Poverty entails more than the lack of income and productive resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods. Its manifestations include hunger and malnutrition, limited access to education and other basic services, social discrimination and exclusion as well as the lack of participation in decision-making. Various social groups bear disproportionate burden of poverty.
The World Social Summit identified poverty eradication as an ethical, social, political and economic imperative of mankind and called on governments to address the root causes of poverty, provide for basic needs for all and ensure that the poor have access to productive resources, including credit, education and training. Recognizing insufficient progress in the poverty reduction, the 24th special session of the General Assembly devoted to the review of the Copenhagen commitments, decided to set up targets to reduce the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by one half by 2015. This target has been endorsed by the Millennium Summit as Millennium Development Goal 1.
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The World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995 defined an inclusive society as “a society for all’, in which every individual, each with rights and responsibilities, has an active role to play (United Nations, 1995, para 66). Such an inclusive society is equipped with mechanisms which accommodate diversity, and facilitate/enable people’s active participation in their political, economic and social lives. As such, it over-rides differences of race, gender, class, generation, and geography, and ensures equal opportunities for all to achieve full potential in life, regardless of origin. Such a society fosters, at the same time, emanates from well-being of each individual, mutual trust, sense of belonging and inter-connectedness.
The goal of social integration is to create “a more stable, safe and just society for all”, in which every individual, each with rights and responsibilities, has an active role to play. Such an inclusive society must be based on the principles of embracing – not coercing or forcing – diversity and using participatory processes that involve all stakeholders in the decision-making that affects their lives.
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Unemployment and underemployment lies at the core of poverty. For the poor, labour is often the only asset they can use to improve their well-being. Hence the creation of productive employment opportunities is essential for achieving poverty reduction and sustainable economic and social development. It is crucial to provide decent jobs that both secure income and empowerment for the poor, especially women and younger people.
Rapid economic growth can potentially bring a high rate of expansion of productive and remunerative employment, which can lead to a reduction in poverty. Nevertheless, the contribution of the growth process to poverty reduction does not depend only on the rate of economic growth, but also on the ability of the poor to respond to the increasing demand for labour in the more productive categories of employment.
Given the importance of employment for poverty reduction, job-creation should occupy a central place in national poverty reduction strategies. Many employment strategies are often related to agricultural and rural development and include using labour-intensive agricultural technologies; developing small and medium-size enterprises, and promoting micro projects in rural areas. Many strategies promote self-employment, non-farm employment in rural areas, targeted employment interventions, microfinance and credit as means of employment generation, skill formation and training.
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Equality can be understood as parity in the enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms, and equality of opportunities with regards to education and work and the fulfillment of one’s potential. Equity relates to a degree of equality in the living conditions of people, especially in terms of income and wealth, that society considers desirable. Reduction of inequalities is then justified by equity considerations.
The 1995 World Social Summit stressed that a people-centered approach to development must be based on the principles of equity and equality, so that all individuals have access to resources and opportunities. In the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action social justice, equity and equality reflect the concept of a just society ensuring the equitable distribution of income and greater access to resources through equity and equality of opportunity for all. Public policies have to correct market failures and promote equity and social justice. World Social Summit identified several ways Governments can promote equality and social justice: