Sixty-second Session,
8th & 9th Meetings (AM & PM)

Speakers Stress Social, Economic Pillars Are Inseparable Aspects of Development, as Commission Concludes First Week of Sixty-Second Session

The social and the economic are inseparable aspects of development, the Commission for Social Development heard today from both senior United Nations officials as well as civil society representatives, as it continued its sixty-second session.

The Commission advises the Economic and Social Council and Governments on the social perspective of development.  It is the key United Nations body in charge of the follow-up and implementation of the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development and Programme of Action.  This year’s theme is “Fostering social development and social justice through social policies to accelerate progress on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to achieve the overarching goal of poverty eradication”.

In its first event of the day, the Commission heard from senior officials of various regional commissions, who addressed “How to improve mainstreaming of social considerations in development frameworks?”  Saurabh Sinha, Chief of Social Policy Section — Gender, Poverty and Social Policy Division of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), underscored the key role of money in achieving social development.  The debt distress in the continent is hampering progress on social indicators, he said, noting that countries are using their meagre resources to service debt instead of supporting productive economic activities or addressing socioeconomic needs. 

Tatiana Molcean, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), highlighted the mega-trend of population ageing, noting that Europe and North America have the highest populations of older persons.  It will take enormous political commitment to mainstream ageing into policies, she said, while Mehrinaz El Awady, Director — Cluster Leader, Gender Justice, Population and Inclusive Development of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), said her region has been reeling from crisis to crisis, from conflict to natural disasters.  Illustrating the limitations of creating policy without implementation strategies, she pointed to a country that provided subsidized fuel cards — men benefited from the subsidies while women were left to pay for unsubsidized public transportation.

In the afternoon, the Commission held a multi-stakeholder forum on the theme of “Good practices and innovative solutions in promoting social development and social justice”.  The conversation ranged from the economic and social benefits of cooperatives to the critical need to regulate the informal economy.

Ifeyinwa Ofong, National Coordinator of Women in Development and Environment (WorldWIDE Network Nigeria), drew attention to the persistent global issue of homelessness, which intersects with almost all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) even though none of them refer to it explicitly. African women who experience homelessness are deprived of their right to inheritance, land, and habitat due to customary laws and norms.  Insecurity and conflict are major drivers of homelessness, she said, underscoring that most sustainable solution is to prevent homelessness from happening in the first place.

Danilo Türk, President of Club de Madrid, the world's largest forum of democratic former presidents and prime ministers, called for a realignment of the discussion on human rights.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls for a social and international order in which those rights can be realized, he said, calling on the international community to abandon punitive and acrimonious approaches and think creatively about how to bring about such an order.

Interactive Dialogue

In the morning, the Commission held an interactive dialogue on “How to improve mainstreaming of social considerations in development frameworks”, moderated by Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General, Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  Panellists included:  Gilbert Houngbo, Director-General, International Labour Organization (ILO); Tatiana Molcean, Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) (joining via virtual connection); Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); Mehrinaz El Awady, Director — Cluster Leader, Gender Justice, Population and Inclusive Development, Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA); Saurabh Sinha, Chief of Social Policy Section — Gender, Poverty and Social Policy Division, Economic Commission for Africa (ECA); and Rodrigo Martinez, Senior Social Affairs Officer, Social Development Division, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

Mr. HOUNGBO underscored the need for a substantial increase in investment in people’s capabilities, employment opportunities, and basic labour and social protections.  “We face the prospect of less rather than more social participation in the process and outcomes of development if we do not adjust our model of economic growth and development,” he observed.  With respect to artificial intelligence, he pointed out that 10 to 20 per cent of total employment is exposed to either automation or significant augmentation, with women about two times more at risk than men. This represents a lot of additional potential churn in job markets.  Turning to climate change, he said that the climate transition could be a significant net job creator.  However, it will also create a great deal of additional dislocation and redeployment of people in the labour market — an estimated 6 million jobs lost and 24 million new ones created worldwide with the right policies. 

He further stressed that while unemployment is 5 per cent worldwide, the world is already suffering from extensive “underemployment” — in the sense of people wanting to work but unable to find enough of it or not at all.  This broader “jobs gap” rate is over 11 per cent, or 435 million people, with women and young people being more severely affected.  In addition, over half of the world’s population lacks access to even one of the seven basic areas of social protection other than health care.  “If we continue to underemphasize these social justice deficits in our growth and development model — in development frameworks — we do so at our peril,” he cautioned, calling for investment in the social dimensions of development.

