Transforming our world, which the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aspires to do, starts at home—but global actors and processes can support these change processes in multiple ways. This message crystalized from lively discussions with the participants of a group of activists from Central America, who were visiting Geneva for a capacity-building and networking trip. This trip was organized by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation as part of its broader engagement in building national civil society coalitions for advocacy and implementation of social protection floors. The group was made up of seven participants each from Costa Rica and El Salvador, representing trade unions and women’s organizations, political parties, NGOs and research.
During the group’s visit to UNRISD on 8 November 2016, Senior Research Coordinator Katja Hujo presented the Institute’s new flagship report Policy Innovations for Transformative Change
, focusing in her presentation on the emergence of social protection floors as part of the social turn in the global development discourse and practice. One important innovation that the report identifies in the global social agenda has been in the area of care, the recognition of which features in the Sustainable Development Goals with an individual target (5.4).
During her presentation, Katja explained the exemplary country case study of Uruguay, where a national care system was introduced in 2015, and which was financed by an innovative and progressive tax reform. With the example of the care policy in Uruguay, Katja illustrated how achieving the transformative changes envisioned in the 2030 Agenda will fundamentally require successful cooperation between policy sectors: in the case of care between social protection, health, labour and infrastructure, for example. The report outlines also how care policies have been pursued at national levels
to varying degrees and in different ways. One participant added on this point that the government of El Salvador is currently also pursuing the adoption of a national care policy—and that the key question that remains is its long-term financing.
Such questions of solid and long-term financing of social policies are one of the key issue areas of the UNRISD report.
And they resonated well with ongoing social protection debates in both Costa Rica and El Salvador. Participants explained that a major challenge in their everyday work was pushing for universalization of social protection in an adverse context that is marked by rampant informality and precarious work, and in which fiscal austerity and lack of resources are being cited to justify spending cuts or lack of action. The discussions confirmed that obstacles to the financing and deepening of social protection systems (El Salvador), and even the maintenance of existing standards (Costa Rica), were in practice fundamentally political. In the case of Costa Rica, a participant pointed to the tensions between conservative and progressive elites within the country, as well as the influence of transnational economic elites. And even within local societies social protection systems were facing resistance at times, stigmatized as they are believed by parts of the population to create disincentives for youngsters to seek employment (El Salvador).
One participant commented that the successful mobilization of resources in Uruguay and their allocation for social spending was possible only because
there was a strong trade union presence meaning that workers’ interests are well-represented in the government of Frente Amplio. This underscores how important it will be to strengthen the political capacities of those who advocate for universal social policy to realize the enjoyment of equal
human rights, within and across countries. The group shared the sentiment that this human rights perspective was side-lined in national policy discourses that focused overly on fiscal austerity and cost saving. The role of civil society and the development community here would be to refocus the discussions and advance social protection discussions through effective and proactive communications and by building coalitions among themselves and with policy makers and influencers.
The seminar ended with a presentation of the UNRISD resource platform socialprotection-humanrights.org
by Doreen Yomoah. Doreen explained how the human rights framework that the platform applies could be useful in advocating for social protection floors and showcased the types of resources that the platforms has to offer.