1 – Social Development: Its Place in Development Policy – Social Development in Independent India


Social Development: Its Place in Development Policy

Muchkund Dubey




Social development has come to acquire a new salience in the literature and practice of development. Development is now perceived and defined in a way different from what it was during the first three decades after the Second World War. During that period, development was identified with growth in material output. Professor Rajni Kothari has very aptly described this early model of growth as one in which abstractions of gross domestic product (GDP) rates, saving ratios and technological coefficients ruled the roost, while human beings, social formations and even the structure of the State power were left out of the purview.1

The two concepts that dominated development thinking during that period were the Harrod-Domar model, which established a relationship between capital investment and the rate of growth, and Professor W. W. Rostow's theory of ‘stages of growth’ and ‘take-off’, perceived entirely in terms of the transformation of the physical dimensions of the economy, leading to the take-off stage of an accelerated, self-sustaining growth. Subsequently, the concept was refined by relating it to the goal of the maximization of welfare by introducing distributional equality, but for several decades this equality was perceived purely in terms of income.


What is described above represented the mainstream thinking, on development, of economists and policymakers in India and several other countries. However, visionaries, social reformers and leaders of India's Independence Movement propounded a wider concept of development. Mahatma Gandhi set before the nation the objective of ‘wiping every tear from every eye’. This literally sums up the more comprehensive and inclusive concept of development that came to be recognized from the decade of the 1970s. It embraces the goal of meeting the basic needs of the people, giving them freedom and dignity, and creating an environment in which they can be happy in a comprehensive sense of the term.

Gandhi did not see economics and ethics in separate compartments. He said, ‘Economics that hurts the moral well-being of the individual or a nation is immoral and therefore sinful’.2 He devoted most of his economic thinking to working out a programme of reconstruction of poor nations which would avert the problems brought about by indiscriminate modernization. Instead of developing a theory of investment planning at the national level, Gandhi developed a theory of constructive work at the local level. By far the most fundamental question raised in Gandhian economics is that of an alternative to the consumer society and an alternative lifestyle centred on need rather than greed, as Gandhi put it. His search for a solution to mass poverty derives from a critique of the modern society as a whole—of a society which generates affluence for some and poverty for many.

The essential Gandhian thinking on development was reflected in the objective that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru outlined for the country in his celebrated ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech on 14 August 1947. He said, ‘The service of India means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity’. However, in spite of the declaration in his speech of this comprehensive objective of development, the development strategy followed by India and most other developing countries at the time defined development in terms of growth in material output. Development was identified with economic development, and social development was brought in only as a thin icing on the economic cake. In more specific terms, it was seen as promoting social welfare and providing social services. The crucial role of the activities in the social sector in promoting development remained unrecognized for several years. Concepts such as meeting the basic needs of the people, changing the social structure and participating in the process of development were articulated only towards the end of the 1960s and in the early 1970s. Even then, they did not make much of an impression on the mainstream thinking.

Recently, Professor Amartya Sen has brought about a veritable revolution in development thinking by defining development as an ‘expansion of opportunities’, or ‘freedoms’ that individuals in society enjoy.3 Opportunity can be of intrinsic importance and therefore worth pursuing as a goal by itself or having the instrumental value of promoting development. Professor Sen's deeper insight into the development process has now come to be almost universally accepted and has become the basis for policy formulation by the governments of almost all developing countries. The developed countries are also trying to promote this concept of development through the leverage they have gained by virtue of their aid programmes and trade policy; international organizations like the World Bank, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations and its specialized agencies have been trying to reorient their norm-setting and theoretical work as well as their development of cooperation programmes on the basis of this broader definition of development. To expand the ‘opportunities’ and ‘freedoms’ of the individual, it is necessary to enhance her or his capabilities. Enhancement of capabilities, therefore, is now widely recognized as the objective of development.

The World Development Report (WDR, 1999–2000) defines the goal of development policy as the creation of ‘sustainable improvements in the quality of life for all people’. Improvement in the quality of life is implicit in Amartya Sen's concept of development as the expansion of choice or opportunities or freedom. What the WDR definition adds is the concept of sustainability and equity by using the words ‘sustainable’ and ‘for all people’.

Accumulation of human capital has proved to be a key factor in accelerating development in several countries, particularly in East and Southeast Asia. Provisioning of education, health and nutrition play a very important role in the accumulation of human capital. But as Professor Amartya Sen has stated, ‘human development’ goes beyond that. It makes a direct contribution to the expansion of human capabilities and the quality of life. The annual release by the UNDP of its Human Development Reports (HDRs) since 1990 has been the most important factor popularizing the concept of human development.

The role of human development in bringing about social and economic restructuring has been brought out very succinctly in Professor Amartya Sen's Asia and Pacific lecture.4 A special feature of the East and Southeast Asian development process has been an emphasis on basic education as a prime mover for change, and wide dissemination of basic economic entitlement through education and training, through land reform and through availability of credit. Professor Sen argues that there is sufficient evidence that even with relatively low income, a population that guarantees basic social services can improve the length and quality of life. Because of this factor, China already had quite a high life expectancy at birth even in the pre-reform era, that is, prior to 1979. Since basic education and health are also exceptionally labour-intensive activities, they are much cheaper in poorer countries than in the richer ones. Thus, human development contributes to the quality of life even in the absence of its impact on economic and industrial expansion. Secondly, it greatly facilitates such expansion. Thirdly, it improves the efficiency and widens the reach of the market economy. For example, literacy contributes to economic development through quality control and production to specification. (There is also much evidence to show that education, particularly female education, helps in reducing fertility rates.)

Empirical studies show that though there is a weak relationship between economic development and the rate of improvement in vital measures of development like education, life expectancy, child mortality and gender equality, there is a strong positive relationship between key social characteristics and the attainment of development defined in the broader sense of the term. One study found that a 10-per-cent increase in the female literacy rate reduced child mortality by an equal percentage. Taking developing countries as a whole, gains in female education in the 1960–1990 period might have accounted for as much as a 38-per-cent decline in infant mortality and a 58-per-cent drop in the total illiteracy rate. On the other hand, despite the low level of GDP per capita in Sri Lanka, life expectancy there is as high as 73 years and infant mortality as low as 14.5

Another salient concept, which the WDR (1999–2000) brings in, is that of social capital, defined as ‘the network and relationships that encourage trust and reciprocity and also shape the quality and quantity of the society's social interactions’. Social capital, thus defined, has a significant impact on a range of development processes. To illustrate this point, the WDR says that empirical evidence has shown that in education, teachers are more committed, students achieve higher test scores and school facilities are better utilized in communities where parents and citizens take an active interest in children's educational well-being. In health services, doctors and nurses are more likely to show up for work and perform their duties more attentively where their actions are supported and monitored by citizen groups. In rural development, villages with higher social capital seek greater use of credit. Social capital serves as an insurance mechanism for the poor who are unable to access market-based alternatives.


At the beginning of the drive for reforms in developing countries, there was a deliberate effort to exaggerate the adverse implications of the government's role in development and to suggest the withdrawal of the government from the development process. This swing of the pendulum has more or less been arrested and a more balanced view has been taken of the role of the government. That the government has to play a crucial role in the development process is no longer an issue. The issue basically is the extent, nature and direction of government interventions. The areas in which the government's role is regarded as most conducive to development are provisioning of social services and social and physical infrastructure building. There is an emerging consensus that the government can play its role best in partnership with other agents of development, particularly the private sector, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations. There is also a great deal of emphasis today on good governance, free from corruption and embodying transparent and participatory processes.

In his Asia and Pacific lecture, Professor Amartya Sen underlines that a deliberate combination of State action and the use of the market economy was one of the special features of the East and Southeast Asian development process. The WDR (1999–2000) makes the same point when it states that the governments in the East and Southeast Asian countries intervened in trade to regulate exports and financial markets. They directed investments in particular areas, encouraged savings and lower interest rates, and increased profitability.

In his lecture, Professor Sen states that the overall achievement of the market is deeply contingent on political and social arrangements. The market mechanism has achieved great successes under conditions in which opportunities offered by it have been reasonably shared. Provision of basic education and health and widely shared command over elementary resources like land have been conducive to ensuring the success of the development process. But these demands call for appropriate public policies and ‘carefully and determined public action going well beyond the simple fostering of markets’.

In fact, the role of institutions in a dispensation where the State occupies the pride of place has come to be recognized as a crucial factor in the development process. The WDR (1999–2000) states, ‘a strong network of effective organizations and enabling institutions is central to holistic development’. Countries with stable governments, predictable method of changing laws, secure property rights and a strong judiciary saw higher investment and growth than those lacking these institutions. Even the outcome of privatization is heavily dependent on the government's structure, macro-economic and structural factors, competitiveness of markets, social sustainability, regulatory regimes and corporate and commercial law.

On the other hand, today, people are regarded as the means and the end of development. Even with the best will in the world, a government is unlikely to meet collective needs efficiently if it does not know what these needs are. It can know this only if it comes closer to the people. This means bringing popular voices into policy making, and opening up ways for individual users, the private sector organizations and other groups in the civil society. It can also mean greater decentralization of government power and resources.6

Increasing opportunities for participation of the people can enhance the state's capabilities in the following ways:7

  • When citizens can express their opinions and press their demands publicly within the framework of the law, states acquire some of the credibility that they need to govern well. Broad-based discussions of policy goals can also reduce the risks implicit in a powerful minority monopolizing the direction of the government. The states that achieve credibility in this fashion have more flexibility in policy implementation and have an easier time engaging citizens in the pursuit of collective goals.
  • Where markets are absent, as in the case of most public goods, the popular voice can reduce information problems and lower transaction costs. The emergence of private and NGO alternatives for the provisioning of public goods and services can help meet gaps in the supply of such goods and services. NGOs can be both partners and competitors in the delivery of public services. When backed by the citizens’ voice, they can exert useful pressure on the government to improve the delivery and quality of public services.
  • In the management of common property resources, the provision of basic infrastructure and the delivery of essential services, there is considerable scope for involving the public directly.

A recent study of villages in Tanzania found that households in villages with a higher degree of participation in the village-level social organizations have a higher average per capita income than those households with low levels of social capital. In certain cases, as in the West Bank, the Gaza strip and Cambodia, NGOs are numerically important enough to be able to substitute for weak public sector capacity and to mobilize funds from a range of private sources.8

Yet, not all the NGOs are involved in the delivery of services and many are research and civic education groups, advocacy organizations and professional and business associations. The NGOs tend to be one step removed from the ordinary citizens. By contrast, the grass-roots organizations, community-based groups and people's organizations engage the citizens directly.

Governments can facilitate popular participation by safeguarding the rights of the people to organize, gain access to information, engage in contracts and own and manage assets.


In the initial period of the discussion on reforms, policies to facilitate the free play of market forces were regarded as the over-riding necessity for achieving development, irrespective of how they affected the social dynamics. It was argued—and even now there are zealots arguing on the same lines—that the increase in the gross national product (GNP) brought about by economic reforms can take care of the objectives of social development. In this connection, statistical evidence has been adduced which show a positive relationship between the increase in GNP and poverty reduction. This is a lopsided and partial way to look at the development process.

