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Speakers Highlight Government Action, Challenges to Promote Gender Equality in 6 Countries, as Commission on Status of Women Continues Session

The Commission on the Status of Women today considered a range of Government efforts to promote gender equality, outlined in six national voluntary presentations spanning four continents, as it concluded the first week of its sixty-first annual session.

Despite citing a host of successful initiatives — from expanded access to women’s health care to quotas for female parliamentarians — ministers and other senior officials from Malta, Mongolia, Morocco, the Dominican Republic, Bulgaria and Indonesia nevertheless described a number of deeply-entrenched forms of discrimination against women and girls.  Many stressed the need for broad awareness-raising campaigns to combat such long-held attitudes, as well as robust political will and gender-responsive budgeting at all levels of Government.

One long-standing challenge spotlighted by many of today’s presenters was that of gender-based violence.  Mongolia’s representative, a Member of Parliament and social policy expert, said that while her country’s revamped Law on Domestic Violence had taken effect last month, a number of obstacles related to compliance remained.  Indeed, due to long-held social norms, the law’s criminalization of domestic violence had been seen as controversial by some segments of the population, she said.

Presenters from all six countries also relayed challenges relating to decent work, equal pay and fair treatment for women in the workplace.  Efforts to address such challenges included improved labour laws, support to female entrepreneurs and incentives for mothers to return to the formal labour market, as described by Malta’s Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties.

Three presenters from Morocco — including the country’s Minister of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development and two female civil society leaders — also shared their perspectives on that issue, with the former stressing that 53 per cent of women were unemployed due largely to “social pressures” that existed both in Morocco and worldwide.  “Revenue cannot only be generated by men,” she stressed, joining other speakers in emphasizing the significant economic potential offered by increasing women’s empowerment. 

In addition, the Commission held an interactive expert panel discussion on the global “care economy”, focusing on women’s disproportionate burden of unpaid care work as well as related challenges and opportunities.

The Commission will meet again on Monday, 20 March, at 10 a.m. to hold an interactive expert panel on enhancing the use of data and gender statistics in sustainable development.

National Voluntary Presentations

This morning, the Commission heard national voluntary presentations from six countries on the theme “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls”.

HELENA DALLI, Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties of Malta, delivered her country’s voluntary presentation, stressing that Malta was committed to a feminist agenda to ensure the achievement of gender equality “during our lifetime”.  An equality act and a human rights and equality commission act were currently progressing through the country’s legislature, while laws on domestic violence and gender-based violence in compliance with the Istanbul Convention were also in place.  Malta had created a free childcare scheme aimed at providing an incentive for mothers to return to, or remain in, the formal labour market, and a maternity leave trust fund — financed through a minimum contribution by private companies — had begun operation in 2015. 

Noting that Malta’s female employment rate had jumped from 44 per cent in 2012 to 53.6 per cent in 2015 thanks to flexible working arrangements and free childcare, she also described national efforts to promote the participation of women and girls in science, prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, and eradicate violence against women and girls.  In that regard, a bill aimed at widening the remit of the Commission on Domestic Violence to cover all gender-based violence was currently progressing through Parliament. 

The representative of Australia, as the first respondent to that presentation, said Millennium Development Goal 3 had galvanized international attention to gender inequality and provided a transformative framework at the centre of inclusive strategies for sustainable peace and prosperity.  The Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment, went a step further, she said, recalling that Australia had been a strong supporter of that target. 

The representative of Canada, welcoming positive steps taken by Malta to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, asked if the country had considered implementing gender-based training in science- and math-related subjects, and whether it had any specific initiatives focused on providing support to victims of gender-based violence. 

Ms. DALLI, responding to those questions, said Malta was working through its Ministry of Education to promote the involvement of more girls in science, technology, engineering and math — or “STEM” — subjects, focusing especially on younger girls.  With regard to victim support services, the Government was working to coordinate among all relevant agencies, including those related to health, judicial and social policy, to help them work in tandem.

UNDRAA AGVAANLUVSAN, Member of Parliament and Member of the Standing Committee on Social Policy of the State of Ikh Hural of Mongolia, said the country had successfully met a number of the Millennium Development Goal targets to reduce child and maternal mortality, develop information and communications technology (ICT) and build an information society.  In addition, significant headway had been made in promoting gender equality and increasing women’s participation in decision-making.  Mongolia had improved its Law on Domestic Violence, which had previously suffered from lack of enforcement as well as inappropriate and incomplete legal specification, and had put in place steps aimed at combating trafficking in persons.  Ensuring gender equality — in particular through the prohibition of gender-based workplace discrimination — was clearly stipulated in the country’s draft labour law.

She went on to describe a number of efforts to implement girls’ rights to free education and to provide courses on sexual and reproductive health, gender equality, gender justice, gender rights and roles, as well as to strengthen the overall environment for gender equality and the empowerment of women across Mongolia.  A 2016 election law had legalized a quota requiring 20 per cent of parliamentary candidates to be female.  Major political parties had also introduced a quota of 20-50 per cent of governing bodies to be female.  In addition, in line with its National Programme for Ensuring Gender Equality, the Government was increasing its investments in enhancing women’s employment, promoting their social, economic and political empowerment, including the creation of a small and medium enterprises support fund.

The representative of Switzerland, responding to that presentation, described her country’s bilateral cooperation with Mongolia and underscored the central role of gender equality in those efforts.  In that context, she asked for more information about Mongolia’s recently revised law to combat gender-based violence, including the major challenges being faced in that area, as well as about the country’s specific efforts to expand women’s political participation.

The representative of Japan asked Ms. Agvaanluvsan to outline lessons learned and difficulties encountered in implementing Mongolia’s national gender equality programmes and the related mid-term strategy.

Ms. AGVAANLUVSAN, responding to the delegate from Switzerland, said her country’s domestic violence law had come into effect in February.  It had been somewhat controversial due to its criminalization of domestic violence, she said, describing long-entrenched social attitudes and noting that enforcement by police officers was a challenge.  With regard to increasing women’s political participation, quotas had been crucial, and the National Commission on Gender Equality continued to address the issue.  Responding to the delegate from Japan, she cited implementation challenges including a lack of political will and limited resources.

BASSIMA HAKKAOUI, Minister of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development of Morocco, then delivered her country’s voluntary presentation, noting that women in Morocco currently enjoyed all of their inalienable rights.  In 2016, the country had passed a wide-ranging law aimed at mobilizing funds to meet the needs of women, children and families.  “This is the door through which we enter to ensure that all social groups enjoy their rights” as enshrined in the Moroccan Constitution, she said, describing particular Government initiatives aimed at supporting widows and helping all children — including those with disabilities — to enrol in school.  Describing the multisectoral Government plan for gender equality, she said laws to combat violence against women and protect working women had also recently been passed.

