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Seventy-sixth Session,
Virtual Meeting (AM)
GA/SHC/4319

Digital Inclusion Vital to Supporting Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Older Adults, Third Committee Experts Declare amid Calls for Greater Investments

Special Procedure Mandate Holders underscored the importance of digital inclusion today, as delegates in the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) tackled the many ways the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened social inequities among persons with disabilities and older adults.

To be sure, Liu Zhenmin, Under Secretary-General for the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, recalled that the world was not on track to end poverty before the pandemic hit.  In opening remarks, he stressed that poverty eradication is at the core of the 2030  Agenda for Sustainable Development, and called on Member States to do more to address the needs of both young and ageing populations.

“Social development is an investment in people welfare,” he said, adding that the recovery phase offers an opportunity to make transformative changes by rebuilding trust and bringing prosperity.

Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Inclusive Social Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, emphasized the importance of building digital capabilities to improve the delivery of social services, such as e-medical support.  Noting that poverty is still primarily a rural problem, she encouraged Governments to invest in digital and financial inclusion.

During the interactive dialogue following her briefing, delegates highlighted the important role played by digital technologies in their countries’ social development. Ethiopia’s representative informed that her country has invested in information and communications technologies (ICTs) to boost transport services and modernize the investment sector, while India’s representative praised the usefulness of digital technologies in helping to raise 271  million people out of multidimensional poverty.

In his presentation, Toily Kurbanov, Executive Coordinator of United Nations Volunteers, pointed out that online volunteering facilitates access for some, but can also exclude others.  Governments would benefit from sharing experiences on addressing the barriers to volunteering, he said, adding that intergenerational volunteering can capitalize on the solidarity generated during the pandemic. He advocated taking a lifecycle approach to such activities, which would help mobilize everyone, everywhere, especially at the grassroots level.

Gopal Mitra, Senior Policy Officer in the Disability Team at the Executive Office of the Secretary General, said that based on the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy, launched in 2020, progress is lacking in the area of accessibility ‑ both physical and digital.  He pointed out that the implementation and reporting on the benchmarks set in the Strategy have generated data on disability inclusion at the United Nations.

Rounding out the presentations, Claudia Mahler, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, said she dedicated her report to the human rights of older women who suffer from specific age- and gender-based inequality and discrimination.  Despite being essential in many aspects of life, ageing women are overlooked in policy and decision-making.  Inequalities and discrimination are accumulated over the years and aggravated in later life.  “A gender dimension should be mainstreamed into all legislation and policies on ageing and older persons ‑ and vice versa”, she declared.

The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 7 October, to continue its general debate and hold interactive dialogues on the rights of children.

Interactive Dialogues

LIU ZHENMIN, Under‑Secretary‑General for the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said hundreds of millions of people were pushed into poverty and 2.4 billion people were affected by food insecurity in 2020, due to the impact of COVID‑19.  However, the world was not on track to eradicate poverty before the pandemic hit, inviting countries to reduce inequalities and promote inclusion through international solidarity.  He recalled the outcomes of the high-level meeting to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in 2020.

He went on to underline that poverty eradication is at the core of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, calling on Member States to foster collaboration, and in particular, to do more to address the needs of youth and ageing populations.  He considered the COVID‑19 recovery phase as an opportunity to make transformative changes by rebuilding trust and bringing prosperity, stressing that a coherent policy framework is needed.  “Social development is an investment in people welfare”, he said.  Many countries have rolled out a range of social protection measures to support their populations, he said, highlighting the need for universal protection.  In line with the Secretary‑General’s “Our Common Agenda” report, he emphasized that humanity is at an inflection point for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the Department will continue to support the Third Committee as it addresses upcoming challenges.

Inclusive Social Development

DANIELA BAS, Director of the Division for Inclusive Social Development (DISD), Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said the Secretary‑General’s report titled, “Implementation of the outcome of the World Summit for Social Development and of the twenty-fourth special session of the General Assembly” (document A/73/214) examines the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on social development and contains recommendations that urge Member States to develop a long-term policy framework focused on resilience and support for national strategies related to the digital economy.  Stressing that the digital divide has increased the suffering of people living in poverty, she underscored the importance of building digital capabilities and improving the delivery of social services, for example by providing e-medical support.

She then introduced several reports, noting that the World Social Report 2021 examines persistent development challenges in rural areas and finds that poverty is still primarily a rural problem.  The social inclusion report, encourages Member States to invest in digital and financial inclusion, for example, including birth registration.  She urged policy makers to consider the impact that digital technology will have on social inclusion.  The report on youth, meanwhile, recognizes the importance of restoring young people’s trust in multilateralism.  She also introduced reports on ageing and older persons, and on persons with disabilities.

