Speakers in Social Development Commission Call for Targeted Investments to Help Women, Indigenous Peoples Pushed Further into Precarity during Pandemic
The Commission for Social Development resumed its general discussion in virtual format today, with representatives of Government and civil society responding to this year’s theme — addressing food insecurity and eradicating poverty, including through the promotion of sustainable food systems — by highlighting national programmes for a resilient post-pandemic recovery and identifying structural gaps and impediments to overcome.
While many speakers spotlighted initiatives by their Governments to strengthen the social safety net, spur growth and jobs, some, including the representative of Afghanistan, expressed alarm at the worsening humanitarian crisis that gripped their country. Noting that, since the takeover by the Taliban in 2021, as many as 23 million Afghans face emergency levels of food insecurity — “an unprecedented number” that accounts for more than half of the population — he underlined the need for financial assistance to be channeled only through United Nations agencies, to ensure that it only reaches those in direst need.
Several speakers emphasized the need to address pre-existing structural issues, and to support vulnerable groups, who were pushed into further precarity during the pandemic. The speaker from Franciscans International called for urgent steps to be taken to protect the rights of indigenous people, noting that, in Guatemala, limits placed on freedom of movement and assembly adversely impacted their ability to sustain themselves, while subsequent protests had been violently clamped down. Moreover, the country’s recovery plans do nothing to prioritize the needs of indigenous communities, he said.
Several civil society voices spoke about the importance of protecting the health and well-being of women, with the speaker from Make Mothers Matter pointing out that, amid the crisis, women bore the brunt of lost jobs, young widowhood and skyrocketing unpaid work — childcare and housework — and were more exposed to the ravages of climate change, which worsened poverty and anxiety. Echoing these points, the speaker from Red Dot Foundation said the crisis led to women facing increased domestic violence, online bullying and harassment. Her group aims to bridge the data gap in reporting sexual and gender-based violence, she said.
Meanwhile, the speaker from FEMM Foundation pointed out that protecting women’s health — particularly their hormonal health — will help them thrive in their communities, contributing to a more resilient society.
On the economic front, an observer for the Holy See, noting that 137 million full-time jobs were lost globally in 2021, spotlighted the plight of the poor in rural areas, who tended to be excluded from social protection and were forced to turn to strategies such as selling their productive assets. “Poverty is not just a matter of financial resources,” he stressed.
For his part, the United States’ delegate took aim at the activities of the Commission itself, calling for the phasing out of “duplicative resolutions” and agenda items, and for its “overloaded agenda” to be reformed. Instead of creating “parallel work without the benefit of advancing the expert discussion”, he pressed the Commission to negotiate a single thematic outcome every year on a theme that is not already covered by other United Nations bodies, spotlighting in this regard its focus on homelessness in 2020. Moreover, the annual session can be condensed to three or four days, he added.
Also speaking in the discussion were the representatives of Turkey, Canada, Paraguay, Senegal, Kenya, Nigeria and the United Kingdom.
Representatives of the following organizations also spoke: Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd; World Youth Alliance; World Organization for Early Childhood Education; UNANIMA International; International Federation on Ageing; Creators Union of Arab; Miss CARICOM Foundation International Inc.; Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary — Loreto Generalate; Save the Children; International Longevity Center Global Alliance; VIVAT International; Blue Tree Foundation; Transdiaspora Network; International Movement ATD Fourth World; Irene Menakaya School Onitsha and African Cultural Promotions Inc.; Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS); and the Haiti Cholera Research Funding Foundation Inc., USA.
The Commission for Social Development will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 16 February, to take action on draft proposals and elect members of the bureau of its sixty-first session.
The representative of Turkey said the COVID-19 pandemic will render it extremely difficult to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 1 on ending poverty and Goal 2 on zero hunger by 2030. In developing countries, the injustices experienced in terms of fair access to vaccines and shouldering the economic burden of the pandemic increase by the day. Turkey provided support to 150 countries and 12 international organizations, and it plans to share 15 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in the coming months. Noting that Turkey has applied for emergency approval for its domestic vaccine, TURKOVAC, she pledged to place that vaccine at the service of all humanity. Outlining national emergency social support initiatives, including cash transfers and unemployment benefits, she said many refugees and migrants benefited from such services, many young people were supported in their personal, professional, social and cultural development and the country was able to invest in its science, technology and innovation sectors.
