Author: Alexandra N. Barrantes, Chief Section, Equity Promotion Section, Department of Social Inclusion, OAS
The OAS has a leading role as a regional organization in facilitating high-level policy dialogues on its four main pillars: democracy, human rights, integral development and multidimensional security. It is also the depositary of a rich legal framework recognizing the interdependence of rights. This framework stresses that the promotion and observance of economic, social and cultural rights are intrinsic to integral development, the consolidation of democracy, security and the rule of law in the states of the Hemisphere.
Hence, there is an opportunity to work on a regional equity agenda on the basis of a collaborative, multidimensional, inter-sectoral, integral and human rights approach. An equity agenda linked to the four pillars of the OAS: recognition of equity as a key component of integral development; and tight linkages between the democracy, human rights and security pillars of the organization.
Why equity? Why now?
Inequality (in all its forms) and social exclusion are ailments that have affected the Americas region for decades hitting its citizens harder than many other regions. Inequality of access, of outcomes and of opportunities, as well as social exclusion all serve to inhibit, reduce and in some cases violate peoples’ enjoyment of their full rights. More equality in terms of rights, opportunities and wellbeing promotes a better sense of belonging in a society, and hence, more social cohesion (1), and is also a key element of poverty reduction efforts.
In recent years there has been growing awareness and increasing recognition on several fronts that equity constitutes a core element in the development agenda, and that inequality and social exclusion pose serious risks to democratic governance, human rights and security. From a human rights perspective, widespread recognition has been given to the clear interdependence between the fulfillment of economic and social rights and the enjoyment of all civil and political rights.
The international community has pushed for the ethical principles of equity as the new development paradigm and the ultimate goal of the development agenda (2). Countries have recently made strides to include the reduction of inequality both as a cross-cutting element in the Sustainable Development Goals being discussed within the Post-2015 Agenda, as well as including a specific goal on reducing inequality within and among countries.
Citizenship, social justice and equity at the core of the OAS
The interdependence between the fulfillment of economic and social rights and the enjoyment of all civil and political rights stresses the importance of full citizenship for the people of the Americas. This concept has been embedded in the core of the OAS since its inception by way of its Charter, where it is stressed that “development is a primary responsibility of each country and should constitute an integral and continuous process for the establishment of a more just economic and social order that will make possible and contribute to the fulfillment of the individual” (3), that “man can only achieve the full realization of his aspirations within” (4) a just social order, and that all people have a right to material well-being under circumstances of non discrimination and equality of opportunity. The inclusion and participation of marginal sectors of the population, in both political and social dimensions are considered as key for the full integration of a national community, the acceleration of social mobility, and the consolidation of a democratic system (5).
It is fair to say that although advances have been made, the region -together with many other parts of the world- still has a debt towards its citizens: the equity agenda. Certainly, the time has come to move forward on the equity agenda and take equity as a guiding principle for policy-making in the region.
Advancing equity in OAS High-level policy dialogues
When OAS Member States established the Inter-American Democratic Charter, they stressed the interdependency of political, civil and social dimensions of citizenship, by acknowledging that economic growth and social development based on justice, equity and democracy are interdependent and mutually reinforcing; and that the promotion and observance of economic, social, and cultural rights are inherently linked not only to development, but also to the consolidation of democracy.
A few years later, the Social Charter of the Americas was approved. OAS Member States reaffirmed that social justice and equity are essential for democracy (6); confirmed their determination to urgently combat the serious problems of poverty, social exclusion and inequality affecting their countries in varying degrees; confront the causes and consequences of inequality; and create more favorable conditions for economic and social development with equity to promote more just societies.
Governments have stressed the importance of strengthening and fostering policies and programs directed towards the achievement of societies that offer all people opportunities to benefit from sustainable development with equity and social inclusion (7).
Only a few months ago, at the Fifth Summit of the Americas, Heads of State centered their discussion on promoting prosperity with equity. A year before, countries committed to the Declaration of Asunción (8) “Development with Social Inclusion”, by which they recognized that in spite of progress and efforts made by States, inequity and social exclusion continue to affect our region, and that tackling their causes and consequences is an imperative. Countries also recognized that the promotion, protection and effective exercise of human rights, in particular economic, social, and cultural rights, as well as access to justice and dialogue among all sectors of the population, are essential for the strengthening of democracy.
OAS high-level policy dialogue forums have incorporated equity as a core element in sectoral policy-making. Social Development Ministries (9) in the region have recognized the central role of the State in the fight against poverty, inequity, inequality and social exclusion, as well as the multidimensional nature of these phenomena, thus requiring inter-sectoral and coordinated interventions in the framework of a national social development strategy.
