Urgent Action Needed to Close Inequality Gaps, Recover from Pandemic, Labour Crises, Speakers Stress, as Social Development Commission Session Continues
Calling attention to widening inequality gaps and crises in the labour market exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, both United Nations senior officials and speakers alike stressed in an interactive dialogue that urgent action was needed to generate decent work and support recovery and social protection programmes, as the Commission for Social Development’s sixty-first session continued today.
Moderated by Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the morning’s interactive dialogue with senior officials of the United Nations system was held on the priority theme “Creating full and productive employment and decent work for all as a way of overcoming inequalities to accelerate the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.
Panellists were called to address how ongoing crises have exposed and dramatically exacerbated inequalities in the labour market, with those who were already facing discrimination and marginalization — women, youth, older persons, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, migrant workers and vulnerable minorities — having been hit the hardest.
Gilbert Houngbo, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), declared that “inequality is not inevitable; it is the result of political choices” — widening the gap between the rich and poor in most societies, exacerbated by the pandemic, increasing inequalities within and between countries and the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine. More than 200 million people around the world are unemployed, with real wages spiralling downwards — with the world’s wealthiest 10 per cent amassing 52 per cent of global income. To counter this dangerous spiral, he called for investment in social justice, including creating decent work opportunities.
Simone Cecchini, Director of the Population and Development Division of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), noted the region’s high labour informality, weak social protection and vulnerability lead to some of the highest Gini coefficients in the world. In 2022, the region experienced high inflation at 7.3 per cent, slow growth at 3.7 per cent, high unemployment at 7.3 per cent and poverty at 32.1 per cent. He called for a new social and fiscal compact for sustainable development, social cohesion and stability.
Echoing such concerns, Srinivas Tata, Director of the Social Development Division of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) reported that, of a regional labour force greater than 2.1 billion, 1.4 billion are informally employed, with 600 million in the low-productive agricultural sector. Most workers are ill-equipped to respond to emerging megatrends of climate change, ageing societies and digitalization, and face hazardous working environments, with half of them poor or on the verge of poverty.
Addressing growing ageism, Olga Algayerova, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), noted the 56 States of her region are at the forefront of and older population. Labour force participation of both men and women over the age of 55 has increased over the past two decades — but older workers are not sufficiently valued and face employment barriers. She called for the elimination of ageism in the labour market, enabling longer working lives and enhancing opportunities for older workers to fully contribute to the world of work for as long as they wish.
Jalal Abdel-Latif, Senior Social Policy Advisor, Gender and Poverty, of the Social Policy Division at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), reported that the pandemic and climate change reversed more than two decades of poverty reduction on the continent. More than 50 million people across Africa were pushed into poverty, while the overall unemployment rate jumped from 7 per cent in 2019 to 7.8 per cent in 2023. With Africa’s workforce characterized by informality, working poverty and underemployment, he urged Governments to better harness fiscal policies, invest in digital infrastructure and increase corporate taxation.
Also turning to solutions, Beate Andrees, Special Representative to the United Nations and Director of the ILO Office for the United Nations, cited a joint implementation strategy by ILO, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). She called on Governments to integrate that initiative into domestic budgets and provide political support for ILO engagement with financial institutions — notably the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and regional development banks — to reverse the dangerous trends speakers cited.
During the ensuing interactive discussion, delegates shared their national experiences with social protection policies — including those first enacted during the pandemic — and posed various questions to the panellists. The representative of Senegal drew attention to the paradox that many populations across the globe are ageing, while those in other countries and regions are growing increasingly youthful and Zimbabwe’s delegate described the challenges in Africa and elsewhere, of bringing certain groups — including nomadic peoples — in from the fringes of society.
In the afternoon, the Commission held a panel on the priority theme “Creating full and productive employment and decent work for all as a way of overcoming inequalities to accelerate the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, moderated by Jean Quinn, Chair of the NGO Committee on Social Development. Panellists presented national initiatives that addressed both the impact of the pandemic, as well as recovery programmes in post-pandemic times, including Hafsa Qadeer, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of ImInclusive, which is a hub and online job platform for employment equity for persons with disabilities — or as the Government describes them, “people of determination”. Now a Government-certified vehicle, it impacted 40,000 lives in 2022.