Professor Amartya Sen has raised a very pertinent question: Are not ‘the reforms much too conservative in keeping intact governmental under-activity in social infrastructure, while trying to cure governmental over-activity in trade and manufacturing industries’?9 Professor Sen puts the reforms-social development dilemma in the correct perspective when he says that whereas on the one hand, the opportunities offered by a well-functioning market may be difficult to use when a person is handicapped by, say, illiteracy or ill health, on the other hand, a person with some education and fine health may still not be able to use his or her capabilities because of the limitations of economic opportunities, arising from absence of markets or overzealous bureaucratic control or lack of finance. Social opportunities are, thus, influenced by a variety of factors which include both a properly functioning market as well as a deliberate provisioning of social services.10

Taking the case of India, Professor Sen states that the blame for independent India's past failures is often put on the insufficient development of market incentives. While there is considerable truth in that diagnosis, it is quite inadequate as an analysis of what has gone wrong in the country. There are many failures, particularly in the development of public educational facilities, health care provisions, social security arrangements, local democracy, environmental protection, and so on, and the stifling of market incentives is only one part of that larger picture.11

Professor Sen, therefore, suggests that we should get the ‘debate on contemporary India's political economy beyond the familiar battle lines around the issues of economic reforms, liberalisation and de-regulations’. The main problem in focusing on that question is the resulting neglect of other public policy matters, dealing in particular with education, health and social security. ‘If the central challenge of economic development in India is understood in terms of need to expand social opportunities, then liberalisation must be seen as occupying only one part of that large stage’.12


The United Nations Charter reflects a more balanced development thinking than that prevalent in the three decades after the promulgation of the charter. Both in the Preamble as well as in Article 55 of the charter, under the heading ‘International Economic and Social Cooperation’, social and economic progress has been accorded equal importance. In the Preamble, one of the objectives of the United Nations is ‘to promote social progress and better standard of life in larger freedom’. Under Article 55, the United Nations has undertaken to promote ‘higher standards of life, full employment and conditions of economic and social progress and development’. The Organization is also committed to seek solutions to ‘international economic, social, health and related problems’ and to promote ‘international cultural and educational cooperation’. Moreover, both the Preamble and Article 55 give equal primacy to ‘universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms’, which are now seen as closely related to social development.

Soon after its establishment, the United Nations institutionalized its activities in the field of social development by establishing a Commission on Social Development as well as a division in the Secretariat to undertake research on and provide advisory services in the field of social development. This division, apart from discharging its function of back-stopping the work of the Commission, undertook projects of its own in this area, financed by UNDP, and made suggestions for the inclusion of social development elements in national development plans and in UNDP projects. It may be noted here that the founder of the Council for Social Development (CSD) and its first Executive Chairperson-cum-Director, Dr (Ms) Durgabai Deshmukh, had used the services of the experts of this division for suggesting elements of social development to be built into the development planning process in India.

In spite of the above-cited provisions of the charter and institutional arrangements made in the Secretariat, development activities under the UN systems of organizations were influenced by the then dominant thinking on development, reflected in the Harrod-Domar model and Rostow's concepts of stages of growth and take-off. Social development remained a peripheral aspect of the overall development activities of the United Nations even though UN organizations were the only ones which devoted resources and attention to social development. Social development was a minor aspect of the research work undertaken by the United Nations for the analysis of the trends in the world economy and international economic relations as embodied in the successive world economic surveys. This trend continued till almost the beginning of the 1970s. A striking example of this was the manner in which the International Development Strategy for the 1970s relegated issues of social development to the margins of the strategy. Apart from the influence of the dominant thinking on development, there were some other reasons, mostly of a political nature, which resulted in relegating social development to the background in the discussion on and formulation and adoption of policy measures for development at the international level. These were as follows:

  • Developing countries regarded social development as an underlying assumption behind all their development activities, but they did not articulate problems of social development in any detail because they believed that social development could be best promoted by faster economic growth.
  • They thought that social development fell in the realm of their national responsibility. Therefore, international cooperation did not have any significant role to play in this area.
  • They thought that if social development was discussed in the international fora, it would become a device for interference in their domestic affairs.
  • Foreign assistance was mainly seen in the form of foreign exchange designed to augment the import capacity of the developing countries or bridging the import-export gap. It was intended to supplement the domestic resources by meeting a part of the foreign exchange component of development. Domestic resources were not regarded as much of a constraint. This left very little scope for discussing social aspects of development in the international fora.

The experience of development in the first quarter of the century after the Second World War, that is, 1950–1975, revealed that

  • Growth based on capital investment alone was neither possible nor wholesome.
  • In most cases, the main constraint to growth lay in the social field, in the paucity of the provisioning for health and education services and due to limited opportunities of people's participation in the growth process. Accumulation of human capital emerged as the principal stimulant of growth in several countries.
  • There was an increasing recognition of the intrinsic value of the opportunities opened up by social development, like attaining literacy, enjoying good health, being able to exercise fundamental freedoms and human rights, etc.

Another important development, starting from the late 1970s and continuing until now, is the demonstrated incapability of the developing countries to raise resources of their own for adequately financing development, and the emergence of fiscal imbalances in their economies. We now witness the all-pervading phenomenon of paucity of domestic resources to meet basic needs, finance local currency components of foreign-assisted projects and invest in social and physical infrastructures. This has emerged as a major factor why the commitment of the governments of the developing countries to social development is no longer taken as axiomatic as was the case during the 1950s and the early part of the 1960s. Since the 1970s, there has been an increasing emphasis on foreign assistance for local cost financing, and on the donor countries and agencies redirecting their assistance to meeting the basic human needs and towards human development. Foreign assistance is now being given mostly as a substitute for domestic resources and not necessarily as a supplement to them. This has enabled the donor countries and international agencies increasingly to use commitment and attention to social objectives as conditionalities for assistance. The recipient countries have increasingly started accepting these conditionalities. A significant development during the last decade or so has been attaching non-economic conditionalities to aid and trade concessions, designed to promote social goals. These include good governance and human rights conditionalities. The recipient countries have increasingly come to accept these conditionalities also.

