2019 Civil Society Forum at UN Headquarters, New York

by Marie D’Amato-Rizzi, SI UN Representative, New York

“Each year, in conjunction with the meeting of the UN Commission for Social Development, the NGO Committee for Social Development organizes a one day Civil Society Forum at the United Nations. The Forum brings together members of Civil Society and gives them a voice in addressing the priority theme of the Commission. This year the theme of the 57th Commission for Social Development is ‘Addressing inequalities and challenges to social inclusion through fiscal, wage and social protection policies’.

The Keynote Address was given by Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, UN Human Rights Council, Professor of Law, New York University School of Law. Professor Alston focused on the impact of economic and fiscal policies on women and other vulnerable groups. We, as Soroptimists, struggle with how we can impact policies that affect women. We also tend to shy away from economic issues. But Professor Alston shed light on these issues and how we might be more effective advocates.

Photo: Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, UN Human Rights Council (and lead image).

He spoke about neo-liberal economic policies. So right away I Googled that. Turns out that neo-liberal economic policies are those that support the transfer of control of economic factors to the private sector from the public sector. Great, mystery solved! Alston noted, for example, that when governments cut taxes, the response to how to provide services is “privatization.” When there is privatization, governments must ensure that human rights are protected and must ensure accountability. Unfortunately, this is not the case. This is where Civil Society – we – come in. He pointed out, that when there are cutbacks in services due to austerity and/or privatization, the burden shifts to women as they are traditionally the caregivers in their families. These issues affect all countries.

He also noted that human rights seem to have fallen out of fashion and are mentioned merely as tokens. We need to insist that when fiscal policies are being debated, gender and human rights are considered. The World Bank now has a policy that it will only fund government projects if the private sector cannot do it.

We have “boots on the ground.” We must provide feedback to those making fiscal policies regarding the impact of those policies; at a minimum, the unintended consequences of these policies. Given the velocity that is driving this shift in policy, we clearly have our work cut out for us.

For more information about the Civil Society Forum, go to http://webtv.un.org/watch/civil-society-forum-social-protection-and-transformative-fiscal-and-wage-policy-csocd57-side-event/6002742470001/ for the video of the morning session which includes Professor Alston’s presentation.”

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