Commission for Social Development 52nd Session

The 52nd Session for Social Development starts on Tuesday February 11, 2014.  The priority theme of the commission is  “Promoting empowerment of people in achieving poverty eradication, social integration and full employment and decent work for all“.   You can read more here

In these two weeks it would be great if you could read Chapter 2 and 4 of ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis.  Access the full document here  Chapter 2 is entitled ‘Amid the Crisis of Communal Commitment’.  It runs from paragraph 50 to 109.  Some challenges of today’s world are found in paragraphs 52 – 75 .  Pope Francis says in paragraph 51 ‘… I do exhort all the communities to an “ever watchful scrutiny of the signs of the times”. This is in fact a grave responsibility since certain present realities, unless effectively dealt with, are capable of setting off processes of dehumanization which would then be hard to reverse.’  These very processes are the issues address in the Commission for Social Development – the dehumanizing condition of living in poverty, of being excluded, of being unemployed or exploited for labor as a slave.  Pope Frances lists some of the challenges in these words ‘No to an economy of  exclusion,(53-54);  no the the new idolatry of money,(55-56); no to a financial system which rules rather than serves (57-58); no to the inequality which spawns violence (59 – 60).

“We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas such as health care, education and communications.  At the same time we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences.”  In the Good Shepherd statement to the Commission for Social Development  we name those people as the people in the mines in Kolwezi in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Good Shepherd Statement to the Commission NGO 32  We choose one community to focus on but each of you in your ministries can put in your community’s name as all our ministries address the dire consequences of living from day to day.  In Pope Francis words “it is the struggle to live and, with precious little dignity.”  Further our Pope talks of the development of “new and often anonymous kinds of power.”(52)  Do you see these powers at work in your community?  Empowering people is I think one way to approach this.  Paragraph one of the statement offers a suggested definition. Can you see any parallel between the situation in Kolwezi and the words of Pope Francis in paragraph 53 “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality.  Such an economy kills. How can it be that is is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion.”  Aging is one of the issues that the Commission addresses and you can see that numerous statements from NGO’s that focus on that issue.  “Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving?  This is a case of inequality.  Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful are fed upon the powerless.  As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

Human being are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded.  We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading.  It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new.  Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even part of it.  The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.”

These words of Pope Frances are at the heart of the priority theme for the Commission for Social Development. Read up to the end of Paragraph 60 in the Pope’s apostolic letter.  Hear the Pope echo concern for the family – also an issue of the Commission.  Chapter 4 is the Social Dimension of Evangelicalism.  In paragraph 202 Pope Francis writes “the need to resolve the structural causes of poverty cannot be delayed, not only for the pragmatic reason of it urgency for the good order of society but because society need to be cured of a sickness which is weakening and frustrating it, and which can only lead to new crises.  Welfare project, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses.  As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attaching the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter to any problem.  Inequality is at the root of social ills.”    (A note – in the NGO community we no longer use the phrase ‘the poor’ but rather  ‘persons living in poverty’.

Paragraph 203  “The dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good are concerns which ought to shape all economic policies.  At times, however they seem to be a mere addendum imported from without in order to fill out a political discourse lacking in perspectives or plans for a true and integrated development.  How many words prove irksome to this system! It is irksome when the question of ethics is raised, when global solidarity is invoked, when the distribution of goods is mentioned, when reference is made to protecting labour and defending the dignity of the powerless, when allusion is made to a God who demands a commitment to justice.  At other times these issues are exploited by a rhetoric which cheapens them.  Casual indifference in the face of such questions empties our lives and our words of all meaning.  Business is a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all.  …. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth: it requires decision, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and the integral promotion of people living in poverty which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality.  … the economy can no longer continue ‘to increase profits by reducing the work force and adding to the ranks of the excluded.”

Pope Francis reiterates over and over again the same points and prays in paragraph 205 for more politicians capable of sincere and effective dialogue aimed at healing the deepest roots – and not simply appearances of the evils in our world!  Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it sees the common good. … It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare.”  Don’t you hear social protection floors in those words!

This I believe is also the raison d’etre of the Commission for Social Development where 46 member states (see the Commission Bureau and Members) on behalf of the whole  enter into dialogue on these same issues desiring poverty eradication, social inclusion and full employment and decent work. The emphasis this year is on ‘Empowerment of people’ and maybe what is lacking is an emphasis on the structural and systemic change necessary.  Good Shepherd Recommendations to the Commission are calling for the implementation of already agreed commitments – human rights based commitments,  nationally owned and designed floors of social protection, strong government regulation of mining companies; full compliance with CEDAW and ensuring the allocation of public resources to the achievement of the of aims of the commission as outlined in the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995 but going right back to the foundation of the United Nations – this being its 52nd meeting.

Is your country a member of the Commission for Social Development?  Are you praying for these representatives that they take courageous decisions for structural and systemic change?  What is your country doing to promote empowerment of people?  Is your country implementing Social Protection Floors?  Please share in the comment box.