The Commission for Social Development will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Friday, 10 February, to continue its sixty-first session.
ALYA AHMED SAIF AL-THANI (Qatar), Chair of the Commission for Social Development, spotlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened various forms of inequality, particularly with women, youth, older persons, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and migrant workers, among others. Specifically, young people generally experience high unemployment and inactivity and when they do work, they face high job and income insecurity. The pandemic has exacerbated these challenges, as well as disrupting their education and training. Informal employment, which is a major contributor to working poverty and inequality, has remained persistently high in emerging economies. Youth unemployment has continued to increase and gender gaps in paid work have persisted. In many countries, having paid employment is insufficient for a person to escape poverty. In emerging and developing countries, as many as 1 in 4 workers lives below the moderate poverty thresholds, she pointed out.
She called on the international community to put effective policies in place to create a more inclusive, equitable and adaptable labour market and invest in universal access to quality education and life-long learning, universal health coverage, universal social protection systems, equitable access to clean energy, and safe water and sanitation. “There is no end to what we can do,” she emphasized, underscoring the need for the United Nations support and advice in that regard. This interactive dialogue will help the participants learn more about the work of the United Nations system and the policies and strategies that worked and are working to create full and productive employment, overcome inequality, accelerate recovery from the pandemic, and fully implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, she said.
The Commission then held an interactive dialogue with senior officials of the United Nations system on the priority theme of its sixty-first session: “Creating full and productive employment and decent work for all as a way of overcoming inequalities to accelerate the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.
The dialogue — moderated by Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs — featured the presentations by Simone Cecchini, Director of the Population and Development Division of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC); Gilbert Houngbo, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO); Beate Andrees, Special Representative to the United Nations and Director of the ILO Office for the United Nations; Olga Algayerova, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE); Srinivas Tata, Director of the Social Development Division of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); and Jalal Abdel-Latif, Senior Social Policy Advisor, Gender and Poverty, of the Social Policy Division at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).
Ms. SPATOLISANO said that, by its resolution on the method of work, the Commission for Social Development has invited the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, relevant specialized agencies, regional commissions, funds and programmes of the United Nations system and the international financial institutions to present their relevant activities and reports. The socioeconomic impact of the pandemic, compounded by climate change, have worsened poverty and inequality, while the rapid increase in cost of living and global economic slowdown are further exacerbating hardships faced by disadvantaged and marginalized social groups. Productive employment and decent work for all are reliable and sustainable pathways to combat inequality and poverty. The focus of the dialogue is on the work and activities, including research and publications, at the global, regional and national levels to promote full and productive employment and decent work for all, as well as assisting Member States to overcome inequalities, support efforts to accelerate recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, she said.
Mr. CECCHINI said that the region’s socioeconomic inequalities are deeply connected to the labour market, where high informality, weak social protection and vulnerability lead to some of the highest Gini coefficients in the world. Further, the socioeconomic panorama has been further complicated by the effects of COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. As a consequence, in 2022, the region experienced high inflation at 7.3 per cent, slow growth at 3.7 per cent, high unemployment at 7.3 per cent and poverty at 32.1 per cent, as well as hunger and inequality. Also, in many countries there has been social unrest, political polarization and violence, together with the effects of climate change, environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity. Further, there is an emerging trend of mixed, irregular migration, in transit towards the United States and countries of the region, as well as rapid population ageing. Presenting a PowerPoint presentation on the challenges faced by the region, he noted that amid those challenges, transformative, inclusive, bold policies are needed now to progress in the construction of a strong welfare State, sustained by productivity and growth. Some key recommendations include bolstering strategies to reduce informality, promote decent work and universalize social protection; incorporating a gender perspective and progressing towards comprehensive care policies; and strengthening institutional framework for social policy and safeguarding of social investment. He called for a new social and fiscal compact for sustainable development, social cohesion and stability, as well as systematic statistical information on the different dimensions of inequality, adding that evidence-based policies are needed more than ever.
