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Civil Society Declaration: Social Protection: A coherent strategy for Shared Prosperity
by 56th Commission for Social Development
Achieving prosperity in its full sense requires the broadest and deepest possible participation in the economic and social life of society. Both within and across nations, the creation of social conditions that would end extreme poverty and, beyond this, provide all people with a genuine opportunity to flourish, and live in dignity throughout their lives, is among the greatest challenges of today. In recent years, social protection has emerged as a unifying concept for an array of measures aimed at building fairer and more inclusive societies.
As a “set of policies and programmes designed to reduce and prevent poverty and vulnerability throughout the life cycle,” social protection “includes benefits for children and families, maternity, unemployment, employment injury, sickness, old age, disability, survivors, as well as health protection.”
The establishment of social protection regimes has shown itself to be one of the most effective and straightforward strategies to simultaneously address human rights and fundamental material needs, and to strengthen capacity to constructively engage in the life of society at all levels. As such, it is a strategy that the international community has explicitly taken on as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Among its targets, Goal 1 of the Agenda, to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere,” calls for the implementation of “nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors,” as well as the achievement of “substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable” by 2030.
Social protection systems represent the universality of eradicating poverty and building broad-based prosperity. In particular, the concept of social protection floors reflects the conviction that there are thresholds which a community – whether local, national, regional, or international – will refuse to let any of its members fall below.
Especially given that poverty is not static, social protection floors represent a community’s trust and support as individuals travel in and out of poverty as the result of different life events.
However, it is not only those living in poverty who stand to gain from such measures. Unlike discredited theories about the shared benefits of unfettered wealth-creation at the top, social protection has truly shown the potential to serve as that much-touted “rising tide that lifts all boats.” It is a potent mechanism for promoting social equity and demonstrates significant salutary effects for all strata of society. Living in more equitable societies means increased health, stability, and happiness for everyone – which represents the actual goal of development, beyond economic benefits.
Although social protection is a shared endeavor involving a wide array of stakeholders, the place of public institutions is preeminent. Non-governmental organizations will be vital to steering, monitoring, and implementing social protection measures, and the private sector can likewise play a crucial role, but national governments and international bodies must lead and regulate efforts, given the high degree of coordination and multi-sectoral collaboration required to implement a coherent and consequential system.
While not without complications, a state-led, rights-based approach, in many ways derives power from its simplicity. In the face of the most basic of needs, public social protection floors and other measures offer direct redress, unconditioned by employment or other status, shareholder interests, or fluctuations in charitable-giving.
At a deeper level, much of the promise of the public establishment of robust social protection regimes lies in their potential to progressively undo systemic injustices and foster long-term shifts in attitudes, nurturing a societal ethic of reciprocity and a sense of responsibility to one another.
A stabilizing force in a world of instability
From near-constant transformations in the spheres of employment and communications technologies, to massive waves of international migration and climate change and its impacts, we live in a time of unprecedented upheaval. While the twenty-first century has seen impressive achievements in poverty reduction and improvements in global living standards, the outset of the 2030 Agenda finds the world in a precarious position, with many of the gains of previous decades in jeopardy of being reversed. Low-, middle-, and high-income countries alike are experiencing more uncertainty and instability in their political, economic, and ecological systems, with our planetary boundaries already being breached.
As the notion of “disruption” is increasingly prized as a social good, longstanding institutions and practices are giving way to new and often unpredictable social arrangements, and “risk” is becoming an ever more common feature of contemporary life.
Against this backdrop, the need for adequate social protection systems becomes all the more clear.
At present, 71% of the world’s population is not adequately protected, with over 800 million people living in abject poverty and utter insecurity. Only about 29% of the world’s working population have effective access to comprehensive social protection.
It is patently clear that people cannot make meaningful contributions to societal development if they are sick, malnourished, uneducated, persecuted, without a home, or without a basic degree of income security – that is, if they are fighting simply for basic survival.
Public institutions must resolve to guarantee access to the goods and services necessary for humanity to adapt and flourish amidst the challenges – and opportunities – of this inflection point.
A scheme of proven effectiveness
Where implemented with rigor, social protection regimes have shown themselves capable of effecting broad-based improvements in social well-being. Countries in every corner of the globe offer glimpses of their transformative impact.
