11 February 2005

Speakers in Round-Table Discussion Cite Need for Integrated Social Policies, Greater Consensus Among Governments, Private Sector, Civil Society

NEW YORK, 10 February (UN Headquarters) -- Integrated social policies and greater consensus among governments, the private sector and civil society were crucial for socio-economic development and justice, particularly for vulnerable groups such as elderly and disabled persons, refugees, youth and indigenous people, representatives said this afternoon during a round-table discussion on social integration organized in connection with the United Nation Commission on Social Development’s annual session.

Speakers said the global community’s lack of solidarity and efficiency to formulate and implement welfare policy had thwarted efforts to end discriminatory practices, social polarization and income disparities, goals set forth in the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action adopted during the 1995 World Summit for Social Development.

Echoing several of the views expressed today, Sweden’s State Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs said social protection should not be viewed as charity or a fiscal burden, but as a necessary investment for the future. Good welfare policies improved public health, employment and education, as well as helped to close the racial and gender gaps. The European Union’s social inclusion strategy, based on the Copenhagen philosophy, had proved successful in raising awareness and participation among different stakeholders in social development.

Peru’s Chef de Cabinet agreed, saying the Toledo administration had launched 30 sustainable development strategies and programmes, including six focusing on comprehensive social policy and justice for the elderly, the disabled, migrants and other vulnerable groups. Consensus building with non-governmental organizations, the business sector and the Church, including regular multi-stakeholder round tables at the local level, had been instrumental in facilitating social progress. In their 2004 Declaration on Social Cohesion in Latin America, the region’s leaders recognized that social policy must aim to redistribute wealth and create massive employment in all sectors, not just highly productive ones.

South Africa’s Minister for Social Development said his country learned shortly after ending apartheid that the regime’s demise alone would not lead to social integration. Broad social policies were needed to ensure equality. Strategies to improve education, health care and housing consumed 60 to 70 per cent of South Africa’s federal budget. The Government also relied heavily on non-governmental organizations, particularly the Church’s social institution network, to help people suffering from HIV/AIDS, extreme poverty and marginalization.

Thailand’s Inspector General of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security noted the importance of a decentralized approach to social advancement, turning over decision-making and implementation to local authorities with sound knowledge of their communities’ challenges and needs. By the end of 2006, 35 per cent of Thailand’s federal social budget would be farmed out to local governments.

The World Bank’s Social Development Sector Director said incorporating social issues in economic development strategies produced better results in Latin America, Africa and Asia. A review of 4,000 projects financed by the World Bank over 30 years revealed that good social development strategies involved empowering local governments and community institutions.

Several representatives pinpointed problems in the current approach to social integration. For example, a representative of Germany’s Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth said the Commission must focus on mainstreaming social integration into the Millennium Development Goals and closing the rift between the Millennium Goal social strategies and the Copenhagen approach.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Andorra expressed disappointment over the lack of progress since Copenhagen and persistent poverty. More government funds were spent on defence and armament than development. Food security and health care were more pressing concerns than social integration.

Similarly, the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) said the global community must rethink military resource allocation. The Middle East grappled with several military interventions yet little social development had occurred. Militarization was not the solution, she said, calling for greater national-level coordination and macro-level financing for social needs.

Senegal’s Minister of Social Development and National Solidarity said competing agendas and a lack of cooperation among the different units of Senegal’s Social Development Ministry had led to one-sided approaches to dealing with family concerns, children’s rights, and elderly and disabled persons. Social development was a cross-cutting phenomenon that required a fluid exchange between government departments and civil society. Senegal had created a social development department to integrate these approaches and to ensure non-discriminatory treatment.

Other speakers highlighted the merits of girl’s education in improving income growth in Asia and Africa and, thus, forwarding the social integration agenda. A representative of the Council on Foreign Relations pointed to research showing that girl’s wages rose 15 to 25 per cent for each year of schooling they received beyond the national average. In Pakistan, a girl’s literacy and education initiative had put 1.3 million girls in school, according to Pakistan’s Minister of Human Development. He noted that 30 per cent of all district assembly seats were reserved for women.

The Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) said that, while the increase in primary school enrolment among girls in Latin America had greatly improved girl’s education levels, gender equality as a whole among women and girls had yet to be achieved. High rates of domestic violence and maternal mortality and lower pay rates than men continued to keep women at a disadvantage.

Similarly, the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said social integration could not be addressed as long as women continued to suffer from domestic violence, HIV/AIDS and poor access to reproductive-health services. National campaigns to reduce violence against women and a formal role for women in poverty-reduction were necessary.

Other speakers during the round table, which was chaired by Mauritius’ Minister of Social Security, National Solidarity, Senior Citizen’s Welfare and Reform Institution, addressed the concerns of migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons, stressing the importance of including those groups’ special needs in the social integration process.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Brazil, Canada, Croatia, Germany, Japan, Luxembourg (on behalf of the European Union), Namibia, Palestine, Poland, Trinidad and Tobago, United States and Sweden.

Representatives of the United Nations Children’s Fund and United Nations Volunteers also spoke.

In addition, a Member of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on United Nations Civil Society Relations made a statement.

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