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Promoting social integration and participation of all people, including disadvanteged and vulnerable groups and persons : report of the Secretary-General.

UN Document Symbol E/CN.5/1998/2
Convention Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Document Type Report of the Secretary-General
Session 36th
Type Document

14 p.

Subjects Social Integration, Civil Society, Judicial System, Socially Disadvantaged Persons, Risk, Mental Stress, Employment, Persons with Disabilities, Dispute Settlement

Extracted Text

United Nations E/CN.5/1998/2
Economic and Social Council Distr.: General
17 December 1997
Original: English
Commission for Social Development
Thirty-sixth session
10-20 February 1998
Item 3 (a) of the provisional agenda*
Follow-up to the World Summit for
Social Development
Promoting social integration and participation of all people,
including disadvantaged and vulnerable groups and persons
Report of the Secretary-General
Paragraphs Page
I. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1–2 3
II. Participation and social justice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3–64 3
A. A society for all . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 3
B. The importance of participation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4–5 3
C. Promoting fuller participation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6–7 3
D. Political processes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8–14 3
E. Space for civil society . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15–20 4
F. Justice systems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21–30 5
G. Participation in economic decisions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31–44 5
H. Access to work, means of livelihood, income and social services . . . . . . . . . . 45–50 6
I. Information, education, media . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51–64 7
III. Enhancing social protection and reducing vulnerability . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65–124 8
A. What is vulnerability? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65–76 8
B. Multiple risks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77–81 9
C. Why does it matter? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82–83 9
D. Principles to guide policy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84–87 9
E. Reducing vulnerability through enhanced employment opportunities for
groups and persons with specific needs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 88–95 11
F. An enabling environment for reducing vulnerability . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 96–106 12
G. Increasing empathy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 107–111 12
H. Mechanisms for partnership . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 112–115 13
I. Social impact assessments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116–118 13
J. Network poverty . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 119–120 14
K. Reducing vulnerability by promoting peace and the peaceful resolution of
conflicts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121 14
L. Reconsidering resource lessons . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 122–124 14
* E/CN.5/1998/1.
97-37897 (E) 150198
I. Introduction
1. As part of its regular review of the implementation and
follow-up of the decisions taken by the World Summit for
Social Development and in accordance with the multi-year
programme of work of the Commission for Social
Development and the agenda for its thirty-sixth session, as
approved by the Economic and Social Council in its decision
1997/230, the Commission will consider in 1998 the priority
theme “Promoting social integration and participation of all
people, including disadvantaged and vulnerable groups and
persons”, with the following subthemes: (a) “Promoting
social integration through responsive government, full
participation in society, non-discrimination, tolerance,
equality and social justice”; (b) “Enhancing social protection,
reducing vulnerability and enhancing employment
opportunities for groups with specific needs”; and (c)
“Violence, crime and the problem of illicit drugs and
substance abuse as factors of social disintegration”.1
2. In preparing for the thirty-sixth session of the
Commission, the United Nations Secretariat organized two
workshops in which independent experts from all regions
participated to discuss how to expedite the implementation
of the principal recommendations of the Summit as they
related to the critical areas of promoting participation and
enhancing social protection and reducing vulnerability. The
outcomes of the discussions in the workshops have been taken
into account in the preparation of the present report, which
has been prepared to assist the Commission to formulate its
own recommendations on implementation. The full texts of
the respective workshop reports are contained in documents
E/CN.5/1998/4 and E/CN.5/1998/5.
II. Participation and social justice
A. A society for all
3. The heads of State and Government at the World
Summit for Social Development stated that the goal of social
integration should be a society for all in which people have
the right and the ability to participate in decisions affecting
their lives. Such a society would be characterized by
responsive government, non-discrimination, tolerance,
respect for diversity, equality and social justice.
B. The importance of participation
4. Societies comprise diverse elements, and real or
potential cleavages exist along many lines: income and
wealth, social class, race and ethnicity, religion, language,
gender, age and others. To maintain diversity while reducing
divisions that can lead to brutal and violent confrontation is
a continuing challenge. Ensuring the fair and effective
representation and progress of all the diverse interests
requires their fullest possible participation at all levels, from
the micro level of the community to the macro level of the
nation and beyond to the global level.
5. This requires investment in social institutions and social
capital, enhancing social networks and relationships, building
consensus, and generating individual, organizational and
institutional capabilities within a supportive framework of
global cooperation.
C. Promoting fuller participation
6. Participation can be understood as a means, a goal and
a process. Participation is first of all an essential means to
empower communities to identify their priorities and to
ensure their control over the actions and resources needed to
achieve their goals. It is pursued as a goal to instil selfconfidence
and self-esteem in individuals and communities
when they have the assurance that their voice will count in
decisions that affect them. As a process, participation offers
a new approach to the governance of societies. Participation
is about both gaining access to government and people being
an important element in the process of governance.
7. With societies differing in many and important ways,
there can be few universal prescriptions to further promoting
fuller participation. There are, however, elements that are
typically important and guideposts to follow in any society.
The more important are listed below.
D. Political processes
8. A harmonious and equitable social integration requires
the existence of both formal democratic systems and
participatory institutions and mechanisms.
9. If elections are to be a true expression of popular
opinion, they should be free and fair. The United Nations and
other agents, both governmental and quasi-governmental,
provide assistance to countries in organizing and monitoring
elections; this assistance needs to be reinforced and
information about available help more widely disseminated. organizations, to further their integration with other
To eliminate barriers to the participation of minority or other organizations and to strengthen their involvement in more
excluded communities, access to information, funding and the complex political processes, and to work with other actors,
media is essential. such as business, political parties and government agencies.