Uruguay, for instance, has for many decades benefitted from a solid social protection regime focused on education, health, social security, and housing. Spending more on social programs than any other government in Latin America (over 80% of total public spending and about 25% of its GDP) has helped the country stand out in the region, in the words of the World Bank, “for being an egalitarian society and for its high per capita income, low level of inequality and poverty and the almost complete absence of extreme poverty.”
In Ireland, robust public investments in social welfare and development contributed decisively to transforming one of Europe’s poorer nations into a country with a high standards of living in a matter of decades. Ireland made its citizens a priority and allocated an above-average share of the monies to human capital development – particularly in the area of education.
In Indonesia, faced with a fragmented healthcare system that covered little more than 50% of the country’s quarter of a billion citizens, the government began phasing in the world''s largest single-payer health insurance system, with the ambitious goal to provide universal coverage by 2019, just years years after its introduction. A year into its implementation, the program had a membership of 133.4 million, exceeding its target of 121.6 million, and customer satisfaction was reported at 81%.
In order to build on these success stories, it is important that social protection policies incorporate protection, prevention, promotion and transformation as each of these elements reinforce the other and improve societal outcomes. Notions of social protection should not be limited to what has come before, but should be expanding to encompass the needs of a particular time and place – for example, the impacts of climate change, access to land, protection for refugees and migrants, regardless of status, and support for care and community work.
Moreover, to view social protection purely through the lens of adversity limits its scope and runs the risk of reinforcing patterns of thought harmful to those receiving such assistance.
A responsibility of the government, a right of all people
To be secure in one’s person, to be “protected,” is not a privilege but a right that the government of the world have agreed to uphold. Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international cooperation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.”
This right was reaffirmed in the Social Protection Floors Recommendation unanimously adopted by 184 members of the International Labour Conference in 2012. With this, the global community has accepted the commitment to achieve at least a baseline, of social protection for all people of all ages, to live a life of dignity, peace, freedom and justice.
For most countries, closing the gaps to secure adequate social protection does not require unreasonably large amounts of funding. One recent report on 142 countries found that about half would have to allocate less than 3.5% of their GDP to close their health security and income security gaps, and about a third would only have to allocate an additional 2% of their GDP to close their social protection floor gaps.
However, for other countries the financial challenge would be more significant; 12 African nations would need to direct more than 10% of their GDP to provide adequate protection. As a result, it is clear that the establishment and maintenance of global social protection floors will likely only be achievable as a shared endeavor of the international community.
Moreover, governments should not only consider the costs of such measures in isolation, but with respect to the costs of inaction. To use market based persuasion, social protection measures could be viewed as investments destined to yield major returns in human, environmental, and financial capital in the future.
Translating global promises into social reality at the national and international levels will be largely a question of political will and intent. By looking at these policies through the lenses of social justice and service to the common well-being, political leaders must take ownership of this issue and find financing solutions – whether through new taxes or shifts in current budget allocations. This may even entail leadership embracing a more decidedly redistributive role for the state.
However bold the countries of the world strive to be in this regard, in developing policy proposals it will be useful to emphasize that social protection is not a partisan issue - consensus should be the starting point for its implementation.
In the final analysis, social protection is founded on the most basic and universal conceptions of human worth. While the specifics of its implementation and administration must be the subject of rigorous, objective research and deliberation, the underlying premise is not controversial. It is a question of value, and it speaks to the sort of society which all fair-minded people wish to live in – one in which fears of being unable to even survive would no longer darken any person’s horizons.
Moreover, experience has shown that, to the extent that it is universally applied and embraced, social protection ceases to be seen as unsustainable, dependency-fostering hand-outs, and instead helps to reshape long-term relations within a society.
Social protection broadens and deepens the social contract, promoting greater understanding of the fact that the well-being of the individual is ultimately dependent upon, and contributes to, the well-being of the whole.
In light of the above, and in accordance with with the provisions of the International Labour Organization’s Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202), we urge Member States introduce language into the Commission’s resolutions related to Social Protection. In addition to building on the substantive policy recommendations found in numerous UN documents, we would encourage language that ensures social protection policies and processes include civil society input in the design, implementation, and evaluation of the programs –including those who are meant to benefit from the programs.