By the late 1980s and the early 1990s, the entire orientation of the economic bodies and the organizations of the UN system underwent a drastic change, shifting emphasis towards social development. The UN system of organization became increasingly concerned with socio-economic developments within the economies of developing countries and less and less with adjustments and changes in the policies of the governments at the international level, let alone with the harmonization of such policies. Discussions of and policy formulation on hard core economic issues were transferred to the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). The time and energy of the United Nations and its specialized agencies was directed mainly to the discussion of social and humanitarian issues. It led to a division of labour between the World Bank, IMF and WTO on the one hand and the United Nations and its specialized agencies on the other, which was not envisaged in the charter. This development has led some critics to comment that the United Nations today has become primarily a forum for prescribing self-help kits for the developing countries.

It was against this background that the World Summit for Social Development was held under the aegis of the United Nations in Copenhagen in March 1995. This summit was most timely. It was a recognition at the highest political level of the fait accompli of the changes in development thinking towards greater emphasis on social development. It thus gave a seal of approval to these changes. It brought together different trends of thought evident in the field, tried to put them into an interdisciplinary and coherent framework and developed global consensus as a guide for future national and international actions. The government leaders who assembled at the summit undertook commitments in major areas of social development and set goals and agreed on a plan of action in each area. Since they could not have covered all sectors and issues of social development, they concentrated on three, that is, poverty, unemployment and social exclusion. These are all cross-cutting themes straddling a number of sectors and areas and covering several disciplines.

The summit adopted a declaration and a programme of action on social development. This was subsequently endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations. At the summit, the participants launched ‘a global drive for social programmes and development’, embodying commitments taken in 10 areas. These were as follows:

  1. Creating an enabling environment for social development.
  2. Eradicating poverty.
  3. Promoting full employment.
  4. Promoting social integration.
  5. Achieving gender equality.
  6. Identifying and deploying the means for tackling the problems of social development.
  7. Addressing the special problem of Africa and the least developed countries in the field of social development.
  8. Bringing World Bank/IMF-sponsored structural adjustment programmes in harmony with the goals for social development.
  9. Increasing the resources allotted to social development.
  10. Achieving cooperation for social development at the sub-regional, regional and international levels.

In the declaration, the heads of states and governments recognized ‘the significance of social development…for all and decided to give highest priority to the goals set out in the Declaration’. They addressed the underlying and structural causes of the problems of social development and their distressing consequences. They launched ‘a new commitment to social development’ in each of their countries and ‘a new era of international cooperation’ in this field.

They saw an intrinsic relationship between social development and peace. The declaration states, ‘Social development and social justice are indispensable for the achievement and maintenance of peace and security within and among our nations. In turn peace and security and respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms are necessary for attaining social development and social justice’.

They also emphasized the link between economic development, social development and environmental protection. They stated that these are ‘interdependent and mutually reinforcing components of sustainable development’. They recognized, in particular, that broad-based and sustained economic growth is necessary to sustain social development. Moreover, ‘equitable social development that recognized empowering the poor to utilize environmental resources sustainably is a necessary foundation for social development’.

In the document adopted by the summit, an attempt has been made to present a brief review of the current social situation. Progress in some areas of social and economic development has been noted. These include the following:

  • Global wealth of nations multiplied seven-fold during the 50 years before the conference. International trade grew even more dramatically.
  • Life expectancy, literacy and primary education and access to basic health care increased in the majority of the countries. The average infant mortality came down considerably even in the developing countries.
  • Democratic pluralism, democratic institutions and fundamental civil liberties expanded.
  • At the global level, one of the principal objectives of the United Nations, that is, decolonization was substantially realized and dramatic progress was made towards the elimination of apartheid.

In spite of the progress, the social situation in most of the countries remained a matter of great concern. The following major nagging problems of social development were identified by the summit:

  • Income gaps increased both within and among nations.
  • One billion people were living in abject poverty. Most of them went hungry. A large proportion of them had limited access to income, resources, education, health care and nutrition.
  • Unsustainable pattern of consumption and production remained the major cause of the continued deterioration of the environment and the aggravation of poverty and imbalance.
  • One hundred and twenty million people worldwide were unemployed and many more were under-employed.
  • More women than men lived in absolute poverty. Women carried a disproportionate share of the burden of poverty, social exclusion, unemployment, environmental degradation and effects of war.
  • Health services remained meagre and serious health problems arose because of the incidents of communicable diseases. These are hindrance to social development and causes of poverty and social exclusion.
  • Millions of people were reduced to the position of refugees or were internally displaced.
  • The problems of disability and old age were also matters of concern.
  • Transnational problems like drug trafficking, organized crime, arms trafficking, terrorism, armed conflicts, intolerance and xenophobia, and incitement of racial, ethnic and religious hatred, remained the major challenges for the international community.

A special session of the UN General Assembly was held in Geneva in June-July, 2002, to assess the achievements of and obstacles to social development and to decide on further initiatives for accelerating it. The participants in the conference reaffirmed their will and commitment to implement the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action, which ‘will remain the basic framework for social development for years to come’.

The document adopted in the Geneva Conference reviewed the progress in attaining the quantitative targets adopted at the Copenhagen Summit in 13 areas of basic social services, including the flow of official development assistance (ODA). It concluded that progress in most of these areas remained meagre or unsatisfactory.

The Copenhagen Summit had pronounced its judgement on the implications of globalization for social development. It stated that globalization, while opening new opportunities for sustained economic growth and permitting countries to share experiences and learn from each other's experience with greater facility and speed, has been accompanied by intensified poverty, unemployment and social disintegration. Threats to human beings, such as environmental risks, have also been globalized. The challenge, therefore, is how to manage these processes and threats so as to enhance their benefits and mitigate their negative effects.

At the Geneva Conference, the implications of globalization for social development were more sharply brought out. The document adopted at the conference mentions that ‘current patterns of globalization have contributed to a sense of insecurity as some countries, particularly developing countries, have been marginalized from the global economy’. Moreover, ‘the growing interdependence of nations which has caused economic shocks to be transmitted across national borders, as well as increased inequality, highlight weaknesses in current national and international institutional arrangements, and economic and social policies’.