The representative of Afghanistan said the humanitarian crisis in his country has worsened since the takeover by the Taliban in August 2021, with United Nations agencies estimating that 23 million Afghans in all 34 provinces are facing crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity. “This is an unprecedented number and accounts for more than half of the country’s population,” he said, adding that around 3.5 million people are internally displaced due to the conflict and natural disaster, of which more than half a million were displaced in 2021 alone. He cited a recent report by the International Labour Organization (ILO), which noted that more than half a million people have lost or been dismissed from their jobs since the Taliban took over, with women and girls having been particularly hard. Further, he said, the economy is in “free-fall”, with a report from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) indicating that it is likely to contract by 20 per cent compared to 2020, and could further decline if urgent steps are not taken. Against this backdrop, depicted by such “troubling figures”, he welcomed the launch in January of the 2022 Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan by the United Nations and its partners, which constitutes the world’s largest humanitarian appeal for a single country. Further, he commended the Secretary‑General’s call to find practical ways to rapidly inject cash into the Afghan economy to pay the salaries of public sector officials, teachers and health‑care workers, and to prevent the banking sector from collapse. He emphasized the need for financial assistance to be channeled only through United Nations agencies, as well as international and national non‑governmental organizations, to ensure that it reaches those in need. The special trust fund established by UNDP to pay the salaries of health workers provides a useful model in this regard.
The representative of Paraguay, associating himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China and the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said that, amid the pandemic, it is more essential than ever to consolidate social systems. Paraguay has put in place a strategic social protection framework, which runs up to 2030, and takes a human rights approach to serving the needs of girls, boys, adolescents, women, indigenous people, those living with disabilities and older persons, among others. Its national development system focuses on innovation and transformation, and coordinates its work with civil society actors, relevant ministries and stakeholders, such as Paraguay’s Indigenous Institute. He noted that, even before the pandemic, the country had in place programmes to support informal workers, through funds and subsidies. It also had a scheme to provide food for older persons living in poverty, as well as community canteens and soup kitchens aimed at improving food security. Paraguay has devised a national pandemic recovery plan, with a public investment package focused on employment, structural reforms and social cohesion, he said.
The representative of Senegal said that the sub-Saharan African country has rolled out an action plan with a view to emerging as a united society under the rule of law by 2035. However, the pandemic has impacted major socioeconomic programmes and undermined the health‑care system, leading to a drop in production and loss of jobs. The Government delivered a socioeconomic resilience programme to prevent economic collapse and adjusted the action plan, with an emphasis on growth factors, by industrializing the economy, housing, tourism and digital technology, as well as by empowering women and young people in such areas as agriculture, livestock, fishing and artisanship. The lessons learned from various experiences, as well as the challenges identified by Member States, will guide Senegal in the development and implementation of strategies aimed at reducing inequalities and reviving the economy.
The representative of the United States, underlining the need to recommit to the 1995 Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development and its 10 commitments, expressed concern over the Commission’s broadened focus, which led to an overlap with other United Nations bodies. He called for the phasing out of duplicative resolutions and agenda items, and for the Commission’s overloaded agenda to be reformed. Pointing to the Commission’s work on youth, older persons, persons with disabilities and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) as instances of duplicative work, he stressed that such topics are more effectively addressed through expert bodies and mechanisms, such as the annual Economic and Social Council Youth Forum, Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing, Conference of States Parties to the United Nations Disabilities Convention, New Partnership for Africa’s Development initiative, among others. “The Commission’s treatment of these topics creates parallel work without the benefit of advancing the expert discussion and informed outcomes these subjects deserve,” he said. He went on to urge the Commission to shift focus to negotiating a single thematic outcome every year on a theme that is not already covered by other United Nations bodies, spotlighting in this regard its focus on homelessness during the 2020 session. The annual session could then be condensed to three or four days, he added.
The observer for the Holy See, pointing out that 137 million full-time jobs were lost globally in 2021, noted the emergence of the “new poor” — people who are increasingly urban, with a higher level of education. He noted that the vast majority of the poor live in rural areas, have been excluded from social protection and turned to precarious coping strategies, including selling their productive assets. “Poverty is not just a matter of financial resources,” he said, pointing also to the lack of resources and basic services. Stressing that school closures have hit the poorest children and families hardest, rendering them victims of child labour and other forms of exploitation, he said the disruption of school meal programmes in particular has caused an increase in food insecurity and malnutrition. It is essential to guarantee the equitable distribution of food and accessible, affordable healthy diets. He called for the creation of decent work and income-generating opportunities, as well as systems to combat poverty and hunger, while ensuring investments in quality education and integrating food security and nutrition issues into social‑protection measures.
The representative of FEMM Foundation said the organization offers a knowledge-based health programme for women. FEMM’s researchers have looked at women’s health with a new perspective, having found that a woman’s hormonal health is intrinsically linked with her overall health. Noting that FEMM seeks to help women take charge of their health and thrive in their communities, she said that, in building a more resilient society that seeks to combat hunger and poverty, FEMM’s programmes are ready to be incorporated into the health components of social protection initiatives.