Social protection and poverty eradication also cannot be divorced from people’s access to knowledge and their ability to make informed decisions. For this reason all should be guaranteed access to compulsory and innovative educational systems, by which, among other things, they would gain understanding regarding their rights, as well as their obligations to the rest of the community.
Moreover, an emphasis should be placed on research on the sort of transformative actions and practices that will foster greater levels of participation and inclusion, devolving resources to the grassroots and ensuring that those that are currently unprotected have a voice. Only in this way will the international community achieve the dual objectives of reaching the furthest behind first and leaving no one behind.

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Combating violence against women and domestic violence must be a priority for us all
by COE, Fundamental Rights Agency
European Union
In a message to mark International Women’s Day 2018, the EU Commissioner for Human Rights underlines that politicians and opinion makers should promote an honest and well-informed public debate about the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention).
"Violence against women, in all its forms, constitutes a violation of human rights and requires concrete measures from states to respond to it. The Istanbul Convention, a landmark treaty, is there to help national authorities to prevent violence against women, protect the victims and prosecute the perpetrators.
It is encouraging to see that 28 member states of the Council of Europe have already ratified the Convention. Yet, much remains to be done, both in term of full implementation and of awareness-raising.
I am particularly worried by several misconceptions about the Convention that some critics, including politicians, have propagated in public debates in some member states to oppose its ratification.
Some pretend that the use of the word “gender” in the Convention has hidden purposes and effects. This is simply not true.
In the Convention, this term is used to define the phenomenon of “gender-based” violence against women, that is violence directed against them because they are women or that affects women disproportionately.
The word “gender” in the Convention also serves to make the point that “gender stereotypes and roles” about women and men need to be tackled because they play a part in the perpetuation of violence against women.
To prevent violence against women, the Istanbul Convention requires measures to overcome prejudice against women and stereotyped gender roles, in full line with international human rights obligations.
Any other consideration about the word “gender” in relation to this Convention is uninformed at best, and manipulative at worst.
Politicians and opinion makers have the duty to promote an honest and well-informed public debate about the Convention and focus on its potential to help states increase women’s safety and liberty.
Combating violence against women and domestic violence must be a priority for us all. The Istanbul Convention is a modern and unique tool designed to protect women’s rights. No excuse should obstruct its ratification and implementation."
Nov. 2017
End the inequalities that still threaten women everywhere. (Fundamental Rights Agency)
Widespread gender-based violence, hate and discrimination continue to threaten the well-being and ability of women to live full and active lives in society, as a new paper by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) shows.
It calls for renewed and stronger efforts by the EU and its Member States to promote gender equality and change societal attitudes to help eradicate discrimination and violence towards women.
“Too many men treat women as second class citizens, disrespecting their rights. This paper, and recent revelations, highlight unacceptable levels of discrimination, violence and misogyny,” says FRA Director Michael O’Flaherty.
“The EU and its Member States are challenged urgently to promote gender equality and change societal attitudes for the eradication of discrimination and violence against women.”
FRA’s paper ‘Challenges to women’s human rights in the EU: Gender discrimination, sexist hate speech and gender-based violence against women and girls’ explores human rights commitments and gives telling examples from across the EU over the last three years. It builds on FRA’s 2014 violence against women survey, the largest and most comprehensive survey of its kind to date.
The evidence collected reveals how persistent discrimination and endemic gender-based violence severely limit the ability of women to enjoy their rights and to participate on an equal footing in society.
It gives examples of how harassment, including online and towards female journalists and politicians, and gender stereotyping, fuelled also by media representations of women, further reinforce such inequalities.
Taking this evidence into account, the paper suggests a number of ways that could help improve gender equality and change how society treats women and girls. These include:
Creating a safer online environment to counter the growing use of the internet and social media to abuse women and girls; Breaking gender stereotypes from an early age through promoting gender equality in education and lifelong learning; Introducing gender quotas to compensate for the lack of women at higher levels of politics and business, for example; Incorporating gender equality across all EU socio-economic policies to help Member States meet their gender equality commitments.
Enabling national equality bodies to tackle all issues that impact women’s rights, from gender equality to violence against women; Improving data collection and the sharing of knowledge on all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls to help decision makers better assess the impact of their laws and policies.
The paper is part of our contribution to the European Commission’s Fundamental Rights Colloquium – ‘Women''s rights in turbulent times’.

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