Ms. MOLCEAN, noting that population ageing is one of the “mega-trends” of the current time, said countries in her region are feeling the impact of this demographic shift.  Europe and North America have the highest populations of older persons, she said, adding that at the age of 65, most people in the region can expect to live for another 20 years.  While longevity is a mark of health, as the proportion of older persons grows, pension systems are challenged, and long-term care plans must be established. Calling for investments in lifelong learning, she said “we need to turn the challenges into opportunities”.  The 2002 Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing remains a key international policy framework on this matter, she said, adding that the transformative impact of population ageing calls for a whole-of-society approach.  Stressing the importance of political commitment in mainstreaming ageing into policies, she said it is especially vital to address data gaps on older persons.

Ms. ALISJAHBANA noted “uneven progress” in the Asia-Pacific region since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Despite initial advancements in reducing poverty and undernourishment and in providing quality education, the region is achieving only 17 per cent of measurable targets.  Warning against widening inequality within and across countries, she pointed to the increasing number of people living in extreme poverty and with severe food insecurity.  The region also has seen setbacks in gender equality and women’s empowerment, magnified by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.  And it faces the challenge of climate change, environmental degradation and public health crises.  Calling for comprehensive approaches and interconnected solutions that integrate economic policies, social investments as well as environmental sustainability, she noted that prevailing inequalities in access to basic opportunities such as energy, food and digital connectivity are often overlooked. Additionally, she urged Governments in the region to prioritize inclusive development strategies, directing their focus towards social protection programs, accessible health care and gender equality. 

Highlighting some positive trends in Asia and the Pacific resulting from the recent pandemic, she noted the establishment of contributory schemes related to unemployment benefits in Indonesia and Maldives. Governments are also working to expand the coverage of contributory schemes to previously ineligible populations, including informal workers.  As well, the digitalization of social protection information systems and payment systems has seen some progress, enhancing payment efficiency and effectiveness. For example, in Bangladesh, digital payments linked to early flood warning systems improved food security and reduced the likelihood of households falling into debt.  The region has further seen some important achievements in terms of regional collaboration, she said, spotlighting the ESCAP Action Plan to Strengthen Regional Cooperation on Social Protection in Asia and the Pacific (2020), which serves as a shared vision and platform for promoting partnership and peer learning to advance more inclusive social protection systems.

Ms. AWADY, underscoring the importance of understanding the unique needs of the Arab region, said that while it witnessed some progress in health and education access, it still has 144 million people still living in poverty.  The region is at risk of climate crises, conflict, economic crises and institutional crises; it has been reeling from crisis to crisis, from COVID-19 to the earthquake in Morocco to the war in Gaza.  While countries are at varying levels of risk to “polycrisis”, those in conflict are most at risk because conflicts have hampered efforts to improve development and keeps institutions fragile.  As a result, social policy alone is not enough, she stressed, calling for budgetary and financial strategies that can ensure the implementation of policies. She also highlighted the example of a country that provided subsidized fuel cards — this resulted in men benefiting from the subsidies and women left behind paying public transportation unsubsidized.  The region needs a new policy architecture that invests in social protection and ensures inclusive decision-making, she said.

Mr. SINHA, stressing that it is impossible to distinguish the social from the economic, identified money, jobs, technology, skills and social protection as the key elements needed.  It is impossible to mobilize financing for development without addressing the debt distress, he said.  Citing special drawing rights (SDRs) as an “effective way to provide much-needed additional resources”, he said that their increased allocation can strengthen reserves positions, build confidence among producers and investors, and revitalize economic growth.  African countries received $33 billion to tackle the pandemic.  According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), they can get up to $500 billion, which can have a huge impact on maintaining social sector spending and managing their economies.  This would help African countries take the necessary steps to get back on track to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).  Further, the Debt Service Suspension Initiative helped countries concentrate their resources on fighting the pandemic and safeguarding the lives of millions of vulnerable people.

In 2022, Africa’s public debt amounted to 66 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), he observed, noting that, with eight African countries in debt distress and 13 under a high risk of debt distress, “this is a policy challenge”.  “Whereas the increase in African debt stock over time is not necessarily a problem per se, the high cost of servicing that debt is,” he said, adding that several countries are using their meagre resources to service debt instead of supporting productive economic activities or addressing socioeconomic needs.  Further — as the most vulnerable continent to climate change which has contributed the least to the phenomenon — Africa faces exponential collateral damage, posing systemic risks to its economies, infrastructure investments, water and food systems, public health and agriculture, threatening to undo its modest development gains and slip into higher levels of extreme poverty.  Africa will need investments of over $3 trillion in mitigation and adaptation by 2030 to implement its climate commitments set out in countries’ national targets under the 2015 Paris Agreement.  

Mr. MARTINEZ said that in his region, people in the tenth decile have an income that is 20 times higher than the first decile.  The wealth of just 105 people is equal to 9 per cent of total GDP in 2021.  Highlighting the ministerial meeting held recently at ECLAC, he said it analysed the problems of school dropout rates and the financial challenges of moving to an inclusive educational system.  Also highlighting a seminar on the workforce, he said such events foster greater exchange of knowledge.  Climate change, disaster management, migration and ageing are critical nubs of social development.  Social protection systems need to be universal, comprehensive and resilient, he said, adding that it is vital to make workforces more inclusive.  Strengthening institutions is critical, he said, also highlighting the need for regional cooperation, given that many of the region’s challenges transcend borders.