Mr. HOUNGBO, in a pre-recorded message, stated: “Inequality is not inevitable; it is the result of political choices,” he declared. Over past decades, those choices have led to a widening gap between the rich and poor in most societies, which was exacerbated by the pandemic while also increasing inequalities within and between countries. The Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine and spiralling inflation worldwide has worsened the situation. Currently, more than 200 million people around the world are unemployed; half the world’s population has no access to social protection; and real wages are spiralling downwards. Meanwhile, the wealthiest 10 per cent of the global population have amassed 52 per cent of global income, whereas the poorest half earns just 6.5 per cent of the total. “While the economic system is delivering abundance for a few, it fails to deliver enough for the growing majority in need,” he said, pointing out that such inequality fuels social conflict and violence, diminishes health and life expectancy and undermines trust in governance. To counter this dangerous spiral, he called for investment in social justice, including creating decent work opportunities — for young people, women and for everyone struggling to make ends meet. In addition, he stressed the need to foster a just transition to greener and more equal societies, promote fair trade and sustainable supply chains, champion transformative gender policies and implement strategies to overcome informality. In this context, he commended the Global Accelerator for Jobs and Social Protection for Just Transitions which aims to help countries create 400 million decent jobs and to extend social protection coverage to the 4 billion people worldwide who are currently excluded.
Ms. ANDREES, complementing Mr. Houngbo’s presentation, cited the hard-hitting data presented by ECLAC and her office’s newly released annual trend report on employment and social matters. With the ILO Director General welcoming the global accelerator on jobs and social protection for just transitions as a response to the social and economic crisis caused by the pandemic, she noted United Nations agencies, including ILO, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), have come together with a joint implementation strategy — the first coherent vision on social protection and job creation and how they are linked. She called on Governments to join that initiative and make the issue a domestic priority, integrating it into budgets, and providing political support for ILO engagement with financial institutions — notably the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and regional development banks. She further called on them to provide official development assistance (ODA), especially through the Joint Sustainable Development Goals Fund, to reverse the dangerous trends speakers were presenting in the meeting.
Ms. ALGAYEROVA recalled that the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) mandate focuses on economic integration of the pan-European region, spanning 56 member States. She cited the priority theme of creating full and productive employment and decent work for all in the context of population ageing and to consider the situation and rights of older workers, recalling the Commission’s previous discussion on the fourth review and appraisal of the Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing. Her region is at the forefront of population ageing, as not only do people live longer, the age structure of the workforce is changing. Labour force participation of both men and women over the age of 55 has increased over the past two decades. However, she observed that older workers are not sufficiently valued and continue to face employment barriers across the region. Enabling longer working lives and enhancing opportunities for older workers requires combating ageism in the labour market, as ageing societies face growing demand for health and care services. She also pointed out that the pandemic painfully revealed that many health- and long-term care systems were already stretched, and that it is crucial to invest in decent working conditions of employees in these sectors — predominantly women — to reduce inequalities, prevent staff shortages and ensure access to essential services in ageing societies. She called for ageism in the world of work to be eliminated to ensure that everyone can fully contribute to the world of work for as long as they wish.
Mr. TATA, noting among other things that decent work increases the purchasing power of workers and supports the growth of local economies, reported that the working-age population in Asia and the Pacific is immense, with close to 3.2 billion women and men. More than 2.1 billion make up the labour force. Of all these workers, 1.4 billion — close to 70 per cent — are informally employed, with 600 million found in the often low-productive agricultural sector. The shortage of decent jobs denies workers the opportunity to fulfil their potential, he underlined, adding that most workers are ill-equipped to respond to emerging megatrends of climate change, ageing societies and digitalization. Most informal workers are found in hazardous working environments with no labour rights, no employment contracts and low wages. Left with insufficient earnings to meet basic needs, around half of all workers are poor or on the verge of poverty. He further stressed that more people are also pushed into poverty in Asia and the Pacific than anywhere else in the world. Against this background, policy interventions to renew the social contract and deliver universal social protection, universal health coverage, and quality education and training is of utmost importance. Meeting social-development expectations requires boosting inclusion, which can, in turn, rebuild trust and strengthen solidarity. In this respect, broadening the tax base and taxing incomes, wealth and profit, and moving away from taxing consumption — which often hits the poorest disproportionately — is necessary. Progressive taxation lies at the heart of the relationship between the State and members of society, he added.
