1-10 February 2012
Morgan Zajkowski, VGIF UN Representative
The Commission for Social Development is an annual conference advising the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council, as well as member states, on social policy issues. The priority theme for the 50th session of the commission was poverty eradication, a timely issue considering the approaching deadline to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
In addition to the priority theme, the commission focused on programs of action which targeted improvements to the social situation of individuals with disabilities, members of the youth and the aging populations, and the family. The United Nations, as well as individual countries sponsored these programs.
The following summary seeks to reiterate main points of both the discussions and the draft resolutions that highlight parallels to the mission of Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund, especially in the context of women’s empowerment.
While poverty eradication does encompass a very large portion of the global population, it was stressed from the very beginning that women as a demographic is usually overlooked and underserved in terms of opportunities, resources and policies. In their statement to the Commission, the International Alliance of Women, an NGO with consultative status to ECOSOC, declared that 1.1 billion women are discriminated against in both traditional customs and laws concerning land ownership, loan application, and economic participation.
Notably, Ms. Yahia of Iraq, noted that while economic growth was a primary means of achieving poverty eradication, social policies promoting social protection are also key, specifically citing her own country’s initiative to end domestic violence and empower women.
The draft resolution of the Commission’s recommendation to ECOSOC expressed deep concern for extreme global poverty, especially that of women, girls and residents of rural areas, as well as the poverty persisting in over-looked, middle income countries. Poverty that persists today is considered to be a violation of human rights, and thus, a rights-based approach to ensuring equality of employment opportunities and other methods of social conclusion was particularly stressed. According to the document, both the United Nations, as an institution, and member states needed to take personal responsibility for instituting action.
The document emphasized that true poverty eradication would not take place without examining the root causes, as well as the structures and policies that perpetuated it. Furthermore, it recognized the role that people play in the development process, naming specifically their ability to “strengthen their own capacities” and the necessity of their participation in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of eradicating poverty by 2015.
While naming social inclusion and the protection of human rights, it reaffirmed a commitment to gender equality by creating and refining structures that promoted the full participation of women in all social spheres, especially economic independence and equal access to employment.
Persons with Disabilities
During the opening remarks of the Commission, Christina Gynna Oguz, director of the Public Health division of the Swedish Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, noted that women and girls with disabilities experience both poverty and discrimination at a higher rate than any other demographic, considering that only 25 per cent of them participate in the global workforce. While she stressed that programs should be designed to bridge the existing gap in both policies and goals internationally, she also underlined the importance that the conversation about women and girls with disabilities continue after the completion of the 50th Commission on Social Development.
In the draft resolution entitled “Mainstreaming disability in the development agenda,” the Commission noted that persons with disabilities face greater risk of living in absolute poverty. As such, it urged the international community to recognize and include disability as a cross-cutting issue. Furthermore, it included a provision as to the necessity of ensuring that “women and girls with disabilities are not subject to multiple or exaggerated forms of discrimination or excluded from participation in the implementation of the international development goals.”
International Year of the Family
In the draft resolution regarding the preparations for the upcoming Year of the Family, the Commission noted the importance of family-oriented policies in the fight towards poverty eradication as it provided an additional platform for dialogue on equitable employment, social integration and intergenerational solidarity. It also noted the importance of stressing equality of men and women within the family unit by encouraging member states to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment by equalizing parental involvement, economic opportunities and a differentiated spectrum of childcare arrangements.
Development in Africa
The Commission also issued a document considering the “Social dimensions of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.” The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), adopted in 2001, is an intervention headed by the leaders of the African Union that seeks to enhance Africa’s participation in the global economy by focusing on growth and development.
While the United Nations community remains deeply concerned about the extreme poverty in Africa and the level of further progress needed to achieve the MDGs, it recognized the positive impact that NEPAD has had on the continent, as well as that responsibility for economic and social development remains with the member states. However, the need for an internationally inclusive environment, especially in a time of economic crisis, is crucial for its success.
The Commission welcomed the efforts made by African countries to mainstream the conversation of women’s rights and empowerment in NEPAD’s implementation. Other than this praise, there was not a specific provision in the document that called for a continuation and a strengthening of such practices, only that the Commission, “urges continuous support for measures to address the challenges of poverty eradication and sustainable development in Africa, with special emphasis on the Millennium Development Goals related to poverty, hunger, health, education, [and] the empowerment of women and gender equality.”