Latin America’s Social Development ministers assemble to formulate regional policies against poverty and inequality

Summit on social development held in Quito, with the aim of strengthening ties among Latin America’s social development ministries and ensuring regional co-operation in the formulation of effective social policies.

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The Tenth Forum of Ministers of Social Development in Latin America was held in Quito from the 2nd-4th October.

Social Development ministers from across Latin America have agreed to coordinate efforts to eradicate poverty and promote social and economic equality across the region, after a special UNESCO-sponsored forum on the subject. The Tenth Forum of Ministers of Social Development in Latin America, held earlier this month, saw ministers and delegates from 14 Latin American countries assemble in the Ecuadorean capital, Quito, over three days. Representatives of other regional organisations, such as the South American integration body Unasur and the Latin American Social Sciences Institute (FLACSO), were also present.

The summit forms part of UNESCO’s Management of Social Transformations (MOST) programme, whose aim is to “strengthen links and cooperation between social sciences and public policy, especially in the field of social development”, according to a UNESCO press release. The theme of the Quito summit was “Overcoming inequalities in Latin America: Social transformations and public policies”, and saw an appraisal of Latin American nations’ efforts to address historic social inequalities in recent years.

Betty Tola, the Ecuadorean Minister of Economic and Social Inclusion, praised the importance of the event in terms of its contribution to regional consensus on public policies aimed at bringing down social inequalities. She said that the considerable advances made by many Latin American countries over the past decade or so meant that the forum had been able to draw upon a wealth of recent experience, allowing for consensus on the kind of strategies needed to pursue even better results in the future.

One of the outcomes of the summit was a plan to create a “network of civil servants” from the region’s various Social Development ministries, allowing for a better coordination of more effective social development policies across Latin America. This is particularly important in light of another of the summit’s aims, which is to seek a regional consensus on a Latin American proposal for the UN’s Post-2015 Development Agenda, which has the task of formulating new global development aims once the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire at the end of 2015.

Tola also emphasised the essential role that peace plays in social development, stating that “peace is a [necessary] condition for attaining development, a good quality of life, equality and the free exercise of rights”. To this end, Tola hailed the ongoing peace talks in Colombia, which aim to bring to an end the half-century old civil conflict involving the Colombian state, left-wing guerrilla rebels (most notably FARC), and right-wing paramilitaries.

Furthermore, the Ecuadorean minister insisted that policies to bring down inequality had to target disparities along the lines of gender, race and ethnicity (especially concerning Latin America’s indigenous peoples), generational differences, and issues relating to handicapped people’s position in society.

The summit formed part of UNESCO’s Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Programme. Photo courtesy of UNESCO.

The summit ended with a Quito Declaration, in which the forum’s participants formally pledged to “strengthen public policies with a focus on rights to equality in Latin America and the Caribbean”, with a special emphasis on “the eradication of poverty, access to and availability of goods and services, [and] the creation of opportunities”. It also reiterated many of the agreements made during the summit and highlighted by Betty Tola, including the network among Latin American Social Development ministries, which as the declaration made clear is in line with the objectives of UNESCO’s MOST programe. Also included were pledges to set up various other regional platforms for the sharing of social development strategies, and better links between governments and universities and other independent social research bodies, in order to facilitate more transparent and participatory social development strategies.

Latin America remains a region with tremendous levels of social and economic inequality, despite recent economic growth and rising living standards. Ahead of the summit, Tola had reiterated Latin America’s long history of inequality, which has left it as the world’s most unequal region, despite considerable gains since the turn of the century. According to figures cited by Tola before the summit, Latin America’s GINI index – which measures socioeconomic inequality with 0 denoting perfect equality and 1 representing total concentration of wealth by one person – fell from 0.53 in 2000 to 0.49 in 2010.

Among the best performing countries during this period are the summit’s host nation Ecuador, which saw its GINI value fall from 0.56 to 0.49, and Nicaragua, whose GINI went from 0.58 to 0.46. Tola also used the occasion to point out that public investment in social spending in Ecuador had risen from 4.2% of GDP in 2006 to 12.6% in 2012, in line with a broad trend of increasing social spending across Latin America.

The capital of Ecuador, Quito. Like Latin America in general, Ecuador has seen significant increases in social spending which have helped to bring down historic levels of inequality and poverty, although there is still a long way to go. Photo courtesy of Romulo Fotos.