Other OAS high-level policy dialogue forums have also followed this trend. As a case in point, at the last Inter-American Meeting of Ministers of Education (10), the convened authorities chose to focus deliberations on “Building an Inter-American Education Agenda: Education with Equity for Prosperity". The Ministers and High Authorities of Science and Technology (11) gathered to discuss Inclusive Innovation: Key to Reduce Inequalities and Increase Productivity in the Region.
Inter-American normative framework and equity
Given that the OAS serves as a depositary for Inter-American treaties, agreements, and norms -and that the General Secretariat is responsible for providing follow-up compliance to said legal instruments (12) - there is an enormous potential to cap into this rich normative framework in support of an OAS Equity Agenda and to promote public policies in key areas.
From a human rights perspective, the American Convention on Human Rights (13) reiterates the ideal of free men enjoying freedom from fear and emphasizing all that can be achieved under conditions in which all citizens enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights, as well as their civil and political rights.
State Parties to the Protocol of San Salvador (14) have undertaken to guarantee the exercise of economic, social and cultural rights without discrimination of any kind for reasons related to race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, economic status, birth or any other social condition. Furthermore, Member States have approved a set of indicators (15) to measure compliance and progress in each country’s (16) social policy –with regard to economic, social and cultural rights- that incorporate equality and non-discrimination as one of the crosscutting principles.
These crosscutting principles are instrumental not only for collecting information about the situation of social sectors contending with serious structural inequality problems, but also for gauging the effectiveness of policies implemented by the State to ensure that the affected sectors can enjoy their social rights. Their importance lies not only in the fact that they detect situations of inequality or lack of participation in vulnerable sectors, but also in their crosscutting ability to identify the social and institutional resources available in each State to remedy specific discrimination problems encountered in the exercise of social rights. The latter is of utmost importance; inequality and social exclusion can slip through the cracks when data that should inform policy-making is not disaggregated. If the marginalized and excluded are invisible, there is no way of harnessing public policies to address these problems.
The progress indicators are also intended as a useful tool for the design and continuous evaluation of public policies implemented by countries to guaranteed economic, social and cultural rights with a realistic focus on equity and social justice. Several of the indicators request disaggregated information with respect to each of the protected rights taking into consideration: gender equity; groups in vulnerable situations (children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities); and ethnic and cultural diversity.
Common paths for equity in the region
All of the above not only highlights the importance equity has gained in the development field, but also sheds light on the need for a more comprehensive and inter-sectoral approach, rather than continuing along the path of summing the efforts of the various sectors bringing up equity in their agendas.
A regional equity agenda could strive to achieve just that: one agenda to find a common path, by identifying main policy areas, and providing policy makers with instruments and tools to tackle inequality and social inclusion based on a collaborative, regional, multidimensional, inter-sectoral approach. This approach would also constitute an opportunity for the OAS to tackle the equity agenda from its four core pillars: development, democracy, human rights and security.
So that the people of the Americas can become full citizens, it is important to work tirelessly to promote progress on the agenda of fulfilling social rights, and from the General Secretariat of the OAS the new administration has committed to continue encouraging this agenda and achieving the goal of “More rights for more people”.
(1) La Hora de la Igualdad, Brechas por cerrar, caminos por abrir; CEPAL, 2010.
(2) Presentation of Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC Executive Secretary, at the First Workshop of Experts: The Concept of Socio-Economic Inclusive Development in the Post-2015 Agenda, Mexico City, February 25-26 2014.
(3) Charter of the Organization of American States.
(4) Charter of the Organization of American States.
(5) Charter of the Organization of American States.
(6) Social Charter of the Americas.
(7) Social Charter of the Americas.
(8)Declaration of Asunción, approved at the 44th Regular Session of the OAS General Assembly: “Development with Social Inclusion” (2014).
(9) Communiqué of the Second Meeting of Ministers and High Authorities of Social Development (2010), OAS.
(10) The VIII Inter-American Meeting of Ministers of Education took place in February 2015, in Panamá.
(11) The Fourth Meeting of Ministers and High Authorities of Science and Technology (IV REMCYT) was held on March 10-11, 2015, in Guatemala City, Guatemala.
(12) Among others: the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the area of Economic, Social and Cultural rights "Protocol of San Salvador", the Social Charter of the Americas, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities, Inter-American Convention on the Human Rights of Older Persons..
(13) American Convention on Human Rights “Pact of San José, Costa Rica”.
(14) Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the area of Economic, Social and Cultural rights "Protocol of San Salvador".
¡15) OAS Member States have approved a set of indicators for measuring rights under the Protocol of San Salvador. The first set of indicators was approved by AG/RES. 2713 (XLII-O/12) and the second by AG/RES. 2823 (XLIV-O/14). For the sets of indicators please see: http://www.oas.org/en/sedi/pub/progress_indicators.pdf
(16) The follow-up mechanism consisting of the national reports are due by State Parties to the Protocol of San Salvador only.