During the ensuring interactive discussion, delegates shared their national experiences with social protection policies — including those first enacted during the COVID-19 emergency and posed various questions to the panellists.
The representative of Cuba, noting that her country is working to update its social policies, stressed that men and women in Cuba receive equal pay for equal work. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government offered extra health and social-protection benefits — including by developing three of its own vaccines. However, unilateral coercive measures imposed against Cuba as part of the United States’ six-decades-long embargo continues to pose challenges. Against that backdrop, she asked the panellists to address how such sanctions are impacting countries’ ability to guarantee decent jobs to all their people.
Responding, Mr. CECCHINI underlined the need for more universal social-protection policies in countries across the globe. Citing multiple inequalities — such as the one mentioned by Cuba’s delegate — he added that the country is also facing an ageing population, which the Government is working closely with ECLAC to address. He went on to call for a renewed focus on tax systems, as well as new global social and fiscal compacts more broadly.
Ms. ANDREES said ILO documented more than 3,000 social protection measures put in place by Governments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Noting that those reached even more people through digital tools, she warned that such important policies now risk being scaled back if there is not enough political support. Underlining the need to safeguard gains made during the pandemic, she said short-term measures should be transformed into longer-term, more sustainable systems that better connect people with jobs and other resources.
Mr. TATA said the informality of the labour market is the biggest challenge facing the Asia-Pacific region’s workforce. For the first time, policymakers are now experimenting with ways to extend social protections to the informal sector, he said, urging the United Nations system to match those crucial efforts with equally innovative solutions.
The representative of Zimbabwe said that, in Africa and elsewhere, certain groups — including nomadic peoples — have long been on the fringes of society. The Government of Zimbabwe is slowly but surely reaching out to those groups, but it takes time to fully incorporate them into the formal economy. In that respect, he asked the panellists how countries with such populations can better and more fully “take them on board”.
Panellist Mr. ABDEL-LATIF, via tele-conference after technical issues, shared the perspective of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, reporting that the COVID-19 pandemic, along with climate change, reversed more than two decades of poverty reduction on the continent. More than 50 million people across Africa were pushed into poverty, while, due to the pandemic, the overall unemployment rate jumped from 7 per cent in 2019 to 7.8 percent in 2023, after peaking at 8.1 per cent in 2021. Africa’s workforce continues to be characterized by widespread informality, working poverty and underemployment. Limited government capacity, the inadequacy of social protection systems and the impacts of climate change as other major challenges meant that large shares of the population were extremely vulnerable to the pandemic. Due to the nature of their jobs, 58 million Africans are at risk of falling into poverty because of the pandemic. Further, in 2020, only 17.4 per cent were effectively covered by one form of social protection. Decent employment opportunities require strong policy responses. In that context, he made a series of specific recommendations, including urging Governments to better harness fiscal policies, invest in digital infrastructure and join the growing global momentum to curb inequality through more corporate taxation.
The representative of Senegal drew attention to the paradox that many populations across the globe are ageing, while those in other countries and regions are growing increasingly youthful. Calling for stronger efforts to support migration between those regions, he echoed other speakers in voicing concern about deepening inequality between the world’s richest and poorest, and asked the panellists how they propose to make universal social policies sustainable in the long term.
Mr. CECCHINI, responding, said that homogenous social-protection policies are needed that are “sensitive to differences” and tailored to various population groups. Noting that Latin America also has a large percentage of its population in the informal sector, he said the region is making progress on the rights of “non-contributory” workers — namely, those in the informal sector who are entitled to Government pensions not because they paid into them, but simply because they are human beings with rights. Responding to the representative of Senegal, he agreed that the issue of migration is a critical one. On the issue of sustainability of social-protection policies, he said three issues should be considered: fiscal sustainability, coverage sustainability and the quality of coverage.
