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Overcoming Inequalities for More Inclusive Societies
  • The OAS Ministerial Meeting on Social Development will be held this week.

  • Its central theme is “Equity and Social Inclusion: Overcoming Inequalities for more Inclusive Societies.”

July 12, 2016

Unfortunately, the fact that the Americas is the most unequal hemisphere on the planet no longer makes headlines. However, the need to find solutions remains urgent if we are to ensure the problem does not continue or even to grow worse:  Recently, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) warned that the number of people living in poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean increased by seven million people in 2015, rising from 168 million to 175 million.

These numbers and percentages are much more than just statistics; they reflect the reality faced on a daily basis by millions of Latin Americans who aspire to better living conditions, access to basic services, decent work, quality education and health services that effectively respond to their needs.


Seeking Solutions

In search of solutions, the Third Meeting of Ministers and High Authorities of Social Development of the Organization of American States (OAS), to be held in Asunción, Paraguay, from July 13-14, will focus on the theme:  “Equality and Social Inclusion: Overcoming Inequalities for more Inclusive Societies.” The opportunity to bring ministers to the same table will serve to review the costs of inequality for the countries of the region, to identify successful experiences of systems or networks for social protection and economic inclusion, to create methods to monitor compliance with the Social Charter of the Americas, and to analyze regional contributions to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

The OAS Secretary General, Luis Almagro, will be in Asunción to promote the fight against inequality. “It is essential for the social future of the region that we continue to exchange experiences, ideas of what has worked and what has not in the implementation of social policies so that we can improve the efforts States are making as guarantors of the welfare of their people,” he said.

The state of poverty, relative stagnation, and inequality in the Americas has been, for several decades, the main concern of leaders and economists who have seen, with positive expectation, poverty reduction trends in several countries of the region, which, with a few exceptions, didn’t manage to have a lasting impact on the daily lives of youth, adults, children and the elderly who, in different areas of the Americas, still dream of having more rights, more access, more equality and more justice.

The challenge of poverty reduction is an enormous one, but with a better understanding of the necessary elements to fight poverty, it is possible to move toward achieving that goal. To that end, it is, however, essential that there be political will and a true spirit of cooperation among governments, civil society, and the private sector.


Why is the meeting in Asunción important?

  • The third ministerial meeting reopens the ministerial process in the social realm after a five-year pause.
  • The costs of inequality—an issue of concern—will be addressed during the meeting by emphasizing the trends of social investment and public spending in social policies, as well as their implications.
  • It will open a space for dialogue to seek solutions to the challenges posed by poverty and inequality that are still affecting the most vulnerable in our Hemisphere.
  • It will also be a space for the exchange of promising experiences and solutions in matters related to social protection, poverty reduction, and thus, for progressing toward the achievement of the objectives set in the Plan of Action of the Social Charter of the OAS and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the OAS member states and the other countries of the global community in September 2015.

The OAS Secretary for Access to Rights and Equity, Ideli Salvatti, expressed the hope that the ministerial meeting would “give new support to the commitment of Secretary General Almagro to work for ‘more rights for more people’ when establishing the regional consensus and the roadmap in the pending work to implement the economic and social rights of the citizens of the Hemisphere.”  Secretary Salvatti expects the ministerial meeting to issue mandates for the OAS Secretary General “that will guide our work agenda in equity and social inclusion for the coming years.”


The Contribution of the OAS

Many Latin American and Caribbean countries have neither the human or financial resources nor the experience to unilaterally deal with the complex challenges our region faces. To this end, the OAS offers a system of cooperation and coordination to find common responses and build capacities in a joint and complementary manner and to meet these great challenges.

Instruments and solutions created by and for countries under the “umbrella” of the Organization have proven useful when advancing toward effective social development.  Among them, for instance, the follow-up mechanism for the implementation of the Protocol of San Salvador, based on the evaluation of periodic reports submitted by States parties that examine more than 700 progress indicators, which will be useful to boost the Sustainable Development Goals.

Similarly, at the OAS, the Plan for the International Decade for People of African Descent, the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Inter-American Convention on the Protection of the Human Rights of OIder Persons, and the Inter-American Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities have recently been adopted.  All of these represent commitments made by countries in an important range of issues that cut across the agenda of Development and Social Inclusion, but, in particular, the main theme of this ministerial meeting.

However, one of the most relevant contributions of the OAS is being premier interagency, intersectoral, and interinstitutional platform for dialogue in the Hemisphere.  As an institution that deals with such varied issues on the regional agenda, the OAS has been able to offer a broader, more comprehensive and collaborative perspective to countries wishing to face step by step and in an increasingly more efficient manner the challenges posed by inequality.  As stated by the Executive Secretary for Integral Development, Neil Parsan, “Equity and social inclusion are critical for achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and require participation from all, including governments, academia, and the private sector to promote more inclusive and sustainable societies in the region.”

The 34 representatives of the OAS member states that will discuss in Paraguay the complex social and economic landscape of the Americas will have at their disposal non only the lessons learned from their peers, the inter-American instruments on commitment in key areas and expert knowledge, but also a space where they will unanimously seek to bring these written commitments from words into action.

Reference: E-081/16