However, she said, a number of challenges existed.  Some 53 per cent of women were unemployed due largely to “social pressures” that existed both in Morocco and worldwide.  Only about 16 per cent of decision-making positions were held by women.  “Revenue cannot only be generated by men,” she stressed, emphasizing the significant economic potential offered by increasing women’s empowerment.  Morocco was focused on achieving gender equality goals on a local level, and it was actively working to improve disaggregated data collection in that regard.

FATHIA BENNIS, President of Women’s Tribune, Morocco, provided the perspective of a civil society representative and a female business owner.  Women’s empowerment began with the education of girls, she said, describing strides made in reducing Morocco’s gender wage gap and promoting their place in business sector decision-making.

ASMAA MORINE, President of the AFEM women’s association, Morocco, then described major gains in promoting women’s entrepreneurship in the country.  “We need to support these women,” she said, stressing it was the Government’s responsibility to raise awareness and empower women to “take power for themselves”. 

The representative of Belgium, responding to that presentation, underscored the cross-cutting nature of gender in his country’s development cooperation with Morocco.  He then asked Ms. Hakkaoui to describe specific measures aimed at combating violence against women, as well as specific initiatives to end early and forced marriage.

Ms. HAKKAOUI responded that Morocco had put in place a finance law mainstreaming the gender dimension into all the Government’s specialized budgets.  A law defining and criminalizing all forms of violence against women, and outlining support to victims, had also been adopted, and amendments to the national Criminal Code were aimed at eradicating early and forced marriage. 

IVAN RODRIGUEZ, Vice-Minister for Economy, Planning and Development of the Dominican Republic, said that in terms of social indicators, his country had received good grades in reducing poverty and redistributing wealth.  However, the task of achieving gender parity remained substantial.  Reducing maternal and child mortality was a critical priority for the Government.  In 2012, it adopted a national development strategy that promoted equal opportunity for men and women.  All public sectors were involved in ensuring inclusive participation in the plan, which comprised 57 specific goals and 461 courses of action.

JANET CAMILO, Minister for Women, noted that the national development strategy spearheaded efforts to mainstream gender inclusion across the Government.  Interinstitutional coordination among the Ministries of Women; Finance; Public Information; and Economy, Planning and Development, was critical, she said, reiterating the need for more cohesion among all 22 Government ministries, each of which had a gender office.  Another important achievement was securing financing for gender equality initiatives through specific programmes and within ministry budgets.  A guideline document with a gender perspective was enacted to help manage the national budget.  Women’s organizations alone would not be able to achieve gender equality, she said, stressing the need to invest in rural women and provide them with economic opportunity.

The representative of Germany asked, given that the Dominican Republic’s national development strategy encompassed 57 goals, whether the Government had specified any areas of focus that were instrumental for achieving stability and development.

The representative of the Republic of Korea commended the Dominican Republic’s efforts to mainstream gender perspective through its development work and to implement gender goals and targets.  She also outlined several ways her country was doing the same.

Responding to the representative of Germany’s inquiry, Ms. CAMILO said the Dominican Republic had two pending laws awaiting approval from Congress aimed at promoting Dominican women to positions of power, both in the Government and the private sector.  It was essential to work with businesses to promote more women to decision-making positions in the private sector.  Another prerequisite was fighting violence against women.  Achieving development would be extremely difficult so long as women remained victims.  The Government was also working to prevent teenage pregnancies and early marriage, which must be addressed to achieve gender equality and move forward. 

GEORGI PANAYOTOV (Bulgaria) said special laws against discrimination, including on domestic violence, had been adopted and were critical in promoting women’s entrepreneurship.  In 2016, a law on equality between men and women established equality as a State policy in Bulgaria.  The national policy to end gender-based discrimination was supervised by a national council set up in 2004.  The national mechanism on human rights had a gender equality dimension and comprised high-level officials.  Special policies had also been enacted recently to ensure equal participation for men and women in the workforce, equal pay for equal work, and the promotion of the role of the father in family life.  In the last 25 years, the number of female members of Parliament had doubled.  The Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was a Bulgarian woman.  Bulgaria ranked second in the European Union’s ranking of women in high-level positions in the private sector, he said, emphasizing the very active role of civil society in promoting gender equality.

GENOVEVA TISHEVA, Managing Director of the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation, noted the important collaboration among the Government and non-governmental organizations in enacting anti-discrimination laws.  She also commended the work of a human rights training institute for providing a four-year course and in educating more than 100 lawyers from 25 countries during the last seven years, many of whom were women.  Those women then returned to their countries and helped their Government make life better for other women, she stressed.  It was important to educate lawyers, as well as psychologists and social workers, about women’s and girls’ rights and gender stereotyping.  Every year the Government allocated funds for such initiatives.

The representative of Austria asked for more information about efforts to combat sexist hate speech on social media platforms.  Such hate speech presented severe obstacles to gender equality.  She also asked which measures were most effective to combat gender stereotyping.

The representative of Kazakhstan commended the efforts of Bulgaria in promoting equal participation in the workforce, equal pay for equal work, and fighting gender stereotypes.  He asked about Government funding for civil society organizations.

Answering the latter question, Mr. PANAYOTOV said civil society was independent from the State and did not receive direct funding from it.

Ms. TISHEVA said that sexist hate speech was a big challenge in Bulgaria and existed also in different forms, including body shaming, Internet hate speech, and the over-sexualisation of women and girls in commerce and industry.  She said that new and developing Government provisions would target the incitement of discrimination.

SUBANDI SARDJOKO, Deputy Minister for Human, Society and Cultural Development at the Ministry of National Development Planning of Indonesia, said it was important to improve poverty reduction initiatives that targeted women.  It was also critical to decrease the rate of maternal and child mortality.  Ensuring access to clean water and sanitation was vital, he added, emphasizing that the availability of such basic services immeasurably improved the lives of women and girls.  The percentage of women in non-agricultural sectors had increased slightly.  Several ministries were collaborating to ensure Indonesia achieved the Millennium Development Goals.  Gender mainstreaming policy had boosted the number of women in high-power positions in Government and the private sector.  He highlighted several national initiatives aimed at increasing access of services to migrant workers, particularly women.  However, challenges persisted, including limited resources and the economic opportunity gap between rural areas and cities.

The representative of Morocco asked about quotas to empower women and sought more information on follow-up mechanisms. 

The representative of Colombia asked the Deputy Minister of Indonesia to share the obstacles that nation faced in increasing the number of women in Parliament, adding that he hoped to have a constructive dialogue with Indonesian officials to transform the lives of women.

Mr. SUBANDI said Indonesia was implementing a 2016-2019 national action plan for development as well as a road map to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  All stakeholders, including such representatives as academia and businesses, were involved.  Answering the question about increasing women’s participation in Parliament, he said training was provided for female political candidates.