10. Governmental decisions need to be made at the level 16. At the local level, civil society organizations should be
most appropriate to the issue at hand, and in partnership with encouraged to design, plan and monitor activities of benefit
business and civil society organizations. to the community. The participatory nature of grass-roots
11. It is crucial to define the responsibilities of each tier of
government: its functions, fiscal domain, other resources and
powers of decision.
12. In addition to the national and local levels traditionally
considered, attention needs to be given to the subnational
level where new approaches to participatory democracy are
emerging, for example in growing cities and their rural
hinterland, in river basins or groupings of neighbourhoods
in mega-cities. Community-based organizations, which are
helping to meet immediate needs, such as housing, urban
services or health care, learn to interact with other community
organizations and to assume a mutual responsibility for
producing solutions to their own problems. In the process,
new practices and institutions are being created and the
boundaries between politics, administration and civil society
are being reshaped. These also provide new opportunities for
interaction with national-level institutions, both public and 18. The emergence of diverse local and national nonprivate.
governmental organizations which involve citizens in
13. More information needs to be disseminated about such
initiatives, as well as about successful examples of
decentralization of resource allocation, service delivery and
decision-making from the centre to the locality.
Decentralization, however, is not always effective in
promoting participation because it can simply involve further
entrenching of local centres of power.
14. At the same time, decentralization must be accompanied
by mechanisms for ensuring that basic rights and principles
of social justice, as well as legal frameworks, are respected.
For that purpose, transparency and monitoring mechanisms
must be set up at all levels in order to ensure a proper balance
between responsibility and autonomy among the different
levels of government.
E. Space for civil society
15. A number of structures and mechanisms need to be
constituted to enable civil society to make its full contribution
to the promotion of people’s various goals and the broader
objective of a fully informed and involved citizenry. In order
to consolidate and make democratic systems more
participatory, it is essential to enhance grass-roots
organizations themselves must be strengthened through
promoting transparency and internal democracy, training and
dissemination of information. Intermediate level organizations
provide a link between local community organizations and the
national level. National organizations can provide an
opportunity for all to contribute to the planning, monitoring
and evaluation of policies and programmes.
17. An important device is the institutionalization of the
dialogue between people and their Government. For example,
in some countries special councils, sometimes presided over
by the Head of State or Government, have been established
for that purpose, bringing together members nominated from
civil society, the business community, the Government and
other public institutions; as well as, in some cases
representatives of regional and international organizations,
including international non-governmental organizations.
community activities and in the practice of decision-making,
conflict resolution and consensus-building should be
welcomed. Governments can foster an enabling environment
by assuring the right to establishment as well as noninterference
in their activities, possibly embodied in
legislation. Representative non-governmental organizations
and democratically-elected Governments can work
in partnership. The nature of that partnership should be one
in which non-governmental organizations challenge
Governments to be responsive to the interests of all.
19. Governments should provide resources for enhancing
the capacity of non-governmental organizations to serve the
community. Such funding should not adversely affect the
autonomy of the organizations in their implicit role of
complementing and supplementing government efforts to
promote shared goals. Governments should welcome funding
for local activities from bona fide recognized international
non-governmental organizations, and should encourage the
direct channelling of such funding to local activities.
20. The standing and credibility of non-governmental
organizations would be further enhanced if their activities
were fully transparent and open to review. Codes of conduct
developed by non-governmental organizations themselves and
the adoption of the practice of open self-monitoring would be
useful steps, particularly for international non-governmental 29. Action against corruption needs to be tailored to the
organizations. With the rapid expansion in the scope and specific type being combated. Corruption by low-level
complexity of their activities, there is a need for greater officials may by combated by raising their salaries,
coordination. A more explicit delineation of the mission of publicizing people’s complaints, creating complaint
each organization and wide publicity would help to bring mechanisms, publicizing the time stipulated for delivery of
about an informal yet effective process of coordination. a service or dealing with a request, and ensuring that
F. Justice systems
21. Participation requires a guarantee of the rule of law and
fair judicial procedures in order to reduce the likelihood of
decisions that are arbitrary, corrupt and biased, which in turn
requires a sound legal environment, including an independent
judiciary with adequate resources.
22. It is important that the legal process be seen to be fair
since it is typically the case that people are willing to accept
as fair outcomes that they regard as unfavourable if the
process through which the outcome was decided is regarded
as fair.
23. Cases need to be expeditiously dealt with and at
reasonable cost to the plaintiff. Legal aid or encouragement
of pro bono work by lawyers would extend the range of those
with access to the system. Non-governmental organizations
and community organizations can also intervene on behalf of
people without resources by means of public litigation. Court
decisions also need to be enforced.
24. Laws should be written in language, to the extent
possible, that is clear and understandable to everyone.
Technical assistance may be appropriate for countries wishing
to simplify their legal language and administrative
25. The existence of ombudsmen has proved to be effective
in promoting people’s awareness of their rights, in helping
them overcome complexities of the judicial system and
bureaucratic practices, and in correcting administrative
26. School and other educational institutions should include
courses that give people a better understanding of their rights,
the legal process and the opportunities available for redress
of grievances.
27. Corruption is a denial of rights, undermines public
institutions, hinders the just and equitable delivery of public
services, obstructs economic efficiency, and acts as a barrier
to participation and social integration.
28. The concept of corruption is culture-bound. It is a fact
of life in many societies, although its modalities, prevalence
and incidence vary, as does the degree of tolerance to it.
corruption is punished when exposed.
