People at heart of balanced growth
MINISTERS and senior policymakers across Asia and the Pacific gathered in Bangkok last month to focus on population dynamics at a crucial time for the region. Their goal: to keep people and human rights at the heart of the region’s push for sustainable development. They considered how successful we have been in balancing economic growth with social imperatives, underpinned by rights and choices for all, as enshrined in the landmark programme of action stemming from the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).
It merged diverse views on population, gender equality, sexual and reproductive health, and sustainable development with a remarkable global consensus that placed human dignity and rights at the heart of development.
Truly revolutionary at the time, the ICPD remains all the more urgent and relevant a quarter-century later, and goes hand-in-hand with the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals.
How well have we responded to trends such as population ageing and international migration? How successful have we been in ensuring optimal sexual and reproductive health and rights for all, including the right to choose when or whether to get married and when or whether to have children, and how many? How well have we done in strengthening gender equality and empowering women, and upholding the rights of the most vulnerable among us? Where should our efforts be refocused to leave no one behind?
Asia and the Pacific have much to celebrate. The region remains the engine of global growth and at the forefront of the global fight against poverty. It is home to half the world’s middle class. The share of the population living in poverty has dropped considerably although it is still unacceptably high. People are living longer, healthier lives. Rights-based family planning has contributed to considerable economic success and women’s empowerment, and we are on track to achieve universal education by 2030.
Yet for all this growth, considerable injustice remains. On its current trajectory, the region will fall short of achieving the 2030 Agenda, and in several areas we are heading in the wrong direction. Inequality is growing within and between countries. Some 1.2 billion people live in poverty, of which 400 million live in extreme poverty, including Myanmar. Lack of decent jobs and access to essential services are perpetuating injustice across generations.
Three main areas of concern At the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the UN Population Fund, we are keen to spotlight three key issues where regional commitment is vital.
First, we need to respond to the unprecedented population changes unfolding across the region. Many countries are facing a rapidly ageing population. The number of people above age 60 is expected to more than double by 2050. Effectively meeting the needs of an ageing society and ensuring healthy and productive lives must be a priority. This requires a life cycle approach – from pregnancy and childbirth, through adolescence and adulthood, to old age – ensuring that all people are allowed to fulfil their socioeconomic potential.
Equally, there is a strong case for strengthening Asia-pacific’s response to international migration. Migrants can, when allowed, contribute significantly to development. However, we know that migrants are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, so our ambition is to build further momentum in support of safe, orderly and regular migration to fully harness its development benefits.
Second, there is clear evidence the region must spend more on social protection, as well as on healthcare and education. Today, social protection is the preserve of a few, rather than a right for all. As a result, 60 percent of our population are at risk of being trapped in, or pushed into, poverty by sickness, disability, unemployment or old age, often underpinned by gender inequality. The “Social Outlook for Asia and the Pacific: Poorly Protected”, which ESCAP published last month, sets out why expanding social protection is the most effective way to reduce poverty, strengthen rights and make vulnerable groups less exposed. Many women, migrants, seniors and rural people would also benefit. Our evidence suggests it could even end extreme poverty in several countries by 2030.
Third, we need to invest in generating disaggregated data to tell us who is being left behind to ensure that our response to population dynamics is targeted and credible. Availability of data on social and demographic issues lags far behind economic data. Millions of births remain unregistered, leading to the denial of many basic rights, particularly to women and girls. Of the 43 countries that conducted a census between 2005 and 2014, only 16 have reliable data on international migration. With the 2020 round of censuses upon us, we will be redoubling our efforts to close these data gaps by strengthening partnerships for data capacity and working with governments and other partners to translate data into policies and action.
ESCAP and the fund stand united in their commitment to support efforts by member states to build and strengthen a regional response to issues that will shape the future.
We look to galvanise countries behind the ambition and vision that link the ICPD and the Goals and accelerate work to leave no one behind in the region.