Panel Discussion

Moderating the Commission’s afternoon panel discussion, titled “Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work”, was Sejla Durbuzovic (Bosnia and Herzegovina).  It featured the following panellists:  Diane Elson, Emeritus Professor, Department of Sociology, Essex University; Patricia Cossani, Adviser to the Director, National Care Secretariat, Ministry of Social Development, Uruguay; Ito Peng, Professor of Sociology and Public Policy and Canada Research Chair in Global Social Policy, University of Toronto; Naomi Wekwete, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Population Studies, University of Zimbabwe; Ida Le Blanc, General Secretary, National Union of Domestic Employees, Trinidad and Tobago; and Emanuela Pozzan, Senior Regional Specialist on Gender Equality, International Labour Organization Regional Office for the Arab States in Beirut.

Ms. ELSON said investing in the care economy had long-term benefits beyond the immediate recipients of care.  The care industry was disproportionately female, while the construction industry was disproportionately male.  Although men were not often directly employed in the care sector, they benefited from investment in that industry.  Employment for both men and women increased with investment in the care industry, she said, noting that there would be a net gain for the economy with higher tax revenue and a decrease in social security spending.  The quality of care mattered as well.  Skills training and reasonable pay in the care industry were vital for gender equality.  Paid care with private for-profit companies produced the worst working conditions because businesses sought to decrease cost and increase output.  Care was highly labour intensive, and thus, the pressure to reduce costs meant employing fewer trained personnel.  Investing in care would shift work from the non-paid to the paid sector and reduce the gender employment gap, she added.

Ms. COSSANI focused on the national care system in Uruguay, describing a law that established a system which ensured “a right to be cared for in the right way”.  Historically, women provided care.  Uruguay promoted sharing that social responsibility, meaning that the family would provide care along with support by the State.  Women usually provided care on a non-paid basis, she said, adding that the Government had enacted the first national care plan with five components.  The care-giving task must be seen as a valuable service, she said, highlighting various training programmes to combat gender stereotyping and change mindsets.  Uruguay’s care services aimed at freeing up women’s time.  Providing childcare was also an important goal for the country.  “We have to include men,” she added, emphasizing the need to make men co-responsible with women.  Awareness-raising had a role to play in communicating the public services available to families. 

Ms. PENG provided an overview of policy and legislative changes made to support working women, particularly working mothers, in Japan and the Republic of Korea.  Both countries had extended and increased child support and childcare, implemented universal care for elderly people, and expanded maternity and parental leave.  Both had provided full parental leave up to one year for both parents and had embedded institutional structures to promote gender equality.  Total Government investment in family services had risen dramatically since 1990.  In both countries, women’s employment had risen since the 1900s.  Although those were laudable achievements, closer examination of women’s status indicated that significant challenges still existed.  The gender wage gap remained high, especially in the Republic of Korea, while a significant portion of women in Japan were working in part-time and contract type work.  Non-standard employment was not only insecure but also linked to low wage.  Women in both Japan and the Republic of Korea, despite the increase in employment and family supportive policies, faced many challenges.  Gender equality could not be achieved by policy alone; institutional and cultural changes were also needed. 

Ms. WEKWETE said women in Africa, particularly Southern Africa, bore the brunt of care work due to local norms, social attitudes, recurring drought and the HIV epidemic.  The gender gap in care work must be tackled in order to address gender inequality successfully, she emphasized, adding that care work referred to caring for children, the sick and the elderly.  It was not valued and “you will not find men involved in such work”, she noted.  They were involved in paid work while women, often elderly ones, made up two thirds of primary care-givers.  Gender inequality in care work consequently affected women’s leisure time and well-being.  Persistent drought required women to travel long distances to find water and firewood, carrying those resources on their heads.  Formally employed women were still expected to do the care work and household chores.  Emphasizing that inequity was due to prevalent gender stereotyping, she said men who helped with child care were often viewed as being under the control of their wives.  “It’s not an easy thing to change our culture,” she said, welcoming the involvement of religious figures, community leaders and men.

Ms. LE BLANC stressed the need to protect and empower female workers, in particular domestic workers, who provided vital care to the world’s aging population.  Care workers were among the world’s most isolated and vulnerable, she said, stressing that domestic workers must be protected by employment legislation, as they were often fired for joining unions, becoming pregnant or taking sick days.  They also often lacked social protection, a major challenge for female empowerment.  Governments and other stakeholders must take action to ensure decent work for all women by implementing relevant international conventions.  After decades of struggle, care workers in Trinidad and Tobago had begun to organize a cooperative.  The idea was to establish a legal instrument that demanded higher pay standards and work conditions.  The Commission on the Status of Women must send a strong message to the Government to promote decent and quality jobs in both the public and private sectors.  Sustaining workers’ cooperatives was essential as they enhanced bargaining power.

Ms. POZZAN outlined a number of key challenges facing both women and men, including balancing work and life, managing the “deficits of care” and instances of abuse, harassment and unfair treatment at work.  With a rapidly ageing population in much of the world and many of today’s young people soon to be of child-bearing age, the demand for care was growing.  “We have to care about care,” she said, noting that about half of countries provided no long-term care solutions for their populations.  In that context, some 13.6 million additional long-term care workers — as well as 10.3 million health workers — were needed worldwide, providing an opportunity to expand the creation of decent jobs.  Pointing to a relationship between Government policy planning and women’s employment, she said the strong commitment of employers was also critical and that care workers were entitled to a full package of rights, equal pay for equal work and social protection.

In the ensuing discussion, many speakers highlighted the urgency of investing in women’s economic independence, which could have a profound impact on the global economy.  Many agreed with the panellists that it was particularly crucial to bridge the wage gaps between traditionally male-dominated fields and traditionally female-dominated ones, such as education and care work.

Similarly, some speakers spotlighted the enormous economic opportunity presented by regularizing care jobs that existed in the informal economy, as well as paying women for the care they had provided — without any remuneration — for generations.

The representative of the non-governmental organization Canadian Labour Congress, in that vein, stressed that the devaluation of care work needed to change urgently.  Noting that an investment of just 2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in that sector would deliver millions of new jobs, she asked the panellists for their views on how to realize that important shift.

The representative of Switzerland said the panellists’ presentations had demonstrated that care sector work could be a significant source of revenue and empowerment for women.  “We’re all — men and women alike — links in the global care industry,” she stressed, outlining a number of Switzerland’s own policies to support female care workers.  She also asked panellists about the specific needs of migrants care workers. 

The representative of Iran, similarly, spotlighted the particular challenges facing rural women, who often spent more time in unpaid reproductive, agricultural and care work.  In Iran, hundreds of women’s rural cooperatives provided such women with a voice, while women across the country had benefitted from a “paradigm shift” brought about by the wide expansion of ICT services.

Ms. LE BLANC, responding to those questions and comments, said migrant workers in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) single market region had the ability to move across borders freely with the appropriate legal paperwork.  However, they sometimes faced bureaucratic and legal hurdles in accessing such paperwork.

Ms. ELSON, highlighting several common themes that had emerged from the discussion, said many speakers had agreed that investing in the care economy was a shared responsibility that could not be left to families or market forces alone.  The discussion had also revealed that the care economy could be a vibrant place for the creation of “good quality jobs that will provide good quality care”, she said, stressing the importance of viewing that potential investment in a positive light instead of as a burden.