30. To deal with contract kickbacks and similar misdeeds,
it is necessary to create effective evaluation and performance
auditing systems, with the results made available to the
public, and to make bidding and tendering more transparent
and subject to public scrutiny. In the case of kickbacks and
illegal commissions on large purchases across national
frontiers, better information-sharing among countries on
financial flows and asset transfers is necessary. To be fully
effective, a multilateral approach is required, involving all
banking centres, setting out disclosure and monitoring
G. Participation in economic decisions
31. All individuals have community, social and economic
roles. Economic policies tend to be biased in favour of those
with power and resources. As a consequence, policies are
frequently designed that exclude significant sections of
society. The challenge lies in identifying mechanisms and
opportunities for enabling all people to participate in the
process of designing economic policies.
32. Economic decisions are made at multiple levels. People
can be economic actors and decision makers as consumers,
producers and workers; members of families, households and
communities; members of interest groups and organizations;
tax payers; part of the formal political structure; or public
33. Individuals can exercise influence by using consumer
power; organizing into cooperatives and labour associations;
through ownership of shares; or organizing in other ways to
influence policy. This requires access to information, as well
as a supportive legislative framework.
34. Within households and families, power relations often
determine intra-household allocations. For example, men can
control the income from women’s productive activities, which
may have a detrimental effect on household welfare and wellbeing.
Methods need to be developed to assist people in
working for more equal arrangements through such actions
as legal reform, literacy programmes or conflict resolution
techniques. For example, a better understanding of gender
analysis by policy makers and increased opportunities for 41. Decisions on how and on what terms aid is used should
women to earn an income are also necessary. be subject to agreement among all parties concerned in donor
35. Social, religious and cultural networks can help to
represent the specific economic interests of all the different
groups in the community, particularly excluded groups; to
ensure that policies reflect the needs and interest of
communities; to ensure that policies do not lead to 42. At the global level, individuals, through their national
disintegration of communities; to collect relevant data and affiliates of major international non-governmental
information on the impact of economic policies; to carry out organizations, can play an advocacy role in shaping policy on
participatory monitoring of policies; and to ensure local such issues as developing country debt or levels of aid
representation in government structures. budgets.
36. Single-interest groups can also have a strong impact on 43. Regional and subregional economic groupings are
both the local and national economy (e.g., to facilitate certain assuming an important role in building capacity to promote
activities, as well as to protest environmental, health and development and bargaining for better terms in external
other concerns). transactions; they should be encouraged to involve civil
37. Participatory planning is appropriate at all levels of
government, with local government particularly suitable for 44. The concept of social responsibility by private
adopting participatory methods. Local government structures enterprise needs to be explored and promoted, with the
can enhance interaction between people and government; cooperation of the private sector, in order to encourage the
monitor environmental and social compliance by business replication of current best practices. A high standard of
organizations; ensure processes of accountability and open ethical conduct in international trade should be the aim of all
flows of information; influence the distribution of fiscal participants.
resources; and influence local economic development
38. At the level of the central Government, there are a
number of ways in which policy can be influenced, both from
outside the Government, through think tanks, economic and
social councils, alliances of academics, non-governmental
organizations and pressure groups; and from within the
Government, through parliaments and their committees,
which can and do have an important role. In some countries,
important national decisions affecting the economy are
formulated on the basis of consensus achieved through an
established consultative process, involving government,
employers, trade unions and others.
39. For countries undergoing structural adjustment or
reform, there is currently a broad consensus that civil society
should be involved, that participatory assessment methods
should be used, and that departments concerned with social
questions, labour, health and others should participate with
ministers of finance in negotiations with external donors on
strategic policy issues.
40. Many economic policies are designed outside the
countries concerned, often without adequate consultation.
Capacity-building and training can help national authorities
to increase their bargaining power in the process of dialogue
concerning such policies.
and recipient countries. In multilateral aid mechanisms, the
views and concerns of the recipient countries, especially the
poorer or weaker countries, need to be fully taken into
account and respected.
society in their policy-making processes.
H. Access to work, means of livelihood,
income and social services
45. Involvement in economic activity and the resulting
ability to earn or access sufficient resources for livelihood is
an important component of social integration. Governments
have a continuing and primary responsibility to secure for all
who are able, effective, legal, economic participation in the
society. For those unable to participate in such economic
activity, Governments have a responsibility to secure for all
legal residents a means of subsistence.
46. Many socially useful activities, such as child-rearing
and caring for older persons or those with disabilities, are
often not undertaken as paid employment. They are
nevertheless important forms of participation in society.
Therefore, while income-earning work may be the single most
important means of social integration, unpaid but socially
useful activities must be afforded equal status. One way to do
this is to provide entitlement to social services and income
maintenance on the basis of residency, not paid work. It is
also possible to increase participation by bringing together
groups with complementary needs. For example, it might be
possible to meet the needs of young parents for reliable childcare
facilities by entrusting older persons (who are not
necessarily related but community-based) to provide those
services, thereby enabling their continued participation in and 52. Governments and administrative institutions have to
contribution to society. provide citizens and clients with comprehensive and
47. Participation extends also to decisions about conditions
of work at the plant, industry, country, and supranational
levels. The tripartite forms of governance of employment
policy established in many countries have increased cohesion
and reduced conflict so long as they were genuinely inclusive
of all kinds of workers, and need to be developed in ways that
take account of the transnational nature of much economic
activity. For example, the requirement placed upon
transnational companies operating in Europe to consult with 53. It is not enough to provide people with information
their workforce before deciding to move employment from “from above”. Disadvantaged groups of the population need
one country to another could be emulated in other regions. access to communication channels in order to articulate their
48. In the context of economic globalization and
competition, it may also be necessary to reduce taxes on
workers and to replace the revenue thus foregone that
financed social services by other forms of taxation.