The representative of Franciscans International emphasized the need for recovery measures to address pre-existing structural discrimination that worsens poverty and hunger, including against indigenous peoples. He shared concerns raised by the organization’s partners in Guatemala about governmental measures during the pandemic, including limits on freedom of movement and assembly, which adversely impacted indigenous peoples’ right to adequate food and reduced their ability to sustain themselves. Protests which ensued were violently repressed through excessive use of force, as was the case when the army and police clamped down on protests by the Q’eqchi community in El Estor, Izabal, in October 2021, he said. Further, he pointed out that Guatemala’s recovery plans do not prioritize the needs of indigenous communities, such as through lending support to local sellers and peasants’ markets, or through approval of a draft law on biodiversity and traditional knowledge drafted and supported by civil society. “Instead, the Government favors a ‘food security’ policy which impedes the ability of communities to decide on their food and has threatened biodiversity and native seeds through the introduction of transgenics,” he said. He urged all States to support measures that address threats to adequate food for indigenous peoples, including threats to their traditional livelihood and food sovereignty. Further, he underscored the need for States to regulate and hold businesses accountable when they violate human rights.
The representative of VIVAT International said its members in the Philippines, together with church communities, educational institutions and indigenous peoples, are putting the theme of the Commission’s current session into practice through planting 1 billion bamboo trees by 2030. Bamboo trees absorb 35 per cent more carbon dioxide than ordinary trees, and prevent both erosion and flooding. Furthermore, bamboo is helpful for job creation. He called on Member States and United Nations entities to support VIVAT technologically and financially in building bamboo tissue culture laboratories that produce seedlings in greenhouses. They should also strive for coherence among climate, biodiversity, disaster risk reduction and the Sustainable Development Goals.
The representative of Blue Tree Foundation said the issue of youth cyberviolence, which was exacerbated by COVID-19, has worsened to a point where the international community must intervene with legislation. As the world rapidly digitalized during the pandemic, a lack of proper education on digital tools led to increased online violence and harassment. For example, in the Republic of Korea — where over 90 per cent of youth use smartphones — online violence more than tripled in 2020 compared to 2019. “The whole world is now stressing the importance of law and education to cope with cyberviolence,” he said, noting that programmes to counter cyberviolence could follow the example of mandatory education to prevent in-school violence, which has proved broadly effective in the past.
The representative of Make Mothers Matter said mothers face increasing workloads, young widowhood and the loss of social recognition and protection, noting that the overall death rate from COVID-19 for men is 1.6 times that for women. Climate change has added to their workload, as well, especially in the Southern hemisphere. These factors enhance poverty and contribute to high levels of anxiety and an uncertain future for mothers, she said, stressing that recovery from the pandemic will have to consider the planet’s future as a goal, in order to secure and protect the work and well-being of mothers.
The representative of Transdiaspora Network, drawing attention to the pandemic’s severe impact on education through school closures and the loss of in‑person classes, said those effects have been most prominent in developing countries. “At first, it was thought that virtual education was going to be an alternative to the problem, however […] 50 per cent of students did not have connectivity or technology at home,” she said, describing the resulting “learning poverty” as devastating to communities. As access to quality education must be universal, so, too, must access to digital tools. Adding that the implementation of virtual work environments also opens many possibilities for improving cultural diversity and young people’s employment prospects, she said young people must be involved in designing digital policies that are relevant, authentic and responsive to what they need.
The representative of UNANIMA International said COVID-19 acted as risk multiplier for people living at the margins of society — one crisis away from falling into poverty, hunger and housing insecurity. Many were suddenly confronted by all those challenges at once, with women and children most at risk. Also spotlighting pandemic-era spikes in abusive relationships, gender-based violence, emotional and mental trauma and unsafe working conditions, she said achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development also means effectively addressing homelessness. In that vein, she recommended that Member States implement gender-sensitive policies and resource allocation, while providing quality services to all.
The representative of Red Dot Foundation said the organization works on gender equality, safety and justice. Through its platform, the Foundation aims to bridge the data gap that exists in reporting sexual and gender-based violence. From increased domestic violence, online bullying and harassment to greater loss of employment and an increased share of care work, women have disproportionately borne the brunt of the pandemic. Violence against women and girls is unacceptable. More investment is needed for education on rights, unconscious bias and bystander intervention training, as well as for quality counselling and mental health resources, notably for helplines, counselling centres, peer listening circles and education on mental health in schools and colleges. She also stressed the need for more investment for job creation in rural and semi-urban areas, underscoring the importance of offering youth a platform to participate in social development.
The representative of the International Federation on Ageing said her organization’s Global Report on Ageing presents an “alarming” view of ageism on health and well-being. Although older people account for a disproportionate share of the global disease burden, they are systematically excluded from research or clinical trials in cardiology, rheumatology, oncology and other fields where there is a higher vulnerability to disease in older age. At least 142 million older people — excluding those living in institutionalized settings or who are not recognized in demographic monitoring systems - are unable to meet daily basic needs to live with meaning and dignity. “It is shameful that they may never be able to recover from the socioeconomic, psychological or physical effects of COVID-19,” she emphasized. COVID-19 heavily impacted policy efforts at the global, regional and national levels to implement the 2002 Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing. Actions taken to date in response to the Plan of Action have had little or no bearing on States to implement social or legal protections for older people in this humanitarian emergency. She called for concerted actions that reflect the impact of ageism and importance of healthy ageing on individuals, societies and the globe.