The Copenhagen Summit committed itself to ‘a political, economic, ethical and spiritual vision for social development that is based on human dignity, human rights, equity, respect, peace, democracy, multilateral responsibility and cooperation’. The summit leaders adopted the following goals in the social field:

  • Placing people at the centre of development; and directing their economies to meet human needs.
  • Ensuring inter-generational equality by protecting the integrity and sustainable use of the environment.
  • Integrating economic, social and cultural policies.
  • Promoting democracy, human dignity, social justice and solidarity; and ensuring tolerance, non-violence, pluralism and non-discrimination.
  • Promoting equitable distribution of income.
  • Ensuring the inclusion of disadvantaged and vulnerable persons and groups in the process of social development.
  • Promoting universal respect for and observance and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.
  • Protecting the rights of children and youth.
  • Empowering people—full participation of people in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of decisions determining the functioning and well-being of societies.
  • Facilitating access to advanced technologies, particularly information technology, which can play a very important role in fulfilling social development goals.
  • Strengthening policies and programmes that improve, ensure and broaden the participation of women in all spheres of life, as equal partners.

One of the commitments adopted at the Copenhagen Summit was to create an economic, political, social, cultural and legal environment that will enable people to achieve social development. To this end, the summit adopted the following goals:

  • To provide a stable legal framework which includes equality between men and women, respect for human rights, rule of law, access to justice, transparent and accountable governance and elimination of all forms of discrimination.
  • To provide more equitable access to income, resources and social services.
  • To promote participatory development through association of NGOs and civil society organizations and through decentralization.
  • To reinforce peace by promoting tolerance, non-violence and respect for diversity.

In the plan of action under this commitment, it is stated that ‘social progress will not be realized simply through the free interaction of market forces. Public policies are necessary to correct market failures, to complement market mechanism, to maintain social stability and to create a national and international environment that promotes sustainable growth on a global scale’.

Detailed recommendations have been made in the plan of action regarding the actions to be taken for creating an enabling environment for social development. These include the following: equitable and non-discriminatory distribution of the benefits of growth; interaction of market forces conducive to efficiency and social development; public policies that seek to overcome disparities and respect pluralism and diversity; strengthened role of the family; expanded access to education, health care services, information, knowledge and technology; increased solidarity, partnership and cooperation; policies for empowering people; and protection and conservation of the environment.

In the Geneva Conference, the crucial role of the government in advancing people-centred sustainable development through actions to ensure increased equality and equity, and ensuring that markets function efficiently, were emphasized. The conference also renewed commitment to efficient, transparent and accountable government and to democratic institutions.


Eradication of Poverty

Definition of Poverty. Poverty has generally been associated with paucity of income to meet basic needs. Most of the measures of poverty have used per capita income to identify people living above and below the poverty line. However, mainly due to the thinking of Professor Amartya Sen, poverty has come to be increasingly seen as deprivation of capability rather than merely a low level of income. Still, income is clearly one of the major causes of poverty, since lack of income can be a principal reason for a person's capability deprivation.13

Professor Amartya Sen brings out the advantages of capability approach. These are as follows:14

  • Poverty as capability deprivation concentrates on deprivations that are intrinsically important and not only instrumentally important. It brings out factors other than a low level of income which influence capability deprivation.
  • Real poverty, that is, poverty in terms of capability deprivation, may be, in a significant sense, more intense than what appears in the income space. This can be of crucial concern in assessing what public action is needed to target some particular groups or individuals.
  • The capability deprivation approach to poverty enhances the understanding and causes of poverty by shifting the primary attention away from the means to the ends.
  • Distribution within the family raises further complications with the income approach to poverty. If the family income is used disproportionately in the interest of some family members and not others (e.g., because of systematic boy preference), then the extent of deprivation of the neglected members (e.g., girls) may not be adequately reflected in terms of family income. The deprivation of girls is more readily checked by looking at capability deprivation (in terms of greater mortality, morbidity, under nourishment, medical neglect, etc.) than can be found in income analysis.

The instrumental relation between low income and low capability is variable between different communities and even between different families and different individuals. The relationship between income and capability is strongly affected by the age of the person, by gender and social roles, by location, by insecurity and by other variations over which a person may have no or only limited control.15

In the context of the definition of poverty as capability deprivation, Professor Sen tries to link poverty with inequality. He states that inequality can have a negative effect on capability. Severe inequalities are not socially attractive. The sense of inequality may also erode cohesion, and some types of inequalities can make it difficult to achieve even efficiency. He argues that relative deprivation in terms of incomes can yield absolute deprivation in terms of capabilities. Being relatively poor in a rich country can be a great capability handicap even when one's absolute income is high in terms of world standards. Professor Sen concludes by observing that poverty debates have been distorted by an over-emphasis on income poverty and income inequality to the neglect of deprivations that relate to other variables, such as unemployment, ill health, lack of education and social exclusion.

The UNDP HDR (1997), devoted to the theme of poverty, focuses on the same dimensions of poverty as brought out by Professor Sen in his definition of poverty as capability deprivation. However, in the HDR (1997), it is stated that from the human development angle, poverty means denial of choices and opportunity for a tolerable life. It can also mean the denial and choices most basic to human development—to lead a healthy and productive life and to enjoy a decent standard of living, freedom, dignity, self-esteem and respect of others. The report continues as follows: For policymakers, the poverty of choices and opportunities is often more relevant than the poverty of income, for it focuses on the causes of poverty and leads directly to strategies of empowerment and other actions to enhance opportunities for every one.

In the Overview chapter of the WDR (2000–2001), also devoted to the theme of poverty, poverty has been defined in terms of ‘multiple deprivations’. These include deprivation of fundamental freedoms of action and choice, lack of adequate food, shelter, education and health, extreme vulnerability to ill health, economic dislocation and natural disasters, ill treatment by institutions of the state and the society, and powerlessness in influencing decisions affecting the life of the poor.