49. The provision by welfare states of social security, health
care and education for all regardless of ability to pay was
essential to secure social cohesion, social solidarity and safe
societies. The essential purpose of that model—in contrast
to the view that suggests that such welfare states cannot be
afforded even in paired down form—could be emulated even
as the form of provision and the agency of provision will
differ. Welfare states are and should continue to be welfare
mixes of state, non-governmental organization, private and
informal provision, ideally always underpinned by the 55. “Client’s charters” prepared cooperatively by
assumption that to include the better off in entitlement to state Governments, non-governmental organizations and
services is to secure the defence of those services by the most community-based organizations are a valuable expression of
powerful. Targeted and residual services are recipes for social the rights of clients, the duties and responsibilities of
exclusion. providers of social services, and the availability of social
50. For social services to encourage the effective
participation of all requires making them equally accessible
and useful to members of all racial, ethnic and religious
groups. The challenge is to provide equitably for diverse
social needs in ways that are culturally sensitive. This can be
facilitated by ensuring that the providers of services reflect 56. Education is the most powerful way to break the vicious
the diversity of society; by monitoring with appropriate circle of poverty, powerlessness and exclusion. Although
statistics and surveys the differential use of services by each primary education is essential in order to promote
group; and by ensuring that the form in which the service is participation and integration, all children should have access
provided matches the wishes of ethnic or other minorities. to quality education at all levels. The quality of teaching and
I. Information, education, media
51. Information is a civic right and not a commodity, and
capacities to produce and understand information are
important resources for participation.
understandable information about policies, laws, rules and
procedures, available services and the rights of the population
to have access to services of a certain quality. Indicators used
to assess the provision of social services should be based on
understandable and valid quantitative and qualitative criteria.
Associations of clients and other non-governmental
organizations must be involved in elaborating such criteria
and in monitoring the delivery of social services.
own needs, social experiences and judgements about public
matters. Such groups can also be an important source of
information for policy makers, especially when they
complement expert knowledge with community-based, grassroots
sources of knowledge.
54. Non-governmental organizations and community-based
organizations representing the poor, minorities and various
disadvantaged groups can empower their members through
training to take an active role in formulating policy priorities.
Establishing channels for two-way communication between
the political and administrative leadership and poor and
powerless groups is an important mechanism for enhancing
services to different groups of the population. Administration
could be made more transparent by improving public access
to official data and documents, including through channels
provided by non-governmental organizations and communitybased
organizations and via the Internet.
the modern technological infrastructure of education,
including computers and access to the Internet, must be
developed in schools, particularly in the poorest countries and
neighbourhoods, with the help of government programmes,
voluntary fund-raising and international assistance.
57. An educated citizenry is a precondition for fully
effective democratic institutions. To facilitate participation
and empower the weakest, civic education has a special role.
Programmes for civic education should be developed in all within households or individuals with no discernible home
schools and adult education courses. In secondary schools and can be overlooked. Data collection can be manipulated and
courses for adults, project-based social learning could be used statistical information can be used to support any position. It
for developing participatory capacities. is important for national statistical offices to maintain a high
58. With growing multi-ethnicity in many societies, the
content of general education, starting from pre-school, should
be designed to contribute to the openness, tolerance and
intercultural communication skills of young people belonging
both to majorities and minorities, and to promote solidarity
and empathy among young people.
59. Social learning and professional retraining are needed
by both young people and adults if they are to adjust to the
social and economic changes going on in all countries. Lifelong
learning is not only a way to fight unemployment and
exclusion, it is also essential for the integration of the
60. New media, based on computers and global networks,
create immense opportunities for a new dialogue between
people and for uses of all kinds of information. But the new
media are also creating new cleavages between countries and
groups. Special efforts by Governments and assistance from
international organizations is needed to bridge this new gap
and to give people living in poverty opportunities for
participation in the new information society. Schools,
libraries and other public places in poor regions need to be
equipped with computers and Internet access and turned into
community communication centres.
61. The Internet creates a new space for public debate
where people with similar needs can share experiences and
ideas, and find support for participation in policy-building
and social monitoring. The Internet could and should be used
as a new resource for developing interregional and
international links among socially disadvantaged people.
62. Mass media could be used more responsibly,
recognizing that some types of information can be
disempowering. Satellite television and the Internet, for
example, can be used to advocate mass consumerism, and
their content can be erosive and insensitive to local cultures
and traditions.
63. Ultimately, responsibility in the media is best
maintained by the demands of its audience. In order to create
demand for a higher quality of information and develop
capacity for critical use of mass media, media education
should be included in school programmes and courses of adult
64. Information also includes various forms of public and
private data and statistics. Statistics are usually collected on
the basis of household surveys, with the result that individuals
degree of autonomy to protect the objectivity of their work.
III. Enhancing social protection and
reducing vulnerability
A. What is vulnerability?
65. Vulnerability is a part of the human condition. No one
is without vulnerability, and even those who live in physical
and material security live in fear of what might afflict them
or those closest to them. There are degrees of vulnerability,
and specific circumstances that need to be addressed.
66. In every society — regardless of geography, social
structures, political and economic systems — people are
exposed to a wide variety of risks, some of which may result
from acts of nature while others are caused by human action.
67. Vulnerability is a state of high exposure to risks,
combined with a reduced ability to defend oneself against
those risks and to cope with the negative consequences that
ensue. Risks in any society are not evenly distributed among
the general population, hence people are not equally exposed.
