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Participation and Social Justice on the Agenda of ESCWA’s 27th Session


Beirut, 30 April, 2012 (ESCWA Communications and Information Unit)- The Arab Region is in search of a new development paradigm to ensure greater participation of the youth in economic and public life, focusing more on social justice and accountability. Thus, “The Role of Participation and Social Justice in Achieving Sustainable and Balanced Development” will be one of the main topics to be discussed in a ministerial round table during the ESCWA 27th Ministerial Session to be held under the auspices of Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Miqati on 9-10 May 2012.

For this purpose, ESCWA has prepared a paper on the subject which aims to present a conceptual policy framework to describe the interrelation between social justice, participation and social cohesion in achieving sustainable development and more balanced, inclusive societies. The report discusses the challenges that governments face in achieving social justice and proposes a set of principles for aligning participation with the objectives inherent in the concept of sustainable development.

Why Development and Social Justice?

Sustainable development is about the collective responsibility to strengthen three interdependent pillars – economic development, social development and environmental protection at the local, national, regional and global levels, as set by the United Nations during the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

The report states that there are several ways to measure development. From an economic perspective, the gross domestic product (GDP) is typically used to compare the performance of economies around the globe and to express their development status. GDP is an important indicator of economic capacity and, to a certain extent, the prosperity of societies as a whole.

However, GDP has been criticized as being insufficient to measure some of the important aspects of the quality of peoples’ lives. For example, GDP measures only market activity and underestimates services that are provided for free by the government or by family members; it does not measure those environmental costs that are not reflected in market prices; and it does not reflect the equitable distribution of income or wealth. An average per capita increase in GDP may conceal an increase in inequality and thus a deterioration of the situation of large segments of the population.

The Eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aim to capture the well-being of people in a more comprehensive way by measuring progress against a defined set of indicators that determine the quality of the lives of people. The eight goals (End Poverty and Hunger; Universal Education, Gender Equality, Child Health, Material Health, Combat HIV/AIDS; Environmental Sustainability, Global Partnership), represent a powerful, unprecedented commitment by governments around the world to be held accountable for measurable social progress. However, since the reporting is based on national averages, the MDGs largely fail to reflect distributional inequalities and the incidence of cumulative disadvantages such as the number of poor households without access to education, health care or water.

The report highlights recent approaches to measuring economic and social progress that have called for more attention to the subjective dimension of well-being and to the capacity to lead a healthy and meaningful life. Based on Amartya Sen’s concept of development as freedom, they propose to consider objective indicators such as income, employment, health, education in connection with the voice of people, ‘agency’ and happiness. In addition, fairness towards the life of future generations, captured in the term “inter-generational equity”, is increasingly regarded as an important component of social justice.

Another proposal to conceptualize the interrelation between social justice and development is through the notion of social cohesion. It emphasizes that sustainable growth requires the inclusion of all social groups into mainstream society, a fair distribution of income and opportunities, an investment in education and health, as well as support to voice people’s aspirations, social accountability and upward social mobility.

The ministerial round table on “The Role of Participation and Social Justice in Achieving Sustainable and Balanced Development” will convene on Wednesday 9 May, 2012 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Media representatives specialized in social development are invited to attend.