Extent of Global Poverty. According to the HDR (1997), there has been a progress in reducing poverty during the 20th century. In the last 50 years, poverty has fallen more than in the previous 500 years, and it has been reduced in some respects in almost all countries.

Since 1960, in a little more than a generation, child death rates in developing countries have been more than halved. Malnutrition rates have declined by almost a third. The proportion of children out of primary schools has fallen from more than half to less than a quarter. And the share of rural families without access to safe water has fallen from 9/10th to about a quarter. By the end of the 20th century, some 3-4 billions of the world's people will have experienced substantial improvements in their standards of living and about 4-5 billion will have access to basic health and education.

China and East and Southeast Asian countries have made the most spectacular progress in reducing poverty. China reduced its poverty from 33 to 7 per cent between 1978 and 1994, Malaysia from 60 to 14 per cent between 1970 and 1993, Indonesia from 60 to 15 per cent between 1970 and 1990 and the Republic of Korea from 23 to 5 per cent during the same period. Between 1970 and 1995, the largest reductions in the adult illiteracy rate took place in the Republic of Korea (from 12 to 2 per cent), Thailand (21 to 6 per cent), the Philippines (17 to 5 per cent), Indonesia (46 to 16 per cent) and Cuba (13 to 4 per cent).

However, the advances made have been uneven and marked by setbacks. Poverty still remains pervasive. Nearly a billion people were illiterate at the time of the writing of the report, well over a billion lacked access to safe water, some 840 million went hungry or faced food insecurity.16

The UNDP HDR (1997) introduced a Human Poverty Index (HPI). Instead of measuring poverty by income, it uses indicators of the most basic dimensions of deprivation, that is, short life, lack of basic education and lack of access to public and private resources. The finding of the report was that more than a quarter of the developing world's people still lived in poverty as measured by this index. About a third lived on incomes of less than $1 a day. Sub-Saharan Africa had the highest proportion of people in human poverty. Among these broad groups, the children, women and aged suffered most. Some 160 million children were moderately or severely malnourished. Some 100 million were out of school.

A comparison of the HPI with income measurement of poverty based on $1-a-day poverty line, revealed the following interesting contrasts:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia had the highest incidents of both income and human poverty.
  • Most of the Arab countries had made remarkable progress in reducing income poverty, at that time a mere 4 per cent; but faced a large backlog of human poverty (32 per cent).
  • Many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean had reduced human poverty, which was 15 per cent; but income poverty was still 24 per cent.

In the Overview, the WDR (2000–2001) gives the latest available data on the extent of poverty at the international level. Of the world's 6 billion people, 2.8 billion—almost half—live on less than $2 a day and 1.2 billion—a fifth—live on less than $1 a day. In rich countries, fewer than one child in 100 do not reach its fifth birthday, but in the poorest countries as many as a fifth of the children do not. While in rich countries, fewer than 5 per cent of all children under 5 are malnourished, in poor countries, as many as 50 per cent are.

However, there are regional variations. In East Asia, the number of people living on less than $1 a day fell from around 420 million to around 280 million between 1987 and 1998, even after the setbacks of the financial crisis. But in Latin America, South Asia, and the Sub-Saharan Africa, the number of poor people have been rising. In European and Central Asian countries in transition to market economy, the number of people living on less than $1 a day rose more than 24-fold. Experiences are also vastly different at sub-national levels and for ethnic minorities and women.

Eradicating Poverty—Approaches and Measures. One of the 10 commitments undertaken at the Social Development Summit was on ‘eradicating poverty’. It was also one of the three main themes of social development round which the summit was organized. Among the manifestations of poverty recognized in the action plan under this commitment are:

  • Lack of income and productive sources sufficient to ensure sustainable livelihood; hunger and malnutrition; limited or lack of access to education and other basic services; increased morbidity and mortality from illness, homelessness and inadequate housing; unsafe environment; and social discrimination and exclusion.
  • Women bear a disproportionate share of the burden of poverty as do other disadvantaged groups. Hence, the summit asserts that poverty cannot be eradicated by anti-poverty programmes alone; it will also require democratic participation, changes in economic structures and access of all to resources and public services.
  • Absolute poverty has been defined in the action plan as a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs. Among the measures suggested for the removal of absolute poverty are: eliminating hunger and malnutrition, providing food security, education, employment, health services, safe drinking water, sanitation and shelter; ensuring poor people's access to resources, that is, credit, land, education, technology, knowledge and information; ensuring adequate economic and social protection; and removing inequality.

The HDR (1997) puts emphasis more or less on the same measures. However, it attaches much greater importance to the empowerment of people and to institutional factors, like political commitment to promote and protect the rights of the poor people and policy reforms to enable them to gain access to assets and security of tenure. Like other reports, this HDR also regards gender equality as absolutely essential for eradicating poverty. This would involve focusing clearly on ending discrimination against girls in all aspects of health, education and upbringing; empowering women by ensuring equal rights and access to land, credit and job opportunities; and taking action to end violence against women.

Globalization, according to the HDR, offers great opportunities for reducing poverty but only if it is managed more carefully and with greater concern for global equity. Globalization has seen a widening gap between winners and losers in both the developed and developing countries. Therefore, better management of globalization both nationally and internationally, in terms, amongst others, of improved access of the poor and weak countries to the markets of the developed countries, is called for. Among international measures for reducing poverty, the report attaches priority to debt relief, larger flow of resources, and the opening up of the markets of the developed countries for products of the developing countries.

Preparatory to the Geneva Conference, the UNDP prepared a Poverty Report, 2000, under the title Overcoming Human Poverty. The report was designed to contribute to the UN General Assembly's review of the progress in the implementation of the commitments of the Social Summit and to help accelerate the collective campaign against poverty in the next five years. The review was related mainly to the implementation of measures recommended under commitment 2, eradicating poverty, undertaken at the Social Summit.