Certain individuals and groups have a much higher risk
exposure than others because of socio-demographic
characteristics, economic status, physical or mental condition,
lifestyles and so forth.
68. Although vulnerability and disadvantage are terms often
used as if they were interchangeable, they are distinct.
Disadvantage attaches to all groups who encounter structural
obstacles (i.e., obstacles created by society) to access to
resources, benefits and opportunities. These obstacles derive
from the relationships of power which exist in all societies
and the relative value which society gives to each group. The
effects for any one group may differ depending on the societal
context, but the result in all cases is increased vulnerability
to poverty, oppression and exploitation.
69. They can also compound other vulnerabilities, where
they exist. The structural causes that underlie disadvantage
include race, ethnicity, gender, religion, indigenous or
national origin, or socio-economic status. Although it is true
that persons or groups who are vulnerable are also frequently
disadvantaged and are often particularly vulnerable because
they are disadvantaged, many can be vulnerable in the
absence of any economic disadvantage. For example,
prosperous immigrants, wealthy older persons and successful
women, although not economically disadvantaged, could be prostitution are among other major risks to which this age
vulnerable to various forms of victimization, discrimination group is exposed.
or exploitation.
70. The degree of exposure to risks and the ability to cope form households and take on family and other responsibilities,
with their negative consequences do not remain constant including work. Difficulties in obtaining adequate housing
throughout the life span but vary from one stage of life to and employment and family violence are common or prevalent
another. Also, types of risk can change according to situations risks.
and circumstances. Although it is difficult to define exactly
what age limits separate one period of life from another, there
are certain identifiable periods that bring particular risks.
71. Prenatal risks mainly result from the knowledge, countries where older persons have traditionally enjoyed great
situation and conditions of parents, in particular the health of respect and influence, many people now face situations in
mothers, their nutrition and the habits they follow during which families do not have the housing and economic
pregnancy. resources to take care of older persons.
72. At birth, human beings experience one of the most
critical periods of life. Careful treatment of the mother and
the child during this period is essential for preventing several
disabilities. During the perinatal period, a nurturing
environment is essential. Also, early screening and
intervention can reduce risks or compensate deficient
conditions, thus helping to prevent the onset of disease or
disability. Infancy is an extremely critical period, when
physical, emotional and cognitive developments are
imprinted. Lack of stimulation, lack of affection, poor
nutrition, abandonment, abuse or neglect are serious risk
factors that can lead to stunted development and irreversible
future disadvantage.
73. Children are prone to various internal and external
sources of stress, with the age of three years being considered
a particularly critical time in life. Children in different
situations of risk may be distinguished, including children left
in institutions or abandoned, or children fending for
themselves in the streets. Often, they are born to families of
lower socio-economic status; however, risks related to the
physical and mental abuse of children and some kinds of
abandonment or neglect can be found in families at all socioeconomic
74. Adolescence can be a turning point in life, when
decisions and actions taken can have profound implications
for the future. During this period of life risks include
insecurity resulting from family disintegration; lack of
sufficient frameworks for establishing self-identity or points
of reference; lack of access to good health and education
services; or self-imposed risks connected with
experimentation with alcohol or drugs. Peer pressure and the
need for acceptance may take on exaggerated importance and
affect decisions regarding behaviour, as well as shaping
intergenerational relationships. Unwanted pregnancy and
75. Many risks come with adulthood, as people prepare to
76. Old age can bring significant risks, such as declining
health, abandonment by the family, institutionalization,
alienation and the loss of a meaningful social role. Even in
B. Multiple risks
77. Combining any of these age-related vulnerabilities with
other conditions, such as disability or membership of a
minority group, results in an accumulation of risks, which can
in turn lead to greater discrimination and segregation. The
accumulation of risks has implications that go far beyond
what policies aiming to counter any single vulnerability are
designed to handle. Similarly, poverty or difficulties brought
on by economic transition or adjustment, when combined with
age-related vulnerabilities, can further magnify the risks that
people confront because they reduce the options at their
command, which may then compound their vulnerability.
78. Women and various social groups suffer structural
disadvantages resulting from the nature of the societies in
which they live, which have compounded vulnerabilities by
hindering or denying them access to resources, benefits and
opportunities, and have minimized their capacities to achieve
sustainable livelihoods. Because gender-based roles and
responsibilities continue to proscribe their choices in most
places, women are particularly at risk and deserve particular
attention. Other social groups that can be identified include
ethnic and religious minorities; indigenous people; refugees
and displaced persons; migrants and migrant workers, both
legal and illegal, as well as family members left behind;
prisoners and ex-offenders; addicts and former addicts;
squatters; street children; people living in extreme poverty;
and landless rural workers.
79. In addition, people in vulnerable situations run a very
high risk of becoming victims of various kinds of violence,
both within and outside the family, affecting women, children,
disabled persons, older persons and others.
80. Not only can individuals and groups be vulnerable but in the design and implementation of policies, as well as in
communities — and indeed countries—can be considered their monitoring and evaluation. Recognizing
vulnerable as well. Those communities usually experience interdependence is important, given particularly the
adverse structural conditions that create a high degree of interrelationship of three actors in society: the Government,
vulnerability for their members. The economic difficulties the private sector and the civil society or voluntary sector.
faced by a community or a country may also be coupled with
a low level of public resources and consequently low social
transfers, which aggravate economic vulnerability. Economic
vulnerability in a community is produced by a combination
of factors.