When the floor opened for questions and comments, several delegates took the opportunity to highlight their national progress on social development.  The representative of Thailand, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the bloc has developed several frameworks to implement its declaration on strengthening social protection.  Meanwhile, the representative of Iraq said the national human rights plan will revitalize Iraqi laws.  The Government has enacted a law on domestic violence, in line with international commitments, highlighting its impact on the family, the fundamental unit of society.  The representative of Syria said her country’s social development policies afford all people economic opportunities.  The Government also has provided shelters and temporary homes, health care and treatment to all those in need, particularly in areas where armed gangs are active.

Delegates also highlighted the important role played by digital technologies, with the representative of Ethiopia noting that her country has invested in information and communications technologies (ICTs) to boost transport services and modernize the investment sector.  The representative of India said his country has helped 271 million people out of multi-dimensional poverty.  He noted the usefulness of digital technologies in those efforts and in ensuring timely delivery of Government services.  The representative of Viet Nam asked how the digital divide could be closed to improve access to social services.  Her country has comprehensive policies for the alleviation of poverty and works to provide equal opportunities for all.  It has implemented national programmes that enhance the participation of women and girls, older persons and ethnic minorities.

Ms. BAS, responding to questions on the digital divide, suggested investing in infrastructure to bolster tech access and providing training in digital literacy and skills, both to young people and older people.  “It is a new language, an e‑language that older generations are not necessarily familiar with,” she said.  On what the United Nations can do to facilitate the transfer of technologies to the global South, she drew attention to the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy on technologies, who will have conversations with all Member States and can perhaps provide answers targeted to each country.  More broadly, she underscored the importance of multilateralism and the distribution of global goods for all, including digital technologies.

Also speaking were representatives of Morocco, China, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Algeria and Belarus.

Volunteering

TOILY KURBANOV, Executive Coordinator of United Nations Volunteers, drew attention to the Secretary‑General’s report (document A/76/137), highlighting both consistent patterns and new trends in volunteering, reflecting dramatic changes in the world.  The report calls for a shift from ad-hoc volunteer projects to systematic integration of volunteering into development efforts, he said, adding that the Secretary‑General recognizes the importance of creating an enabling environment for volunteer action and ensuring the safety and security of volunteers.  The report notes that 61 per cent of voluntary national reviews submitted to the Economic and Social Council’s high-level political forum acknowledge the contributions of volunteers across all Sustainable Development Goals, with the Secretary-General acknowledging the crucial role that volunteers play in the pandemic response.

Highlighting other findings, he said the report recommends integrating volunteering into wider sustainable development strategies.  Additionally, Member States can build from the current focus on youth engagement to promote a life‑cycle approach to volunteering.  This shift will help mobilize everyone, everywhere to meet the ambition of the Decade of Action, especially at the grassroots level.  The report also offers suggestions for strengthening national data on the economic and social contributions of volunteering.  Stressing that different volunteer practices shape participation in different ways, he pointed out that online volunteering facilitates access for some, but can also exclude others.  Member States would benefit from sharing experiences on how to address barriers to volunteering, he said, adding that intergenerational volunteering can help to capitalize on the solidarity generated during the pandemic.

When the floor opened for questions and comments, delegates acknowledged the contribution of volunteers to global societies, with the representative of China stressing that Chinese volunteers are participating in the fight against the pandemic, working in hospitals, and playing an important role in emergency relief and psychological assistance.  The representative of Brazil asked about the lessons learned for volunteerism during the pandemic.  In a similar vein, the representative of Morocco asked about ways to leverage volunteerism to create new opportunities for youth; she further asked about cooperation between United Nations Volunteers with the Youth Envoy, and about providing safety for online volunteerism.  “The youth is the present and future of any country,” added the representative of Serbia.

Mr. KURBANOV, responding, said United Nations Volunteers has created a platform for volunteerism.  Drawing attention to findings in the Secretary‑General’s report, he called for intergenerational dialogue, youth empowerment and strengthening community resilience.  United Nations Volunteers will continue to cooperate with Member States in intergovernmental fora and bilaterally.  It will also collaborate with the Office of the Special Envoy to prioritize youth empowerment.  On lessons learned from the pandemic, he underscored the need to support early warning systems, pointing to an example of when United Nations Volunteers quicky mobilized more than 1,000 volunteers, demonstrating the importance of local and national volunteers during travel lockdowns.  He also drew attention to the high number of tasks delivered remotely.

Also speaking during the interactive dialogue were the representatives of Israel and Japan.

Persons with Disabilities

GOPAL MITRA, Senior Policy Officer in the Disability Team at the Executive Office of the Secretary‑General, introducing the Secretary‑General’s report on inclusive development for persons with disabilities (document A/73/211/Rev.1), highlighted improvements in terms of accessibility, as well as in lower‑performing areas, such as consulting persons with disabilities on meeting their needs.  He also noted that 130 United Nations country teams reported on the 2020 United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy, adding that progress still must be made in terms of accessibility, both physical and digital.

For the first time, implementation and reporting on the disability strategy have resulted in the generation of data on disability inclusion in the United Nations, he said.  There are still areas that require improvement, he noted, stressing that priority must be given to ensuring more resources for disability inclusion.