Ms. ANDREES, also responding to the representative of Senegal, said one of the main goals of the ILO Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection is to help countries turn emergency programmes into more long-term, sustainable ones. However, the question of “how to pay for it” always remains a relevant one. Proposing several options, she said the creation of more contributory systems of social protection should be explored, and private sector companies can be brought in more actively by supporting investments the green, digital and care economies. “All of our societies face massive transitions in the years to come,” she stressed, adding that those can be used to make transformative changes for good.
Mr. ABDEL-LATIF, agreeing with Ms. Andrees, stated that major transitions are under way. He emphasized the importance of public-private partnerships in helping populations upgrade their skills, while underlining the importance of harnessing the entrepreneurial spirit of young African men and women.
Mr. TATA said the cost of social-protection schemes is, in fact, within reach for most countries in the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere across the globe. “I believe countries are moving in that direction, and I believe that universality is something that should be maintained,” he stressed, asking Governments not to take their eye off that goal.
Ms. SPATOLISANO said that it is very encouraging to know that such needed change is doable. Recounting key points raised, she underlined the consistent messages by the panellists, including preparing for the trend of a rapidly ageing population in order to be ready for the future. She also highlighted the importance of extending social-protection and other social measures. Noting responses to the pandemic, she urged participants to “keep the good measures”. Also of note is the need to provide decent jobs and rights for all in addressing the informal work force, she said, acknowledging the different contexts in which that matter occurs. Commenting on “how to pay for all of this”, she spotlighted the importance of a taxation system based on a progressive fiscal policy that favours implementation of Agenda 2030. More so, the main thru-line that emerged during the meeting focused on inequality and the need for social justice. Citing what was said previously, she stressed: “Policies have an impact and inequality is not inevitable.”
The Commission then held a multi-stakeholder forum on the priority theme of its sixty-first session: “Creating full and productive employment and decent work for all as a way of overcoming inequalities to accelerate the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.
The forum — moderated by Jean Quinn, Chair, NGO Committee on Social Development — featured presentations by Matías Sotomayor, General Director, International Relations and Institutional Communication, National Council of Coordination of Social Policies, Argentina; Paul Vincent W. Añover, Assistant Secretary, Employment and Human Resource Development, Department of Labor and Employment, Philippines; Maryam Abdulla al-Thani, International Projects Manager, Office of the Minister of the Social Development and the Family, Qatar; Hafsa Qadeer, CEO and Founder, ImInclusive, United Arab Emirates.
Ms. QUINN said the voices of women and girls seeking employment must be included in developing effective policies, programmes and projects to overcome social exclusion. While progress has been made on Sustainable Development Goal 8, accelerated action is needed. In particular, rural women, indigenous women and girls, older women and women often face numerous barriers to obtaining employment and decent work. In addition, single women with children frequently have to juggle domestic duties with childcare and formal work. The importance of achieving Goal 8 has been highlighted globally throughout the pandemic. According to ILO, nearly half the global workforce had been at risk of losing their livelihoods — a disproportionate number being women. Productive employment and decent work are key elements to eradicating poverty and ensuring that everyone contributes to and can benefit from an interdependent world. So, too, are humane working conditions, equitable access to employment regardless of background, wages sufficient to meet basic needs and basic social protection, she said, voicing hope that the discussion will spotlight cross-cutting policy approaches to promote decent work and employment.