A brief summary of the progress made, the implications of the measures that have been taken and can be taken, and the measures recommended in the report are given below:

  • Commitment to reduce poverty. Some progress was made in estimating poverty but there was little progress in setting targets.
  • Integrating poverty reduction programmes into national development plans. The summit made this recommendation because it is an indication of the national commitment to eradicate poverty and also of the explicit allocation of resources to this task, as well as of the determination to mobilize additional resources. Only a few governments took measures in pursuit of this recommendation.
  • Linking poverty to the international policies. Such a link is seen mainly in terms of tackling the problem of external debt, harnessing trade for poverty reduction and making aid work for the poor. The record on all these counts was not very encouraging.
  • Governance as a missing link. When governments are unaccountable or corrupt, poverty reduction programmes have little success in targeting the poor. Corruption deprives the poor of an equitable share of society's resources and indirectly reduces the opportunities for poverty reduction by dampening economic growth. Having regular and free and fair elections can boost accountability. But government officials must be made accountable also between elections. For this, people have to organize themselves.
  • Organizing the poor.
    1. The foundation of poverty reduction is for the poor to organize themselves. This will enable them to influence the local government and hold it accountable. Through their organization, the poor can form coalitions with other social forces and build broader organizations to influence regional and national policy making. What the poor need most are resources to build their organizational capacity.
    2. Civil societies can play a very important role in this. The most common use of civil society is to entrust them with the delivery of goods and services where the local governments cannot do it effectively. But this may not be advisable over the long term. For, the capacity of the government to deliver goods and services must be built up. In fact, the civil society organizations can perform a better function by representing the poor and by their advocacy role when the national and local governments are unresponsive, rather than by serving as a channel for delivering goods and services. They should engage national policymakers on poverty issues. The strategic goal should be to forge an alliance between the state and civil society for poverty reduction.
  • Formulating and implementing pro-poor poverty programmes. Pro-poor poverty programmes should not have a separate existence of their own. They should be integrated with the micro-economic policies of the government. In the ultimate analysis, the focusing of resources on the poor can be achieved best by empowering the poor, and for this the poor have to be organized. However, parallel macro-economic policies should be so framed as to confer direct benefits on the poor. This could be done, for example, by
    1. Focusing on geographical areas where the poor are dominant. The deficiency of this approach is that it may include many non-poor households, which could lead to a significant leakage of benefits.
    2. Targeting households or communities. This is a very laborious process, and to achieve this, an active collaboration of the poor is needed. Besides, the latest thinking on human poverty shifts emphasis from the household to the individual—to identify deprivation among, say, women and children. There is also a shift of emphasis to specific interventions to address specific deprivations.
    3. Reaching disadvantaged social groups.
    4. Targeting by type of intervention, that is, to concentrate on projects which can have the direct effect of benefiting the poor, like providing schools for elementary education, child clinics, micro-finance, etc. However, these interventions have not always proved successful in reaching the poor. They have also overlooked such measures as economic policy making or institution building.
    5. Access to basic social services. An enhanced supply of services does not necessarily ensure that it will go to the poor. Poverty programme should, therefore, focus not merely on providing services meant for the poor but also on ensuring that the poor are able to take advantage of them.
    6. Micro-finance. Micro-finance no doubt contributes to community empowerment but it can be captured by local political elites. Moreover, the hard core poor, having few assets, are reluctant to take on the risk of credit. For example, in Bangladesh, which is a pioneer in micro-finance, only a fourth of micro-finance clients are hard core poor.
    7. Supplying physical infrastructures in poor regions, like rural roads, irrigation works, drinking water systems, etc. China's anti-poverty programme is very much distinguished by an emphasis on developing infrastructure in the poor regions. However, in this approach, those better off and closer to towns and existing roads, usually benefit more than the poor.
    8. Much of the success of the infrastructure projects depends on whether communities are involved in selecting them. The advantage of this approach is that unlike micro-credit, wage employment carries little risk and, therefore, in many regions only hard core poor gravitate to the construction jobs in infrastructure projects.
  • Integrated approach to poverty programme. A general weakness of most poverty programmes has been lack of integration. The problem is particularly severe with regard to integration with gender and environmental issues. There are also weak links between protecting health and reducing poverty. Gender equality does not figure prominently as a source of poverty in most poverty programmes. Nor do gender programmes focus on poverty. Combating gender inequality is not regarded as the same as combating poverty.
  • Monitoring poverty programmes. Not much progress has been made in this area. Most of the developing countries still need a workable poverty-monitoring system to assess progress towards the target of eradicating extreme poverty and reducing overall poverty. For this, participatory poverty assessment is particularly useful. Besides, most poverty-monitoring systems continue to rely on income poverty measures. This needs to be broadened.

The Geneva Conference regarded poverty eradication as ‘an ethical, social and economic imperative of humankind’. A target was set for reducing the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by one half by the year 2015. This was basically the reiteration of the target agreed in the Millennium Session of the UN General Assembly. The Geneva Conference reiterated most of the measures recommended by the summit. However, it put emphasis on those measures which can have direct impact on the amelioration of the conditions of the poor. These included using employment policies to reduce poverty, improving productivity in the informal sector, increasing and facilitating the development of cooperatives among the poor, encouraging sustainable rural development, especially in areas like agricultural production, encouraging the growth of small- and medium-size enterprises by formulating a consistent long-term policy to support them, promoting small business and self-employment for rural workers in view of increasing rural poverty, landlessness and rural-urban migration.

Most of these measures would seem to fly against the face of the reforms recommended under the structural adjustment programmes of the World Bank and IMF. The consensus at the Geneva Conference, with the participation of the governments and NGOs, is a truer reflection of the perception of the vast majority of the countries in the world on what needs to be done for eradicating poverty than what was recommended under the Washington Consensus. This also reflects the strong urge in these countries to protect the small farmers and enterprises and informal sectors against the onslaught of globalization.