81. Economic vulnerability at the community level may into the global economy will take much longer than earlier
result in internal social and ethnic conflicts that can further believed, more attention is being given to adopting measures
reduce prospects for development. Generally, a low degree at the community level to produce acceptable living standards
of community integration and cooperation makes an already through non-market mechanisms. That means basically (a)
negative condition worse. Economically vulnerable improving the capacities of people to use their own labour
communities may be found in all countries, although they are and natural resources to produce directly for their own
more prevalent in developing countries and countries with consumption a portion of the goods and services they need;
economies in transition. (b) to build through community action the needed economic
C. Why does it matter?
82. It is important to the well-being and cohesion of society
to take measures to protect all its members from the risks they
face at different stages in life and to overcome the
disadvantages that they confront because of gender-based
assumptions or by reason of their membership of a particular
race, class or group.
83. When individuals are forced by circumstance to become
a burden on their families and communities, the loss to society
is obvious. When individuals cannot reach their full potential,
it is not only they but also society which loses. Both
individuals and society are strengthened when all people
contribute to their maximum potential. But ultimately, any
society must be judged by the place it accords to those in
situations of greatest vulnerability and by the barriers it erects
that prevent individuals and groups from participating fully
in the life of the community. An analogous situation pertains
at the global level.
D. Principles to guide policy
84. For the social well-being of citizens, priorities and
policies are best designed and implemented to cover periods
beyond the life of a particular Government or Administration
and to focus on the long-term interest of the different groups
in the community. Policies should aim to strengthen networks
and organizations in the community, recognizing the essential
support that they can provide. Organizations of civil society,
especially at the community level, should be actively involved
85. As countries have sought or been driven to integrate
more closely into the global market-based economy, various
local or community-level developments have eased what has
for many been a difficult and disruptive transition. With the
realization that for many countries a successful integration
and social infrastructure, and to empower its members to
avoid social conflicts and exploitation.
86. In this framework, development of the private sector is
seen in a more diversified way: alongside the classic private
employer, other arrangements could contribute to the
economic development of communities, including selfemployment,
cooperatives and employee-owned firms. The
so-called “third sector” is not only seen as something apart
from the economy but also frequently serves as an important
factor for economic regeneration.
87. In formulating policies, attention should be given not
only to preparing individuals to cope with and function in
society and to participate more fully in the social and
economic development of the country but also to making the
economic, social and physical environment friendlier for those
with specific and special needs.
E. Reducing vulnerability through enhanced
employment opportunities for groups and
persons with specific needs
88. Reduction of vulnerability through enhanced
employment opportunities requires both policy reform and
direct targeted programmes. Direct interventions ensure
effective outreach and implementation of policy decisions.
While they can directly improve the worst manifestations of
vulnerability, they can help to bring about necessary
enhancement of the capabilities of the vulnerable groups. On
the other hand, major policy and institutional reforms are
often required in order to ensure that direct programmes
achieve their objectives on a sufficiently large and meaningful full participation of people with disabilities in education and
scale. training opportunities. However, the integration of the
89. For women, it is important to promote an overall
environment of non-discrimination; to improve access to land
and other assets, including financial resources and access to
credit for business enterprises, in particular; to improve the
human resource base; to expand access to wage employment
by adapting working conditions to the needs of working 94. Because of the degree of vulnerability that can result
mothers, including the adoption, at the national level, of from disability, additional policies should be considered to
legislation encouraging the establishment of return-to-work encourage alternative work arrangements that reasonably
schemes and the adaptation of the job conditions to the needs accommodate the needs of people with disabilities, and that
of the family (job-sharing and flexible hours are steps in that ensure that they are able to work according to their individual
direction); and to extend social protection and improve abilities. It is essential to ensure that laws do not discriminate
conditions of work in unregulated and unprotected jobs. It is against people with disabilities, to create conditions whereby
also important to strengthen the organizing and negotiating neither an employer nor an employee with disabilities will
capacities of women. suffer undue financial disadvantages from an employment
90. Young people commonly experience unemployment at
a rate two to four times greater than the national average. One
reason for the very high differentials is that new entrants to
the labour force have greater difficulty locating jobs in their 95. Older persons often face discrimination in the
fields of competence than people already in the workforce. workplace. It is important to ensure that older persons are
91. In order to reduce the differential, it is necessary first
to develop a job market, through public and private
employment services and other means of informing young
entrants to the labour force about available work
opportunities. Second, there may be a need to adjust the
educational system to the economic needs of the market to
make the type of education provided relevant to existing
demands for labour. Finally, policies and programmes should
encourage youth to enter self-employment, exercise their
entrepreneurial talents and create additional jobs which may
be filled by other young people. Measures to encourage and
sustain youth self-employment include management training,
mentoring, credit facilities and the establishment of liberal
laws and procedures conducive to the formation of small
business enterprises.
92. For workers in the informal sector, it is important to
create an enabling environment for a healthy growth of the
sector. This entails conducive macro and sectoral policies,
as well as a transparent and simple regulatory framework;
provision of necessary infrastructure; improved access to
credit, technology and markets; extension services geared
towards improving product design and quality of goods
produced; and support services for improved linkages with
other sectors of the economy.
93. For people with disabilities, it is important to ensure
respect for equal rights, the social and economic inclusion of
people with disabilities, and the encouragement of a
supportive social and physical environment, and to ensure the
disabled in the work place cannot be accomplished simply by
providing appropriate training for existing jobs unless this
is accompanied by measures that make the workplace
accessible and operational for the disabled, and by measures
to show employers the advantages of hiring disabled workers.
contract, and to prepare policies that enlarge training
possibilities in order to enhance their participation in
considered for employment and advancement according to
their capabilities, irrespective of age. The notion of a
mandatory retirement age should be reviewed. And provision
should be made for older workers to balance paid and
voluntary work, while retaining rights to pension and social
security, when available.