Mr. AÑOVER noted that, in 2020, during the pandemic lockdowns, the rate of unemployment in the Philippines soared to 17.7 per cent, working hours were cut, and the number of people working part-time increased. A total of 428,701 workers were displaced nationwide, while another 4.5 million workers experienced disruptions. The Government quickly implemented a $3.66 billion economic stimulus package with stimulus measures and financial assistance programmes, including cash assistance to low-income households, tax incentives, access to credit, training programmes and a loan programme for micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises. The COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program granted a one-time financial assistance package to workers in the formal sector, with a community-based safety-net programme providing temporary wage employment to informal, self-employed and displaced marginalized workers. Overseas Filipino workers were likewise extended with adjustment measures and emergency repatriation. The Government further launched an interagency task force engaging all sectors of society, with policies and strategies aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals, including, among others, the retooling and upskilling of workers, full implementation of youth employability programmes, social protection for vulnerable groups and priority policies. He further noted the creation of over 900,000 jobs, training for more than 1.3 million workers, and employment facilitation services to over 200,000 Filipinos. Skills upgrading was a key strategy, especially in the green, digital and care economy, he emphasized. The Government continues to implement and uphold existing policies that promote equal opportunities for marginalized groups, such as women, persons with disabilities and indigenous people, and launched a development blueprint for socioeconomic transformation 2023-2028. These policies support deep and fundamental transformations in all sectors — social, economic, institutional and environmental — and aim to reinvigorate job creation and accelerate poverty reduction.
Mr. SOTOMAYOR highlighted Argentina’s involvement with IMF without a policy that would benefit the country to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, the Government decided to take measures to ensure that no one was left behind. In labour and social-security policies, Argentina addressed workers on one single issue that was particularly important: ensuring a prohibition of suspensions for 60 days. Moreover, the Government increased employment benefits, introduced a programme of emergency labour assistance and reduced the employer contributions to the Argentinian social security system by 95 per cent. The Government has also broadened the programme for companies with more than 100 employees. He highlighted ad hoc measures that have been benefiting the private sector, including permits for remote working for the private and public sectors, and credit for small and medium-sized enterprises. Other measures undertaken by the Government include stimulus checks for security and defence workers, health workers and health-care workers, as well as extraordinary payment to beneficiary of child welfare and pregnant women. The Government also strengthened food aid packages for school and community kitchens. Turning to the issue of local development, he recalled that, in 2021, the Government continued working on formal employment through agreements with business chambers of commerce. It also established ongoing child welfare payments and social welfare payments for rural workers, he noted.
Ms. AL-THANI, highlighting the policies and measures undertaken by the Government of Qatar to address the impacts of the pandemic, said that to address the gender gap, it has worked to support the multifaceted role of women, establishing progressive work-from-home systems in both the public and private sector. Additionally, the Government granted financial incentives to women who have an active role in both voluntary and entrepreneurial sectors to sustain their income, she said, adding that it invested $20 billion in the private sector. Food and medical supplies were exempted from customs duties for six months, while certain economic entities were exempted from electricity and water fees for several months. Those incentives helped ease the complications caused by the pandemic. The Government also established partnerships to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. In that regard, she noted that it adheres to international conventions concerning the advancement of the status of women. Qatar’s National Vision 2030 is paying special attention to empowering women and enhancing their skills and abilities to ensure women’s rights to work and enable them to participate both economically and politically. The percentage of economically productive women in Qatar has reached 75 per cent and is expected to rise as a result of resources and progressive policies. Qatar is one of the most prominent international donors in support of international development, she said, noting that, according to United Nations statistics, in 2020, about 58 countries benefited from Qatari economic aid valued at $577 million, of which a significant amount is dedicated to aid African nations.
Ms. QADEER, citing the success story of ImInclusive in the United Arab Emirates, described her brother, Ahmed, as a talented person with a disability — or as the Government describes them, “people of determination”. Thus, she launched ImInclusive in 2019, which was selected by the Abu Dhabi Government from 523 worldwide applications to receive support and funding to create the community hub and online job platform for employment equity. Stressing that it is critical to involve young people when tackling inclusion, she recalled how, in the early days, some volunteer organization members were determined to get the world to pay attention to the topic. Young people began to be hired by large companies from a single desk in Abu Dhabi, while persons with disabilities were partnered with university students to practise their interview skills in order to be job ready. The success of ImInclusive has impacted the entire region, she noted, with a web application for inclusive hiring and placement models for recruiters. It is now a Government-certified vehicle. In 2022, 40,000 lives were impacted by ImInclusive — including that of her brother Ahmed. ImInclusive has mobilized youth, employers and applicants from all backgrounds to celebrate inclusion “and unlearn exclusion”, she said. In October 2022, it received the country’s first social enterprise license — which previously did not exist — and is offering to create models in other countries to promote inclusion through skill-based approaches in interviews, unlearning unconscious biases, hiring and promoting at all levels and adapting accessibility as a mandate.