Ms. COSSANI echoed that sentiment, calling on stakeholders to take a long-term view of such investments.  While Governments bore the primary responsibility in that regard, all actors must take a more active role.

Ms. PENG, returning to the question of migrant care workers, emphasized the need to examine the role of both the origin and receiving countries.  In the former, it was crucial to address the social, economic and political context — including the lack of opportunities — that led women to emigrate.  Ensuring the safety and dignity of migrant care workers also meant looking closely at the “intermediary businesses”, such as recruiters and brokers, which benefited from the phenomenon.

Ms. POZZAN stressed that both Governments and the private sector must be involved in protecting migrant care workers who often found themselves in vulnerable positions and could be easily exploited.  In addition, while a number of countries had explored the improvement of protective laws and wage standards, migrant care work usually took place in the private sphere and could be difficult to monitor.

Ms. WEKWETE, agreeing that the enforcement of laws protecting care workers was essential, also stressed the importance of educating those workers on their human rights.

Also speaking were representatives of Italy, Philippines and the European Union, as well as speakers from Help Age International and Daughters of Charity.

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Social Development Commission Integral to Helping World’s 786 Million Poor Reach Their Human Potential, Speakers Stress at Opening of Fifty-Fifth Session

The Commission on Sustainable Development — whose past work had been critical to the evolution of many principles underpinning the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — now had a critical role to play in that framework’s implementation, stressed delegates as they opened the Commission’s fifty-fifth annual session today.

Many speakers welcomed the relevance of the session’s theme, “Strategies for eradicating poverty to achieve sustainable development for all”, underscoring the Commission’s enormous potential to guide inclusive policies aimed at leaving no one behind.

“The adoption in 2015 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was a historic step forward in our common approach to tackling the many challenges all societies and countries face,” said Commission Chair Philipp Charwath (Austria), who was elected by acclamation at the meeting’s outset.  While progress had been made in promoting the rights of vulnerable people — including persons with disabilities and the rapidly growing number of older persons around the globe — poverty remained a major threat.  As part of its work, the Commission would help address such issues by supporting the thematic reviews of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, he said.

Peter Thomson (Fiji), President of the General Assembly, said the Commission’s longstanding work to promote people-centred development had helped shape key sustainable development concepts and laid the foundation for the 2030 Agenda.  The body would now help ensure that that “master plan for people, planet and prosperity” was implemented, he said, expressing confidence that the achievement of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals was “firmly within our reach”.

“Today’s generation can be the one that eradicates poverty and turns the tide on inequality, exclusion and environmental degradation,” agreed Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava (Zimbabwe), President of the Economic and Social Council.  Noting that it was increasingly difficult to reach people living in extreme poverty and that progress was often temporary, he emphasized that achieving the 2030 Agenda’s objectives would require a broad set of mutually reinforcing social and economic policies, as well as leveraging the synergies among them.

Delivering a statement on behalf of Secretary-General António Guterres, Lenni Montiel, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, said the Commission was meeting at a time of global contradictions.  While significant progress had been made in eradicating extreme poverty, conflicts were reversing gains in social well-being and the gap between rich and poor was growing.  Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals would require whole-of-society approaches tailored to national contexts, he stressed, adding that diversity must be viewed as an asset rather than a threat.

As the Commission began its general debate, many Government ministers and other high-level officials expressed optimism that the Commission’s unflagging support of inclusive, rights-based development strategies would dovetail with the 2030 Agenda’s implementation and continued reductions in poverty.

Nomtoibayar Nyamtaishir, Mongolia’s Minister for Labour and Social Protection, was among those reporting significant strides made towards achieving sustainable development, as well as positive returns on social investments.  Noting that his country had eradicated poverty while preserving its ecological balance, he described a number of key laws and strategies, including a policy aimed at job generation and several efforts to empower Mongolia’s youth.

Ecuador’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, urged the Commission to send a clear message to the High-Level Political Forum that the Sustainable Development Goals were inextricably linked to the rights of women, young people, indigenous people, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups.  He also noted that the slowdown of global economic growth, volatile world financial markets, high youth unemployment, humanitarian crises, climate change and others challenges had obstructed the achievement of global social development goals.

Malta’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that across Europe, 119 million people were at risk of poverty and social exclusion, with children and young people most vulnerable.  In response, the bloc had prioritized job creation and the connection between economic and social issues, while tax and benefits schemes were increasingly geared towards providing social support and work incentives.  National pension systems were also better reflecting life expectancy and efforts were being made to ensure that health policies supported social safety nets, he said.

Ana Helena Chacón, Vice-President of Cost Rica, delivering a statement on behalf of the Group of Friends of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, stressed that growing global inequities challenged the universality of human rights.  Youth, older persons, persons with disabilities, minorities and migrants, and women and girls continued to face paramount obstacles to their development, while people living in extreme poverty lacked the political power and the material and educational opportunities to take charge of their destiny.  Human dignity must be at the centre of any sustainable development process, she stressed, warning against the notion that people should be passive beneficiaries of the State.

Also today, the Commission held a panel discussion on the session’s priority theme, which was moderated by H. Elizabeth Thompson, Executive Director of the State University of New York-University of the West Indies Center for Leadership and Sustainable Development.  It featured a keynote speech by Martin Ravallion, Professor of Economics at Georgetown University and former Director of the World Bank’s research department, as well as presentations by a number of social development experts and Government ministers from around the world.

At the outset, the Commission elected, by acclamation, Lot Dzonzi (Malawi) and Alanoud Al-Temimi (Qatar) as Vice-Presidents of its fifty-fifth session.

Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development, introduced a number of reports related to the Commission’s work, while Daniel Perell, Chair of the NGO Commission for Social Development, reported on the outcome of the Civil Society Forum held from 30 to 31 January.  In addition, Rozemarijn Ter Horst, a youth representative, briefed the Commission on the work of the Economic and Social Council Youth Forum, also held from 30 to 31 January.

Also participating were ministers and other representatives from Viet Nam (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Austria, Brazil, the Russian Federation, Paraguay, Turkmenistan, Portugal and France.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 2 February, to continue its work.

Opening Remarks

PHILIPP CHARWATH (Austria), Chair of the Commission for Social Development’s fifty-fifth session, declared:  “The adoption in 2015 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was a historic step forward in our common approach to tackling the many challenges all societies and countries face.”  In that context, the Commission’s mandate was to discuss, evaluate and make policy recommendations in the field of social development, a task made all the more relevant by the Agenda’s promise to leave no one behind.

While extreme poverty continued to decline fairly rapidly, 786 million people still lived in poverty, he said, pointing also to worrisome trends of rising inequality and social exclusion in both developing and developed countries.  “Growth continues to disappoint,” he said, highlighting the particular need for prosperity to reduce unemployment and for effective youth policies around the world.  Through the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth, the United Nations was already hard at work with many partners in that field, he said, drawing attention to the needs of girls and young women, youth with disabilities, indigenous youth, young migrants and rural youth.