Interactive Dialogue

In the ensuing discussion, delegates as well as the representative of a non-governmental organization (NGO) asked the panellists how best to ensure inter-agency collaboration at the United Nations.  Iran’s representative drew attention to the impact of unilateral coercive measures on her country’s development. 

Responding, Mr. HOUNGBO highlighted the new resident coordinator system as a form of integrating the work of multiple United Nations bodies.  It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel, he said, adding that the SDGs already provide a cross-sectoral framework for development cooperation.  What is essential is for the UN system to dialogue with financial institutions such as the IMF and regional development banks. 

Since Ms. MOLCEAN could not stay, a representative of the Statistical Division of the ECE took her place and provided a brief overview of the collaboration within the United Nations inter-agency network on ageing.  Closer coordination brings together multiple kinds of expertise to policy development, she said. 

Ms. AWADY said that coordinating together is necessary not only within the United Nations but also at the country level.  Her Commission has been working “horizontally as well as vertically” to ensure that the voices of the most marginalized people are heard at United Nations conferences.  She encouraged Member States to ensure that their ministries work across sectors so that the resources invested by the international community are used well.

Ms. SINHA pointed to the Global Compact on Migration as an example of inter-agency cooperation.  His Commission works closely with the African Union, he said, and is making efforts to cut out duplication and ensure “tandem movement” between the Union’s Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  He also talked of how the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action fed into the Millennium Development Goals, which then influenced the 2030 Agenda. 

Mr. MARTINEZ said that “collaboration is an unending task”. The cost of hunger and malnutrition will eventually be paid by the GDP, he said, adding that the cost of not doing social policy is greater than the suffering of the people who are impacted.  Decisions should not be made only on the basis of economic growth, he stressed.

Multi-Stakeholder Forum

In the afternoon, the Commission held an multi-stakeholder forum on “Good practices and innovative solutions in promoting social development and social justice”, moderated by Jean Quinn, Chair, NGO Committee on Social Development.  Panellists included:  Danilo Türk, President, Club de Madrid; Doug O’Brien, President and Chief Executive Officer, National Cooperative Business Council CLUSA International; Ifeyinwa Ofong, National Coordinator of Women in Development and Environment (WorldWIDE Network Nigeria); Cathy Feingold, Deputy President, International Trade Union Confederation; and Shea Gopaul, Special Representative to the United Nations for the International Organization of Employers.

Ms. FEINGOLD called on Governments to move urgently towards “a new social contract, based on rights, equality and decent work.  Stressing the importance of quality, climate-friendly jobs, she said Governments and employers must ensure compliance with fundamental labour rights.  “We need minimum living wages as part of the new social contract,” she said, also calling for universal, rights-based and gender-responsive social protection systems.  Governments must close regulatory gaps in the informal economy, she said, noting that high informality is a major source of inequality.  Drawing attention to the work of trade unions in different parts of the world, she said that in Peru, they are running information campaigns for workers from Venezuela, because domestic and agricultural workers are often left out of relevant national laws.  Similarly, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, or AFL-CIO, in the United States has been conducting trainings to help protect migrant workers.  Workers should be at the table in all decisions concerning them, she stressed.

Mr. TÜRK, describing his organization as the world's largest forum of democratic former presidents and prime ministers, said it is advocating for the reinvigoration of the social development agenda.  The 1995 World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen was crucial in setting this agenda, he said.  The United Nations has plenty of experience with human rights discussions, “but are these discussions adequate?” he asked.  The international community must focus on cooperation rather than punitive approaches to human rights, he said, holding up the Brazilian Bolsa Familia policy as a positive example.  That programme helps families invest in children’s education — this kind of practical experience must be taken into account when considering what truly helps the implementation of human rights in full.  Also noting that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls for a social and international order in which those rights can be realized, he said the international community must abandon the acrimonious discourse on human rights and think creatively about how to bring about such an order. 

Mr. O’BRIEN focused on how cooperatives — autonomous associations of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise — are a best practice for promoting social development and social justice.  Today, at least 12 per cent of humanity are members of the 3 million cooperatives worldwide.  On the empowerment of women and climate change, he said women have long used cooperatives to gain more power in their local communities and businesses.  For example, in Guatemala, NCBA CLUSA — together with local partners — supported the establishment of a women-led recycling cooperative that is instrumental in keeping clean one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.  For cooperatives to be able to advance the Social Development Goals, they require an enabling policy environment — legal and regulatory frameworks. 

