Alicia Bárcena, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and Marina Arismendi, Uruguay’s Social Development Minister, signed an agreement today establishing that the Second Meeting of the Regional Conference on Social Development in Latin America and the Caribbean will be held on October 25-27, 2017 in Montevideo. This event will take place in conjunction with the IX Ministerial Forum for Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
“It motivates us that these meetings will take place in a country that stands out in Latin America and the Caribbean for its commitment to social development and its efforts to move toward building a more egalitarian society,” said Bárcena, who celebrated the Uruguayan government’s organization of a series of national dialogues in preparation for the Conference during the month of August.
The senior United Nations official also highlighted the Uruguayan delegation’s recent participation in the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, held this month in New York, where 11 countries from the region, including Uruguay, presented their national voluntary progress reports regarding the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Meanwhile, Minister Marina Arismendi stressed the value of holding the Conference in Uruguay, indicating that the country has followed a path of economic growth in search of greater equality and recognition of rights. She emphasized, in this sense, the implementation of the National Integrated Care System, which covers children from 0 to 3 years of age, people who depend on others, and care-givers.
Created in 2014, the Regional Conference on Social Development is one of ECLAC’s nine subsidiary bodies. The Conference’s objectives include promoting the development of national policies on social development and international, regional and bilateral cooperation in the field of social development, in order to examine multidimensional poverty and make progress on poverty measurement, inequality and structural gaps that persist in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Conference will bring together government authorities, representatives of civil society and international officials to exchange experiences and debate about the challenges of social protection and the double challenge of economic and social inclusion in the region, among other topics.
Once the signing of the agreement concluded, a Seminar on social protection began, in which the participants were Laís Abramo, Director of ECLAC’s Social Development Division; Lidia Brito, Director of the UNESCO’s Regional Office for Sciences in Latin America and the Caribbean; Mireia Villar, the United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Uruguay; and Armando Barrientos, Professor of Poverty and Social Justice at the University of Manchester (United Kingdom).
At the seminar’s closing session, Bárcena reviewed the main geopolitical and social phenomena that have impacted the world in the last year (from “globalization backlash” to the “dangerous disenchantment” that part of society is experiencing), at a time when countries are making efforts to comply with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 SDGs.
“In a favorable economic and political context, the region made significant progress in terms of poverty reduction and decreased inequality, with active policies in the social sphere and in the labor market. But now it faces a more difficult context, characterized by lower rates of growth and trade, which go hand in hand with less fiscal space and investment,” she explained.
Bárcena expressed special concern over the downward trend exhibited in budgets for social policies in Latin America and the Caribbean, calling for protecting gains and avoiding rollbacks in order to leave no one behind.
Today income-conditioned transfer programs cover 20% of the Latin American population and there has been a significant increase in the percentage of employed people affiliated with the pension system (from 42.3% in 2002 to 53.9% in 2013), although there are still marked differences depending on the population’s income levels, she said.
ECLAC’s Executive Secretary called for dismantling the intersected inequalities that persist in the region and that reinforce each other depending on the population’s age, gender and ethnic and racial origin, among other factors. For example, she said, the labor income of indigenous and Afro-descendant women is approximately half that of non-indigenous, non-Afro-descendant men (both employed with post-secondary studies).
“Inequality is a structural challenge and a barrier to growth that conspires against sustainable development,” Bárcena said, adding that for this reason “it is essential that synergies be achieved between policies for production and for innovation to break down the structural causes of inequality, create productive employment and decent work with a view to an environmental big push.” She insisted: “We must move from the culture of privilege toward the culture of equality.”
During her visit to Uruguay, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary also met with the ministers of President Tabaré Vázquez’s Social Cabinet.