While some progress had been made with regard to the rights of persons with disabilities, he said, they nevertheless continued to face marginalization and barriers in daily life.  Poverty remained a major threat for older persons, whose numbers were growing rapidly and would reach about 1.4 billion globally by 2030.  The long-term success of strategies to end poverty also depended largely on policies targeting families with children.  The Commission would contribute to the follow-up to the 2030 Agenda by supporting the thematic reviews of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, and would focus on the theme, “Strategies for eradicating poverty to achieve sustainable development for all”.

FREDERICK MUSIIWA MAKAMURE SHAVA (Zimbabwe), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the Commission’s work would set an example for all other commissions that would meet this year to discuss socioeconomic issues.  It played an essential role in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  Given that it was increasingly difficult to reach people living in extreme poverty, and that progress was often temporary for those who had moved out of poverty, he had identified infrastructure development and industrialization as his top priorities.  “Today’s generation can be the one that eradicates poverty and turns the tide on inequality, exclusion and environmental degradations,” he said, adding, however, that achieving those objectives would require a broad set of mutually reinforcing social and economic policies, as well as leveraging the synergies among them.  The Commission’s deliberations would provide important guidance to Member States in that regard.

LENNI MONTIEL, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, delivering a statement by António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said the Commission was meeting at a time of global contradictions.  Significant progress had been made in recent decades in eradicating extreme poverty, and the adoption of the 2030 Agenda had set the bar higher with its goals aimed at leaving no one behind.  However, these were challenging times, with conflicts reversing gains in social well-being, and a growing gap between rich and poor.  Even in peaceful societies, prosperity had not been shared.  Anxiety meanwhile was growing as societies dealt with such megatrends as urbanization and climate change.  The Sustainable Development Goals would require whole-of-society approaches tailored to national contexts.  Social development was an end in itself and the best way to secure and ensure lasting peace.  Top priority must be given to gender equality and women’s empowerment, he said, adding that diversity must be seen as an asset rather than a threat.

Introduction of Reports

DANIELA BAS, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development, introduced several reports related to the “Follow-up to the World Summit for Social Development and the twenty-fourth special session of the General Assembly”, including a report of the Secretary-General on “Strategies for eradicating poverty to achieve sustainable development for all” (document E/CN.5/2017/3).  The report provided an overview of progress made towards the eradication of poverty and highlighted strategies implemented by countries to achieve that objective.  It focused on challenges faced by countries and concluded with a set of recommendations for further action.

Among other things, she said the report demonstrated that new policy approaches and strategies were required to tackle poverty in all its forms, including extreme poverty.  It also underlined the importance of political will, institutions, governance, partnerships and the combination of mutually reinforcing social, economic and environmental policies.  Importantly, it cautioned that mainstreaming the policy “status quo” would not get the job done.  Strategies must be in line with varying national contexts, priorities, capacities and fiscal constraints.

Turning to the Secretary-General’s report on “Social Dimensions of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development” (document E/CN.5/2017/2), she said it highlighted progress made in implementing the Partnership’s various programmes and priorities, including reducing poverty and hunger, promoting employment creation, improving education and health outcomes, promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment and infrastructure development.  It urged African countries to continue to accord priority to investing in agriculture, promoting structural transformation, increasing investments in health, education, skills development and social protection, and strengthening inclusive and accountable institutions.

She said the Secretary-General’s report on “Mainstreaming disability in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” (document E/CN.5/2017/4) provided an overview of disability inclusion in existing international development frameworks, as well as the status of persons with disabilities in social and economic development.  It examined the evolution of the Commission’s role in mainstreaming disability in the development agenda and made related recommendations for the implementation of global development goals.

Next, she said a report of the Secretary-General on “Policies and programmes involving youth” (document E/CN.5/2017/5) spotlighted the need for robust, stand-alone youth policies coupled with consistent cross-sectoral efforts.  It also provided a compilation of recent youth policy initiatives based on input from Member States, United Nations entities and civil society organizations.  It made a number of recommendations under three broad themes of gender, participation and inclusion, and marginalized groups.

She also drew attention to the Secretary-General’s report on the “Third review and appraisal of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing:  preliminary assessment” (document E/CN.5/2017/6), which analysed the preliminary findings of the third review and appraisal exercise, including the identification of emerging issues and policy options.  Noting that the Commission in 2018 would conduct the global segment of the third review and appraisal cycle, she said the report listed substantive and organizational suggestions offered by regional commissions for consideration by Member States.  Delegations might consider those recommendations when elaborating the work programme for the Commission’s fifty-sixth session in 2018.

Finally, she said, a report of the Secretary-General on “Emerging issues” (document E/CN.5/2017/7) focused on areas that were important for promoting integrated poverty eradication policies in the context of youth development in the 2030 Agenda, for which the Commission could play a key role.

DANIEL PERELL, Chair of the NGO Commission for Social Development, reported on the outcome of the Civil Society Forum, held from 30 to 31 January.  Its deliberations had emphasized the role of social protection as a fundamental tool for alleviating poverty, he said, underscoring the need to reconsider the relationship between independence and interdependence in the context of development.

ROZEMARIJN TER HORST, a youth representative, then updated the Commission on the work of the Economic and Social Council Youth Forum, also held from 30 to 31 January.  Highlighting the Youth Forum’s focus this year on youth and poverty eradication, she said its outcomes would inform the Commission’s work.  Issues raised stretched from gender equality to youth unemployment to the meaningful participation of young people in decision-making.

Statements

HORACIO SEVILLA (Ecuador), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, recalled that 2015 had been a historic year when the international community had come together around a universal set of commitments to guide its work in the coming years.  The 2030 Agenda, in particular, had acknowledged that poverty eradication was a sine qua non for the achievement of sustainable development, he said, stressing that the international community must bolster current commitments in that critical area.  It must also implement an ambitious sustainable development agenda to ensure that no one was left behind, he said, underscoring the Commission’s own responsibilities in that regard.  “This Commission must send out a clear message to the High-Level Political Forum” that the Sustainable Development Goals were inextricably linked to the rights of women, young people, indigenous people, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, he stressed.

Reaffirming the Group’s commitment to the goals agreed at the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen more than 20 years ago, he went on to express deep concern about uneven progress in achieving those targets.  The slowdown of global economic growth, volatile world financial markets, high youth unemployment, humanitarian crises, climate change and others challenges had created obstacles for the achievement of social development goals.  “The eradication of poverty is perhaps the most imperative objective facing the global community,” he stressed, adding that social exclusion was still a major challenge around the world.  Warning against a “business-as-usual” approach to tackling those issues, he called for adequate financing for social development goals and underscored the Commission’s role in supporting the rights of vulnerable people, including those living under foreign occupation and colonial domination.