With funding from the United States Agency for International Development’s Cooperative Development Program, NCBA CLUSA has worked to improve the enabling policy environment with stakeholders and Governments from around the world, including Guatemala, Peru, Kenya, United Republic of Tanzania, and Madagascar.  To assess the cooperative law in each of these countries, it used a tool designed as part of the Cooperative Law and Regulation (CLARITY) Initiative.  Cooperatives advance social development and can help create more socially inclusive communities.  However, while many cooperatives across the world use the SDGs to inspire action and show results, more can be done, he said, noting that the UN proclaimed 2025 as the International Year of Cooperatives.

Ms. OFONG, noting that homelessness is a global issue present in every country, said that there could be about 216 million homeless people and about 1.6 billion people living in unsafe and inadequate housing. Despite not being explicitly mentioned in the SGDs, homelessness intersects fundamentally with almost all the Goals.  Citing homelessness as a violation of human rights and an indicator of extreme poverty and social exclusion, she voiced concern over the lack of agreed or universal definition of the condition.  She focused her presentation on African women who experience homelessness, noting that they suffer social exclusion and are denied the right to inheritance, land, and habitat due to customary laws and norms.  Though the Maputo Protocol has brought some achievements to the African human rights agenda, the situation on the ground demands urgent action, she asserted.

She further underscored the critical importance of the right to land, housing and property as well as economic and social well-being to women’s struggle for gender empowerment and equality. The proportion of women living in unsafe and inadequate housing without security of tenure is high.  According to the World Bank, less than 13 per cent of women in Africa reported sole ownership of land or housing, compared with over 39 per cent of men.  Another major factor driving homelessness in the continent is insecurity and conflict, she observed, noting that 44 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are displaced from their homes.  An example of this is the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, with 6 million and 4 million people forcibly displaced, respectively. In the north-east region of Nigeria, violent attacks by Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa have resulted in the displacement of 2.5 million Nigerians.  Outlining solutions, she called for inclusive social policies, and stressed that the best, most sustainable solution is to prevent homelessness from happening in the first place.

Ms. GOPAUL outlined best practices in attaining social justice, focusing on increasing decent work and economic growth.  To achieve social justice, it is crucial to create an enabling environment for sustainable enterprises, skills strategies and productive employment.  Informal work — which is on the rise in many developing countries — must be addressed. The private sector comprises not only multinational organizations, but also small and medium-sized enterprises led by women and youth start-ups, she pointed out, adding that 90 per cent of all businesses are small and medium-sized enterprises.  On decent work, she said 90 per cent of jobs are created by the private sector and stressed the importance of good governance, the rule of law and taxation.  To ensure a just transition for all, the skilling and reskilling of workers is essential. Productivity can increase thanks to artificial intelligence, she said, noting that it will not take away people’s jobs.  She also highlighted the critical importance of internships and traineeships for reskilling of young people.

When the floor opened for questions and comments, the representative of the Institute for Planetary Synthesis asked how grassroot initiatives can best present their work in a way that Member States can build on it.  

Responding, Mr. O’BRIEN underscored the importance of having good data. However, “data is not enough”, he stressed, adding that policymakers need to hear stories of people on the ground.

Ms. FEINGOLD stressed that each Government needs to come up with a national process to get real input from unions, civil society organizations and employers.  “We have a real opportunity to reinvigorate the UN,” she added.

Ms. GOPAUL said “the real action is not necessarily in New York”, underlining the need to go to cities and villages.  Innovation and technology are tools to achieving the SDGs, she said, noting:  “We could get back on track if we only sometimes looked at the solutions that we have”.

Making a final statement, Mr. TURK said that the preparation for the World Summit for Social Development in 2025 presents an opportunity to tell stories about innovative solutions.  However, this intergovernmental meeting will not be limited to diplomatic negotiations.  It, instead, will provide an opportunity to take the questions of social development to a much higher level.

Ms. OFONG said that, in many communities, widowed women without male children have become homeless because their land, housing and property have been taken over by their dead husband’s families.  “When women do not have the right to land, they are on the street,” she cautioned, adding that women’s right to land must be enforced. However, to eradicate poverty, gender inequality must be tackled, she said, noting that women’s empowerment is the answer to the issue of poverty and homelessness.

Mr. O’BRIEN said that, as far as an innovative solution, cooperatives have “an absolute role”.  Underlining the need to find such solutions to the challenges concerning democratic institutions, the environment and gender equality, he said that the voice of local communities worldwide must be echoed in these discussions.

Mr. FEINGOLD noted that the decent work agenda and social justice are at the heart of all processes.  Spotlighting the power of multilateralism, she stressed the need to develop a template and concrete tools for Member States to use.

Ms. GOPAUL cited data, technology, the use of innovative ideas and artificial intelligence as key opportunities.  “To eradicate poverty, we need jobs,” she noted, calling for inclusive multilateralism.

For information media. Not an official record.