Youth delegates of Morocco delivered a joint statement, underscoring that the current generation has been affected by challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, conflicts and climate change, which have directly affected access to education, employment for the youth. In order to remedy the physical and mental health issues, access to health care and social protection should be ensured, they asserted. Moreover, education should be more fluid, with access to digitalization. Highlighting the curial role played by the non-governmental organizations and the private sector, they advocated for economic empowerment of women who face gender discrimination, marginalization and violence.
The representative of Guinea detailed urgent measures undertaken by her Government after the outbreak of the pandemic, including closing the airport, declaring a state of emergency, establishing a curfew across the country, prohibiting gatherings of more than 20 people and closing public places. During the pandemic, the country was exposed to shocks that led to a significant increase in the level of violence against women and children. In response to the pandemic, she stressed the need to maintain financial and social investments for children, women and girls. The Guinean Government is committed on the social front, fighting unemployment and underemployment, particularly among vulnerable groups, she said
A representative of the non-governmental organization Charity of the Good Shepherd asked the panellists about plans currently being elaborated that consolidate programmes which aim to prevent people from falling into further poverty, hunger and starvation.
The representative of Malaysia drew attention to his country’s efforts to address the impact of COVID-19, overcoming inequalities, providing equitable and holistic social protection, and strengthening social safety nets for all citizens. Improving access to essential services such as health, education and training, the Government implemented social protection measures that have been expanded beyond financial aid. He then asked the panellists about measures to effectively combatting inequalities in the labour market.
Mr. AÑOVER, responding to a question about how efforts are being consolidated, said pandemic recovery requires a change of mindset and a whole-of-Government effort. In so doing, his Government was able to re-examine its policies and draft a national development plan where all service delivery by Government institutions is aligned and strengthen each other. His Government is now in the process of completing its labour and development plan in consultation with the private sector so that all stakeholders are included in the process. Regarding balancing the needs of groups in vulnerable situations, he said the Government must be able to deliver services when required. To do so, it must understand the labour market, know where vulnerable groups are present and synergize programmes to address their needs.
Mr. SOTOMAYOR said Argentina has great disability programmes. However, workplace inclusion for persons with disabilities must be further strengthened. It does have a major programme for subsidies and payments to persons with disabilities, which covers those most in need, to ensure that they can access decent work, as well as other mechanisms implemented by the private sector or the Government. He emphasized the need to strengthen policies for older persons in all countries, highlighting that social justice should be guaranteed to all by the State.
Ms. AL-THANI said that, in Qatar, 70 per cent of females are currently occupied in higher education and 64 per cent are enrolled in international universities based in Qatar. The law mandates that the Government and private sector employ at least 3 per cent of people with disabilities. Regarding balancing the needs of vulnerable groups, she said Qatar has centres focused on caring for people with disabilities and protecting women and children. Regarding inclusion, she said the World Cup championed inclusion for persons with disabilities, applying technology to facilitate their participation.
Ms. QADEER said the international community must adapt an evolutionary mindset and reflect on how to utilize the opportunities that arose post-pandemic. “It took a pandemic for the world to realize that hybrid work models are possible and perhaps more productive,” she pointed out. The traditional models of employment will have to change and hybrid work models will need to be incorporated more and more. They help not only people with disabilities but also working women or mothers, she added.
Ms. QUINN, spotlighting Mr. Añover’s description of how the Philippines coped during the pandemic, underlined the efforts to protect the vulnerable and reduce the gender gap. Addressing Mr. Sotomayor, she commented on the Argentinean labour and social-security policies, measures to assist workers including extension of employment benefits, the payment to health-care personnel, and an impressive youth programme. Turning to Ms. Al-Thani, she cited Ms. Qadeer’s lived experience, along with the important concept of unlearning exclusion and bias. Noting the online hub for disability inclusion, she said those efforts to nurture the power of youth align with the Commission’s intention to look for action this time around.