DAVID MANSFIELD (Malta), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that across Europe, 119 million people were at risk of poverty and social exclusion, with children and young people most vulnerable.  Priority had been placed on job creation and millions of young people had already benefitted from investment measures to combat the cycle of poverty.  More emphasis had also been placed on the connection between economic and social issues, while tax and benefits schemes were increasingly geared towards providing social support and work incentives.  National pension systems were also better reflecting life expectancy and efforts were being made to ensure that health policies supported social safety nets.

Further, he said, a plan launched last year sought to improve people’s skills and address the 70 million Europeans lacking adequate reading and writing abilities.  Efforts to engage with European Union and national public and private actors included those to promote better dialogue with social partners and civil society.  Going forward, the European Union would continue to promote an international development policy in the area of the environment, agriculture, and fisheries, while a new European Consensus on Development, once adopted, would provide the framework for a common approach to development policy.   While that proposal reflected that each country had a primary responsibility for its economic and social development, it also promoted a new global partnership for sustainable development encompassing shared policy and financial means.

NGUYEN PHUONG NGA (Viet Nam), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, reiterated ASEAN’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda, which complemented its efforts to raise living standards in the region.  Over nearly three decades, the share of people living in extreme poverty in the ASEAN region had fallen from one in three to one in eight.  While the 2030 Agenda would guide poverty eradication efforts in South-East Asia, there was no one-size-fits-all approach to its implementation, she said, emphasizing that efforts should be tailored to meet the unique needs, priorities and backgrounds of each country and region.  It was also important for any comprehensive strategy to build resilience against potential shocks such as economic instability, food insecurity and climate change, she said, citing ASEAN initiatives in that regard.

She said more could be done through participation and partnerships to eradicate poverty and advance sustainable development.  In that regard, she drew attention to annual ASEAN forums on rural development and social welfare, as well as the Association’s efforts in promoting public-private partnerships and strengthening its relations with international partners, including through the ASEAN-United Nations Plan of Action for 2016-2020.  ASEAN called for a strengthened global partnership that would include the fulfilment of official development assistance commitments, enhanced capacity-building and technology transfer, and the creation of favourable conditions for developing countries in the formulation and implementation of poverty eradication strategies.

ANA HELENA CHACÓN ECHEVERRÍA, Vice-President of Costa Rica, speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, said that despite all achievements, many countries had been left behind and growing global inequities challenged the universality of human rights.  Poverty was a system and the poor continued to be deprived, above all, of the capacity to claim their inalienable rights.  Human dignity must be at the centre of any sustainable development process, he said, warning against the notion that people should be passive beneficiaries of the State.  To the contrary, people must be genuine agents of change, entitled to certain basic living conditions, such as reaching their potential.

And yet, he said, the realization of economic, social and cultural rights remained a “mirage” for millions.  Youth, older persons, persons with disabilities, minorities and migrants, and women and girls continued to face paramount challenges to their development.  Moreover, people living in extreme poverty had neither the political power nor the material and educational opportunity to take charge of their destiny.  Respecting, promoting, and protecting rights required Governments to take positive action, which in turn, demanded national compliance with international obligations, particularly the 2030 Agenda.  Highlighting the vital role of civil society and other stakeholders in promoting human rights, he stressed that attaining sustainable development required commitment from all.

Ms. Chacón, speaking in her national capacity and associating herself with the Group of 77 and with the statement to be delivered by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), described a number of her Government’s strategies aimed at meeting the needs of vulnerable people and implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.  Among other vulnerable groups, those instruments addressed the needs of persons with disabilities, women, young people, persons living on the street, persons of African descent, refugees and indigenous peoples.  Costa Rica’s poverty, as measured by traditional indexes, had decreased from 22.3 per cent in 2015 to 20.5 per cent in 2016, with extreme poverty having dropped significantly over the same period.  In addition, she said, the country was working to build a fairer, more inclusive society that fully respected human rights.

SOPHIE KARMASIN, Minister for Family and Youth of Austria, said war, famine and natural disasters in one region could have direct impacts on countries in other regions.  “We can longer deny the globalized, interlinked world we live in,” she stressed.  The global fight against poverty could only be won by improving the lives of children, and as such, families should be at the centre of economic policies.  Describing the “Companies for Families” network and efforts to combat gender-related inequality, she said Austria was working to support women in returning to work after giving birth and had allocated funds for child care.  Poverty eradication also depended on the availability of decent work, particularly for young people.  Associating herself with the European Union, she said the bloc’s Youth Guarantee initiative was an excellent tool to reduce youth unemployment.  She also described national efforts to enhance digital competence for those seeking to enter the workforce, underscoring the importance of both social protections and multi-stakeholder partnerships aimed at eradicating poverty.

NOMTOIBAYAR NYAMTAISHIR, Minister of Labour and Social Protection of Mongolia, said his country had eradicated poverty and preserved its ecological balance as it continued to build a strong and stable country.  It had integrated the Sustainable Development Goals into its policies, plans and budgets, including the Mongolia 2030 Sustainable Development Vision and the Action Plan for 2016-2020.  That framework was focused on establishing a national economic policy that collaborated with regional and international economic trends, while remaining absolutely sovereign from political influence.  Further, the new law on national development sought to create sustainable economic growth by generating jobs and shifting people from welfare beneficiaries to contributors to the achievement of the Goals.  Highlighting Mongolia’s various investments in its youth, he recalled that the country had hosted a regional forum on youth involvement in the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015.

ALBERTO BELTRAME, Vice-Minister of Social and Agrarian Development of Brazil, said his country, through a rights-based approach, had made consistent efforts to reduce inequality.  It had overcome extreme poverty, reduced poverty and taken itself off the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) hunger map.  Going forward, Brazil understood that poverty was multidimensional and that policies to address it must be socially sustainable.  He outlined some of Brazil’s social policies, including the “Bolsa Família” cash transfer programme.  While income transfer strategies were important, he said, there was still a need for policies to address the intergenerational reproduction of poverty, create opportunities for human development and encourage labour market inclusion.

ALEXY CHERKASOV, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection of the Russian Federation, said the Commission would be an effective coordinator within the United Nations on a range of social development questions.  In his country, special attention was paid to such vulnerable groups as families with children, older people, those not in regular paid employment, and persons with disabilities.  The employment situation in the Russian Federation was stable, with unemployment lower than global Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and European Union standards.  However, citizens without a legal source of income represented a serious socioeconomic problem, as they comprised 23 per cent of the working population, which had an impact on the national budget.  He outlined Government efforts to address the legal status of self-employed persons and the prevalence of low-paid, low-output workplaces, and to increase the minimum wage.

HECTOR RAMON CARDENAS MOLINAS (Paraguay) stressed the need to step up country efforts to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and combat climate change, all while leaving no one behind.  “We need to overcome the challenges of uniting political will to ensure more inclusive societies,” he added, reaffirming his country’s zero tolerance policy for discrimination.  In recent years, and thanks to the Government’s strategic efforts, Paraguay’s poverty – including extreme poverty – had dropped significantly.  Nevertheless, the Government continued to push forward to improve the participation of all people in the achievement of sustainable development, and provided support through such programmes as responsible cash transfers, school feeding programmes and the building of affordable housing.