F. An enabling environment for reducing
96. All countries can benefit from reformulating policies
and programmes so that they recognize the existence and
redress vulnerability in different social, economic and
political relationships. Ultimately, such policies and
programmes will not only reduce vulnerability but also
promote social integration and bring about a more just
97. Accurate assessment of the nature and extent of
vulnerability are preconditions for effective policy and
programme interventions. Compiling the relevant information
and making it easily available would contribute greatly to
making people less vulnerable. It should be possible to create
a “yellow pages” to list all the organizations working to
support vulnerable people in one easy-to-use directory to help
people to reduce their vulnerability at relatively low cost.
98. Promoting the establishment of democratic, transparent
and accountable organizations at the community level,
formulating policies that provide a framework for the work 105. An enabling environment to reduce vulnerability needs
of non-governmental organizations, making resources to recognize and value spiritual aspects of development.
available for non-governmental organization work without Policies and programmes should not seek to improve material
excessive control or regulation, and creating an environment conditions alone but should also allow for spiritual
in which cooperative and other types of people’s development.
organizations can flourish should all receive priority.
99. A function of umbrella organization in this context which focuses on meeting practical gender-ascribed needs in
would be to promote the sharing of experience with regard the immediate term while working to achieve strategic
to successful socio-economic projects, especially those that interests to transform unequal relations between women and
result in reduced vulnerability. men in the longer term, policies and programmes designed
100. Countries may further reduce vulnerability by
increasing awareness, participation and solidarity through
various means.
101. One means is to simplify documents or provide
simplified versions of constitutions, national development
plans and other documents of relevance to ordinary people
and translate them into local languages. Radio, television,
documentaries and dramas can be used to that end, as can any
of the new forms of electronic communication and information
dissemination. Debates with wide public participation could
be promoted in communities on various issues confronting
or challenging the nation. Any measure that makes it easier
for ordinary people to understand the link between
participation (be it in the development debate, voting or other
forms) and the betterment of their conditions deserves
102. A main concern of legislation, criminal justice systems
and social services is to reduce the incidence of violence
against people and groups who are at risk or in vulnerable
103. Laws, policies and practices that discriminate against
particular groups or in any other way increase vulnerability
need to be identified through consultation and research into
the concerns and needs of those affected.
104. In developing and implementing policies, programmes
and activities, respect should be accorded to indigenous
knowledge, traditions and coping strategies. The development
of culturally appropriate curricula, taking into account
people’s language, culture, seasonal movements and other
factors, will help to reduce vulnerability in specific
circumstances and promote social integration. International
sources of funding could be directed to support locally created
radio and television programmes that utilize and promote
traditional cultural solutions to national problems.
Communities should be guaranteed full access to their own
community resources, and communities should be able to
benefit directly from the resources they have traditionally
relied upon without unnecessary restriction.
106. Borrowing from the gender and development approach,
to reduce risk, vulnerability and disadvantage should adopt
a two-pronged approach. It is important to recognize that
many people at risk have immediate needs — often tied to
survival — which must be met, even if by doing so their
vulnerability is confirmed. Meeting practical needs of people
at risk should not be the ultimate aim of policies and
programmes, but the latter should always contain a
component that seeks to remedy the conditions of
disadvantage, discrimination, exploitation or exclusion which
caused the vulnerability in the first place.
G. Increasing empathy
107. To reduce vulnerability will require more than
programmes that seek to reduce risk. It is also important to
increase social solidarity by creating opportunities that make
it easier for people to empathize with the situations of others
and to respond positively to those situations. There are a
number of ways in which people have erected obstacles that
diminish the ability to feel empathy. None of these is
inevitable, and policy initiatives to remove these obstacles are
possible and would contribute significantly to diminishing the
negative consequences of vulnerability.
108. An example is reluctance to express empathy for the
“wrong” person or group, and fear of the unfamiliar or
different: the suggested policy response is to provide
information and opportunities for different groups to learn
about others and to interact with them.
109. There are limits to the empathy that most people are
prepared to demonstrate, particularly if they are called upon
to make personal, financial or career sacrifices. The suggested
policy response is to develop greater incentives for empathy,
including tax incentives and allowing employees time off for
voluntary activities, and to ensure that caring programmes
recognize the efforts of the caregiver by meeting her or his
legitimate expenses.
110. In most societies, gender stereotypes have resulted in
situations whereby occupations associated with professional
caring have been considered as female, resulting in participation by organizations of civil society in the activities
undervaluation of their importance and remuneration. The and forums of international organizations.
suggested policy response is to promote greater reflection on
the relative importance of socially useful work, to raise pay
standards accordingly, and to encourage both young men and
women to consider such career paths.
111. There is a tendency for institutions designed to care for implementation of the Copenhagen Declaration and
individuals and groups at risk — and the people who work Programme of Action in order to provide the Commission
in them—to become bureaucratized, causing them to focus with a permanent but informal mechanism for the exchange
more on the needs and interests of the institution than on those of information and experiences to encourage involvement in
of the people needing care. The suggested policy response is the further implementation of strategic actions leading up to
to introduce (where they do not already exist) regular periodic the special session of the General Assembly in the year 2000.
institutional audits to check that concern for the needs of the Consideration should be given to the potential offered via the
clients remains paramount. Such audits must involve Internet.
representatives of those receiving care.
