mechanisms through which people could make progress, but that was not always enough.  How did Chile, in particular, help poor groups to obtain and maintain empowerment?

The representative of a non-governmental organization also asked the panellists which social development goal they would write if they could.

The representative of Mongolia described some of his Government’s empowerment and job-creation policies, underlining, in that regard, that good governance and the rule of law — “development enablers” — were critical to empowerment and social protection.

Ms. GOLDBERG, responding to a question about rights-based obligations, pointed to the recently signed United Nations framework on business and the promotion of human rights, which laid out the differing responsibilities of Governments, the private sector and civil society.  It was the most comprehensive statement available on the subject, she said.  As for social protection floors, she said ILO’s recent recommendation described the different types in addition to discussing sustainability and other topics.

Ms. ARELLANO said the rights-based approach was already well established in Chile, and she was more concerned about how to establish “rights and obligations”.  Concerning sustainability, she said empowerment was a necessary element, and it was critical to look at the specific tools that communities and individuals could use to become empowered.  In response to the representative of Mexico, she said her country was providing families with various social programmes, training, job preparation, psychological support and other services.  However, it also insisted that certain commitments were met.

In the second round of interactive dialogue, the representative of Botswana asked a panellist how the private sector could make full employment a priority, while the representative of Germany sought views on the question of ageing and empowerment, saying they were missing from the discussion.  The representative of El Salvador asked how children could be empowered, as representatives of some non-governmental organizations also posed questions.

Mr. FAQIRI said 73 per cent of disabled people in Afghanistan were under the age of 16, which was a big challenge.  However, the Government was not just observing the problem, but taking steps to address issues relating to children with disabilities.

Ms. ARELLANO said the Chilean Government was training people in specific industries, such as copper mining, and encouraging women to participate in that sector, traditionally the domain of men.  She noted, however, that women had been found to be skilful in driving large vehicles on mining sites.  As for the issue of ageing, she said Chile had more people in their 80s than in their 20s.  Its policy consisted of three components:  meeting the health needs of the elderly; integrating them into society; and providing more alternatives so that they could remain active.

Mr. BEETS said social security was a means of empowerment for those trying to survive because it provided money or in-kind.  He also stressed the importance of Governments providing education for the elderly.

Ms. GOLDBERG said the private sector never made full employment a priority because its objective was to generate profits.  However, profits allowed employers to invest and hire more people, she pointed out.

The representative of Italy stressed the importance of evaluating programmes, saying that that perspective was missing from today’s dialogue.  Some non-governmental organizations also made comments.

Ms. GOLDBERG said it was impossible to focus on one social development goal when panellists were asked to single out the most important one.  However, she said providing every girl with access to education would be her answer, noting that women constituted 50 per cent of the human resources on earth.  “No country can waste those resources,” she emphasized.

Mr. BEETS agreed on the need for more attention to the evaluation of tools used.

Mr. FAQIRI reiterated Afghanistan’s efforts to empower persons with disabilities through such measures as vocational training.

Ms. ARELLANO said empowerment must be seen as a means, not an end in itself, adding that it meant providing tools for people to make decisions and generate freedom.

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