MUHAMMETSEYIT SYLAPOV, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection of Population of Turkmenistan, recalled that following the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, his country had immediately begun to integrate its targets into its national policies.  Noting that the goal of development was to bolster the material and spiritual well-being of people while respecting their fundamental rights and freedoms, he described several recent changes to Turkmenistan’s Constitution, which reflected the country’s accession to various international human rights treaties.  In that regard, the Government had drafted a national action plan to combat human trafficking and was working on similar strategies for the protection of the rights of children and other vulnerable groups.  Economic and productive growth was another priority.

ANA SOFIA AUTUNES, Secretary of State for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities of Portugal, associating herself with the European Union, said poverty took different forms in different parts of the world, but it had one common consequence:  depriving people from fulfilling their potential and well-being.  Eradicating poverty required strategic, integrated and coherent measures at all levels, targeting such groups as persons with disabilities, migrants, refugees, and those from ethnic and religious minorities.  She described a social benefit that Portugal had introduced for those certified as disabled, and emphasized the difficulties that the long-term unemployed, particularly those over the age of 50, faced when returning to the labour market.

MARIE-CHRISTINE BAUDURET, Head of Labour, Employment, Social Affairs and Human Rights, European and International Delegation, Ministry for Social Affairs of France, associating herself with the European Union, said the Government maintained an integrated approach to poverty eradication that took into account the views of vulnerable populations.  France’s tool for achieving Goal 1 (no poverty) was a multi-annual plan to fight poverty and promote social inclusion that drew on input from private and public stakeholders.  She emphasized the importance of lifelong learning, noting that the digitization of jobs might bring with it employment loss for those lacking qualifications.

Address by President of General Assembly

PETER THOMSON (Fiji), President of the General Assembly, said the Commission’s longstanding work to promote people-centred development had helped shape key sustainable development concepts and laid the foundation for the 2030 Agenda.  The body now had a key role to play to ensure that that “master plan for people, planet and prosperity” was implemented over the next 14 years, he said, adding that this year’s theme on poverty eradication could not be more timely or relevant.  Expressing confidence that achieving those goals was “firmly within our reach”, he pointed out that the number of people living in extreme poverty around the world had been reduced from 1.9 billion in 1990 to about 702 million in 2015.

In that regard, he called for continued efforts to build sustainable, inclusive economic growth, in particular through people-centred investments such as the provision of equitable, quality education.  Peace must also be sustained, as people in conflict-affected countries were among those most at risk of being left behind.  “Without sustaining peace, sustainable development is not possible”, he stressed, noting that the United Nations had now accepted that the two concepts were deeply interlinked.  Finally, he underscored the need to secure long-term financing for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals — estimated to cost between $5 trillion and $7 trillion annually — through policies that supported both private and public funding efforts.

Interactive Discussion

In the afternoon, the Commission held a panel discussion on the priority theme “Strategies for eradicating poverty to achieve sustainable development for all”.  Moderated by H. Elizabeth Thompson, Executive Director of the State University of New York-University of the West Indies Center for Leadership and Sustainable Development, it featured a keynote speech by Martin Ravallion, Professor of Economics, Georgetown University, and former Director of the World Bank’s research department.

It also included presentations by Ana Helena Chacón Echeverría, Vice-President of Costa Rica; Aisha Jumai Alhassan, Minister for Women Affairs and Social Development of Nigeria; Michelle Muschette, Vice-Minister for Social Development of Panama; Michel Servoz, Director-General of the Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion in the European Commission; Ifeyinwa Ofong, development consultant and a national coordinator of women in development and environment in Nigeria; and Alberto Beltrame, Vice-Minister for Social and Agrarian Development of Brazil.

Mr. RAVALLION said “fantastic” progress had been made against extreme poverty.  “That’s great news, but there are continuing challenges, real challenges,” he said, emphasizing that poverty monitoring must be relevant to social policy dialogue.  While there had been good overall progress in reducing absolute poverty, challenges remained and poorer countries that had relied on economic growth — rather than direct interventions — to combat poverty might need to adapt their policies.

Maintaining growth trajectories since 2000 without a rise in overall inequality would lift about 1 billion people out of extreme absolute poverty over the next 15 years or so, he said.  Such an optimistic path would require economic reforms that would make markets work better for poor people.  It would also need a measure of good luck, such as avoiding a major financial crisis or success in dealing with climate change.  Given that path, however, more than 1 billion people would still be living in relative poverty.

Among his recommendations, he said policies must be tailored to the realities of local situations.  Local information — including greater community-based participation — could help identify those in need, reinforced with strong Governments.  He also emphasized the crucial nature of monitoring and evaluating progress, and the need for policymakers to learn from mistakes and adapt to evidence of failure.  Bureaucratic inertia appeared to be a common problem, he said.

Ms. CHACÓN stressed the need to design public policies to meet the needs of people facing constant hunger, exclusion and poverty.  No development could be sustained if millions of people were left behind.  Poverty was the most flagrant violation of human rights.  Social policy must end the income gap and move towards peace, justice and inclusion.  Costa Rica had worked to implement since 2015 the national “bridge for development” poverty-reduction strategy.  It entailed social maps to track impoverished areas and understand their socioeconomic conditions.  A poverty index was used to measure poverty beyond income and to take into account shortages in education, health care, water and housing.  The strategy focused particularly on women, with substantial results.  If current strategies continued, Costa Rica was poised to eliminate extreme poverty in less than 10 years.

Ms. ALHASSAN said that despite its immense natural and human resources, Africa remained underdeveloped and plagued with extreme poverty.  Fully, 48.5 per cent of the global population and one third of the sub-Saharan African population experienced malnourishment and exclusion.  To address that, in 2013 African Union Heads of State adopted 2063 Agenda to eradicate poverty.  Since 1995, Nigeria had adopted an affirmative action strategy, whereby 30 per cent of the Bank of Industry’s investment funds were earmarked to reduce female poverty.  The Government had set up a basic education scheme to end illiteracy and equip beneficiaries with lifelong skills to be self-reliant.  It provided free immunization for infants to reduce infant mortality.  Among other things, she cited a capacity-building scheme to reduce youth unemployment; an agriculture scheme for 3 million rural farmers to reduce hunger and end poverty; programmes to improve farming techniques and enhance food production; and an $800 million revolving loan scheme of the Central Bank of Nigeria for small business entrepreneurship.  The current Administration was rolling out new initiatives to end poverty, such as cash transfers, a school feeding programme, and scholarships for science and technology classes.  Annually, $164 million was earmarked for no-interest loans for rural businesses.