When the floor opened for comments and questions, the representative of Mexico asked how the United Nations can increase its knowledge about disability inclusion and about what the Organization can offer to persons with disabilities.  She expressed surprise that the topic is featured in a discussion about social development, as it is a human rights matter.

The representative of the Philippines welcomed United Nations efforts to mainstream the subject of disability in its work, notably the Secretary‑General’s policy brief on a disability response to the COVID‑19 pandemic and the Disability Inclusion Strategy.  Noting that the Philippines is a staunch advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities, she asked about the challenges facing the “disability team” and how Member States can support its work.

Mr. MITRA, responding, said performance has been low on the issue of the consultation of persons with disabilities and related organizations.  United Nations entities need guidelines so that this is done in a systematic manner, he said, noting that in 2021, the Executive Office of the Secretary‑General, in cooperation with focal points and in consultation with organizations representing persons with disabilities, developed these guidelines.

On disability inclusion in field missions, he said there has been positive action.  For example, in 2019, only 12 peacekeeping and political missions reported on the Disability Inclusion Strategy, a figure which rose to 16 in 2020. These missions have also developed action plans and organized awareness‑raising campaigns for staff.  They are also reviewing the accessibility of their physical and digital infrastructure.

On capacity‑building, he cited the lack of awareness and capacity within the system as a main challenge.  In implementing the Disability Inclusion Strategy, country teams have launched capacity‑building meetings, he added.

Also speaking were the representatives of New Zealand and China.

Older Persons

CLAUDIA MAHLER, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, stressed that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on older persons received limited media attention. She dedicated her report to the human rights of older women who suffer from specific age- and gender-based inequality and discrimination.  Despite being essential in many aspects of life, ageing women are overlooked in policy and decision-making.  She said that their sexual and reproductive health rights are disregarded, on the assumption that older women are not sexually active or desirable.

Commenting on the outcomes of the report, she said such inequalities and discrimination are accumulated over the years and then aggravated in later life.  Women often reach older age with lower levels of education, fewer savings, assets and property, and lower social security.  This significantly hinders their rights and heightens their vulnerability.  The report also emphasizes that women tend to live longer but often lack the resources to meet their evolving needs, relying on families for support.  She called on Member States to adopt an approach based on human rights rather than on social and health care.  “A gender dimension should be mainstreamed into all legislation and policies on ageing and older persons ‑ and vice versa”, she declared.  To that end, Member States must combat discrimination and systematically collect disaggregated data to better understand the situation.  She invited the international community to consider these issues in international and regional human rights platforms.

Pointing to the gaps in the human rights framework for older persons, she asserted that more must be done to ensure a gender perspective during the pandemic recovery phase.  Since older women were disproportionately affected, it is critical that their voices be heard and their contribution to societies be recognized, she concluded.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegates welcomed the report and concurred with the importance of this issue.  The representative of the Russian Federation stressed that the ageing of the population in his country made this topic particularly relevant, considering that Member States must deliver on their international commitments.

An observer for the European Union agreed with the report’s recommendations to advance data collection, research and analysis on gender and ageing.  She requested clarifications on the steps the United Nations would take to address this issue.  In the same vein, the representative of Slovenia wanted to hear more about the obstacles to equality, citing initiatives taken by his country and Brazil within the Human Rights Council. Referring to her country’s chairmanship of the Commission for Social Development, the representative of Argentina said the Government would adopt an inclusive approach to address the needs of older people. She considered the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing an appropriate forum to coordinate international efforts, calling for an international convention to recognize their rights.

Several delegates also underlined the importance of addressing the digital gap impacting older persons, particularly at the international level, with delegates from Israel, Mexico and China announcing that their countries remain committed to addressing this challenge.

Ms. MAHLER, thanking delegates for their support, answered their questions by reaffirming the need to adopt a life-course approach, in order to look differently at the situations faced by older women.  Citing Sustainable Development Goal 4 (quality education), she underlined that older women encounter obstacles to entering the labour market.  She went on to say that most social systems are flawed, as they only consider the age category 15-49 years when reporting violence against women.  She recommended that Member States encourage discussions on this issue to break the taboo.  Reporting mechanisms must be also established to shed light on discrimination and promote the protection of older women.

She referred to other initiatives in the United Nations system, such as the Decade of Healthy and Ageing and the Secretary-General’s policy brief.  She underlined that policymaking often looked at older persons from a social and healthcare perspective, while they should be handled through human rights. She echoed the comments made on the digital divide, stressing that it affects older women’s access to the labour market.  Responding to questions about the best means to advance this issue at the international level, she welcomed the Working Paper from the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing, adding that an international convention to close the gaps would be a good way forward.

Also speaking during the interactive dialogue were representatives of the United Kingdom, Philippines, Malaysia, Canada, Chile, United States, India, Algeria and Morocco.

For information media. Not an official record.