H. Mechanisms for partnership
112. It is important to encourage the establishment of ameliorate consequences of vulnerability which have already
mechanisms to facilitate partnership among Governments, the come to pass. It would be better for Governments and for
private sector and organizations of civil society specifically people at risk to prevent negative consequences before they
for the purpose of reducing vulnerability. Such mechanisms occur and to replace palliative measures by positive
should provide a forum for all three sectors to come together initiatives. To do this, greater awareness of the causes and
to discuss relevant issues, each sector contributing in areas consequences of vulnerability is needed. One way to raise
where it has a demonstrated advantage. Governments awareness is to undertake “social impact assessments” of
continue to have a major responsibility for the well-being of legislation, policies and programmes before they take effect:
society and for setting national development goals. to examine draft legislation and other major policy initiatives
Organizations of civil society offer an opportunity for people at an early stage to predict and assess their impact—positive
to participate and to channel their efforts in an organized or negative—for women, various groups and people at risk.
manner. The private sector should be encouraged to recognize Those directly affected should be asked to participate in the
that its responsibilities towards achieving a society for all go evaluation, either directly or, if appropriate, through the
beyond activities motivated by profit, and its more active intermediation of organizations of civil society with specialist
involvement in efforts to reduce vulnerability should be knowledge.
sought, particularly with respect to providing technical
assistance, training, mentoring, information technology, credit
and market information to assist micro- businesses.
113. Partnerships could also extend beyond national is important for two reasons: because in many places,
boundaries to include subregional and regional alliances analyses based on social considerations and outcomes are
designed to make the implementation and monitoring of rarely made, and because an understanding of the current
policies and programmes more feasible, particularly at times situation is a precondition for evaluating the impact of
when the causes of vulnerability or disadvantage are programme implementation.
supranational in origin, or where combined efforts are needed
to respond to global threats.
114. International support and encouragement for greater dynamics and the translation of such understanding for use
collaboration among Governments, the private sector and by decision makers. Parallel gender-based analyses should
civil society, including non-governmental organizations, be applied to all policies. The systematic development within
could have a significant impact in reducing vulnerability. theUnited Nations of a methodology for undertaking social
Such support could be demonstrated by allowing increased impact analyses is highly desirable.
115. Consideration should be given to establishing and
promoting an international network of organizations, experts
and individuals who have participated in different aspects of
the process of theWorld Summit for Social Development and
I. Social impact assessments
116. To a large extent, policies and programmes seek to
117. Social impact assessments begin by gathering
information about and providing analysis of current
conditions for people exposed to different types of risk. This
118. The best social impact assessments include social and
cultural analyses that permit an understanding of cultural
In the Programme of Action of the World 1 Summit for Social
Development, recommendations relating to subtheme (a) are
set out in paras. 71-74; to subtheme (b) in paras. 38-41 and
57-63; and to subtheme (c) in para. 79.
J. Network poverty
119. Research suggests that there are situations in which
vulnerable people need to connect with people in less
vulnerable situations since it is the latter who often have the
contacts and means to assist them. For instance, if the training
and support of young people without jobs is carried out in a
situation in which they simply relate to each other, then there
is evidence to suggest that a culture of unemployment is
reinforced, and that their chance of finding work is reduced,
whereas if they are enabled to meet people with good contacts
then there is a better chance that they will find employment.
The concept of “network poverty” has been coined to describe
a situation in which people with few prospects lack
connections to people better situated.
120. Governments need to explore what practical policy
initiatives they can take to ensure that the strength and dignity
which disadvantaged people may find from linking with one
another, and that the intimate knowledge of their challenges
and their own effective coping strategies are matched by the
practical help that may be available through wider
K. Reducing vulnerability by promoting
peace and the peaceful resolution of
121. Everyone who lives under conditions of conflict and war
is vulnerable. To reduce vulnerability it is essential to reduce
conflict and support mechanisms for the peaceful resolution
of differences, both within and between countries. Important
measures include informational programmes to promote
greater understanding of peacekeeping issues, and the training
of law enforcement and military personnel to prevent violence
against people at risk and to promote respect for their rights.
Community conflict resolution and counselling services are
powerful and effective tools.
L. Reconsidering resource issues
122. Much of what is here proposed will be seen to have
resource implications, but it would be easy to overestimate
these. First, resources spent today may often lead to long-term
savings. For instance, money spent on effective youth
employment initiatives will increase national income and add
to the ranks of taxpayers and hence tax revenue, not to
mention the potential long-term savings if the likelihood that
they would engage in socially disruptive or even criminal
activity goes down. It is essential for States to develop
accounting tools that enable them to evaluate rigorously and
comprehensively social investment and dividends over a
longer period of time than the traditional tax or accounting
year. It is suggested that work be initiated to develop
mechanisms for accounting that are appropriate for judging
the actual return on social investment.
123. Second, expenditure under one heading may at times
bring returns that more than compensate under another. For
instance, it has been suggested that vulnerable families and
young people in many cities would be much assisted if they
were able to travel free-of-charge on public transport. That
would clearly reduce revenue under one heading, but
depending on the circumstances, the city economy would be
likely to benefit from increased ease in the search for
employment, more family visits to local shops, places of
entertainment or education, and strengthened social contacts
and thus integration.
124. Third, if recognition were formally given to unpaid
work and socially-useful work (much of it done by women)
and to voluntary activities (much of it undertaken through
organizations of civil society), it would lead to better
awareness and appreciation of those important activities and
to a more accurate reflection of the distribution of work in an
economy. It would also create a more thorough understanding
of how the need or the desire to meet social responsibilities
can affect people’s vulnerability and thus provide an
invaluable tool to policy makers. Recognition would be more
readily forthcoming if those kinds of work were properly
recorded in national accounts. The relevant Secretariat
entities need to consider how methodological work which is
being undertaken to that end could be strengthened.