Ms. MUSCHETT, discussing Panama’s policies for poverty reduction, emphasized the importance of taking stock of available resources and for a consensus with civil society to be in place.  In her country, macro policies such as an increase in 2016 of the minimum wage and a monetary transfer programme had assisted those in extreme poverty.  Reducing poverty brought challenges, however.  She explained her Government’s new strategy which focused on reinforcing links between existing policies, with the goal of reducing extreme poverty to the lowest possible level, guaranteeing social protection and halving multidimensional poverty by 2030.  The results should help families emerge progressively out of poverty.

Mr. SERVOZ, reviewing the features of the European Union’s approach to poverty, emphasized the importance of a comprehensive and integrated strategy, with specific instruments for the most vulnerable.  He also underscored the importance of multi-stakeholder partnerships.  Noting that the European Union was still struggling from the 2007 economic crisis, he said an integrated approach that covered a range of issues, including education and fiscal matters, was needed.  The bloc regarded trade policy as essential to creating decent jobs and supporting its social protection systems.

Mr. OFONG said a one-size-fits-all strategy to end poverty would not work.  She asked whether people were poor because they were lazy or because institutions had failed to create policies for an enabling environment in which people could be well fed and cared for.  Among the lessons learned from poverty-eradication programmes was that data was vital in order to know whom to target.  In surveys of poor people in her country 95 per cent of respondents said they preferred to receive funds, rather than training.  Poor people had an important role in helping to develop strategies for charting their own path out of poverty.  Poverty eradication must be linked to rural development.

She said it was necessary to talk with the poor — many of whom had resigned themselves to their lot — and help them understand the meaning of sustainable development.  All strategies must enhance their capacity to help themselves.  Governments must develop good road networks and markets for their products, she said, noting that many developing countries lacked a well-functioning financial system to grow economies and create jobs.  Investment, particularly in domestic production chains and economic diversification, were vital.  Most African parliamentary systems, derived from European or United States models, were too costly to enable Governments to spend limited resources wisely.  New models were needed.

Mr. BELTRAME said remarkable achievements in recent decades, with millions of Brazilians lifted out of poverty and the nation removed from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Hunger Map, had helped raise quality of life and reduce inequality.  The challenge was to sustain those gains.  The national poverty reduction strategy entailed conditional cash transfers, social inclusion, and promotion of human development, with a focus on early childhood care.  Through the Bolsa Familia cash transfer programme, 13.6 million low-income people received stipends provided they kept their children in school and following a vaccination schedule.  This year, the Government would launch a National Strategy for Social and Productive Inclusion to build professional skills and generate income.  The Happy Child Programme was launched last year and would give regular assistance, including home visits, to 530,000 children in 2017 and 1.5 million in 2018.

In the ensuing discussion, the moderator asked Mr. SERVOZ why, for the European Union, partnerships were important.  He replied that, to implement the Goals, the commitment of Governments was not enough; others must participate as well.  However, he stressed, Governments had an obligation to mobilize other actors, particularly social partners.

A representative of the Baha’i community asked how to develop policies that did not create a sense of separateness between haves and have-nots.

Responding, Ms. MUSCHETT emphasized the importance, when identifying target populations, of understanding contexts and expectations.  Most policymakers were never going to understand “in their skin” what experiencing poverty was really like.  Panama’s history with cash-transfer programmes was fairly new and under constant assessment, but to judge from the experience of other countries, such as Brazil, those programmes alone would not free people from poverty.

Mr. RAVALLION added that it was expensive to address poverty at a micro level, especially for poor countries.  Policies must be tailored to local realities or they would not work.  There should be more discussion around State capacities and building effective Governments in poor countries.  Tension could emerge between finely targeted programmes and middle-class support, and in such instances, it would be necessary to strike a balance, appropriate to each country.

A representative of UNAMANA International said people living in poverty must be asked what they needed.  In that regard, she asked the panellists what interventions countries might take in consultation with their local communities, and how their success could be monitored.

Mr. RAVALLION responded that it was critical to consider what would work best in each situation.  “We have a menu of options,” he said, and there was no single magic bullet.  While the science of measurement and evaluation had come a long way, he warned against generalizing and stressed that methods should be adapted to the local context.

Ms. THOMPSON raised questions related to the role of governance, how best to address environmental issues in the eradication of poverty, and ways to galvanize people around the 2030 Agenda.  A representative of the International Association of Schools of Social Work then asked panellists how to ensure that the world’s current power concentrations did not hinder efforts to leave no one behind.

The representative of Romania said the best measure of social development was “jobs, jobs, jobs”.  Leaving no one behind meant moving forward together, he said, stressing that the motto represented the “best equation” for eradicating poverty.  He then responded to several questions by Ms. Thomson relating to his choice of the word “jobs” as opposed to “decent work” and whether jobs should be targeted to groups such as youth and women, stressing that he was talking about a “decent way of life” in general.

Ms. CHACÓN said the Sustainable Development Goals, while ambitious, were more realistic than their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals, which had not been achieved by many countries.  In Costa Rica, the Government had created a public alliance through which it engaged academia, civil society and State institutions in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.  Measurable and specific targets and indicators, as well as implementation time frames, had also been put in place.  She underscored the importance of investing in education, which would help countries remain competitive and generate “jobs, jobs, jobs”.

Ms. ALHASSAN said that, without the appropriate frameworks, the roles of Government and other stakeholders remained unclear and those entities could not be held accountable.  Policies required adequate legislation to enforce them, she added, calling in particular for social safety nets for the most vulnerable and citing a number of examples from her country.

A representative of SustainUS, also speaking on behalf of native Hawaiians, raised a question about land rights and displacement, their relationship to poverty, and the situation of indigenous peoples.

Ms. OFONG said those who lived in poverty needed to know what the Sustainable Development Goals were about.  Civil society felt that Governments must simplify the Goals and translate them into local languages.  Thought should be given to teaching the Goals in schools.  Regarding governance, she said it was costly for most African countries.  Each country should revisit their political structures and reduce costs in order to have more money for poverty eradication.

Ms. ALHASSAN addressed the topic of land-holding by women.  In most of Africa, and especially in Nigeria, women had had no land-owning rights, despite that they represented the majority of farmers.  The Government in Nigeria was addressing that issue in equal opportunities legislation.

Mr. SERVOZ said many poverty strategies were about education, fiscal policies and other issues.  However, education ministers did not get along well with counterparts who dealt with social policies, and it was the same for finance ministers.  He also addressed a question from the moderator about the environment, saying the European Union was committed to full implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change and reducing energy poverty.

Ms. THOMPSON, emphasizing that environmental resources could not be squandered, said nobody got along with environment ministers, as they were considered too “restrictive”.

Ms. MUSCHETT said that, following a major consultative process, Panama was developing a national plan for indigenous peoples.  Poverty in her country was concentrated in five regions populated by indigenous peoples, but each of those regions was different.  She added that environmental vulnerability was one dimension of Panama’s multidimensional poverty index.

Mr. CHARWATH, Chair of the Commission, in brief closing remarks, highlighted the importance of data, stressing that without data, there could be no policy formulation.

__________

*     The 1st Meeting was covered in Press Release SOC/4837 of 12 February 2016.

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