The Geneva Conference also put considerable emphasis on institutional factors for combating poverty. It emphasized the role of the NGOs and civil society organizations in ensuring community participation in the formulation and implementation of poverty reduction strategies and programmes. It recommended that institutional mechanisms that ensured a multi-sectoral approach to poverty eradication should be established and strengthened. On the role of gender equality for reducing poverty, it recommended that the potential role of women in poverty eradication should be kept in mind and appropriate measures should be taken to counter the ‘feminisation of poverty’.

The WDR (2000–2001) recognizes that poverty is ‘the result of economic, political and social processes that interact with each other and frequently reinforce each other in ways that exacerbate the deprivation in which poor people live’. Meagre assets, inaccessible markets and scarce job opportunities lock people in material poverty. That is why, the report says, promoting opportunity by stimulating economic growth, making markets work better for the poor people and building up their assets is key to reducing poverty.

Thus, the report sails quite close to the Washington Consensus of the market-induced and growth-centred approach to poverty eradication. At different places in the report, emphasis is put on recognizing the central role of the market, poor people's participation in the market, encouraging private investment and export-led growth. However, in the year 2000–2001, it was not possible for the World Bank to have not acknowledged the new and much broader definition of poverty enunciated in the latest thinking on the subject, and the desirability of adopting measures on a much broader front, geared to the tackling of poverty as capacity deprivation. Therefore, the World Bank Report adopts a comprehensive strategy for attacking poverty, the main elements of which are ‘security’, ‘empowerment’ and ‘opportunity’. In fact, the title of the Overview itself includes the word empowerment as an element of that strategy. Security is not defined in the narrow sense of providing a social security net for those who are rendered unemployed or otherwise marginalized during the reform process, but includes the security of millions of those suffering under structural poverty. Recommendations made in the report under the headings of the three elements are set in the broader context of the new definition of poverty. Among the measures for enhancing security are included micro-insurance and micro-finance, and not reducing expenditure in the social sector during the period of adjustment or crisis management. The heading ‘social empowerment’ includes transparency in governance, sound legal system, decentralization, gender equality, removal of social exclusion and combating corruption.

The report also considerably modifies the main thrusts of the World Bank's structural adjustment programmes by putting emphasis on such measures as encouraging micro-enterprises, small businesses and small farmers, land reforms, building infrastructure in core areas, facilitating poor people's access to energy, complementary public investment in social and physical infrastructure and exercising prudence in moving towards capital account convertibility. The report makes bold to state that various targets set by the United Nations in the area of poverty elimination are unrealistic. It cites figures relating to the current level of achievement to argue the point.

There is an interesting section in the report summarizing how the strategy for poverty reduction has evolved over the last 50 years in response to a deepening understanding of the complexity of the problem of development. In the 1950s and 1960s, many viewed large investments in physical capital and infrastructure as a primary means of development. In the 1970s, awareness grew that physical capital was not enough and that health and education were at least as important. The 1980s saw another shift in emphasis, following the debt crisis and global recession, towards improving economic management and allowing greater play for market forces. The WDR (1990), devoted to the poverty issue, proposed a two-part strategy: promoting labour-intensive growth through economic openness and investment in infrastructure, and providing basic services to the poor people in health and education. In the 1990s, governance and institutions moved centre stage, as did the issues of vulnerability at the local and national levels.

Gender Equality

Gender equality has emerged as a key variable for ensuring the desired outcome through activities in the field of social development, particularly in the areas of education, health and nutrition and for dealing with the problems of poverty and unemployment. The present almost universal recognition of the importance of gender equality in social development represents a veritable revolution. The UNDP HDR (1995), the principal theme of which is gender equality, regards ‘the recognition of equal rights of women and the determination to combat discrimination on the basis of gender’ as ‘achievements equal in importance to the abolition of slavery, elimination of colonialism and the establishment of equal rights for racial and ethnic minorities’. The report has this well-known aphorism: ‘Human development, if not engendered, is endangered’. In fact, there is evidence of a paradigm shift in which women are no longer seen as the passive recipient of social welfare; they are increasingly seen as an active agent of change, as dynamic promoters of social transformation that can alter the life of both women and men.17

It is striking that demographically backward regions of India, where mortality and morbidity are high, tend to be those where gender relations are highly unequal. Conversely, states which have experienced rapid progress in improving health and reducing mortality and fertility are often those where women have played a far more active role in society. Given the gender division of labour that prevails in most of India, nutrition, child health and related matters typically depend primarily on women's decisions and actions. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that social achievements in this domain are more impressive where women are better educated, more resourceful, more valued, more influential and generally more equal agents within the household and in society.18

There is considerable evidence to show also that the fertility rate tends to come down with greater empowerment of women and that women's education and literacy tend to reduce the mortality rates of children. It works through the importance that mothers typically attach to the welfare of the children and the opportunities that the mothers have, when they are respected and empowered, to influence family decisions in that direction. Female literacy is found to have an unambiguous statistically significant reducing aspect on under-5 mortality. High levels of female literacy and labour force participation by women are strongly associated with lower level of family disadvantage in child survival.19

By contrast, variables that relate to the general level of development and modernization either turn out to have no statistically significant effect or suggest that modernization can even strengthen, rather than weaken, the general bias in child survival. Statistics also show that male literacy or general poverty reduction have comparatively ineffective roles to play as instruments of child mortality reduction. Thus, the same variables relating to women's empowerment (in this case, their literacy) play a much more important role in promoting social well-being than variables relating to the general populace. Women's empowerment improves not only their own condition, but also the condition of everyone in the family.20

Professor Sen brings out very convincingly how a change in the arrangement in sharing within the family in favour of women can enhance the welfare of all the members of the family. The arrangement for sharing within the family is to a great extent done by established conventions; but at the same time, they are influenced by such factors as the economic role and empowerment of women and the value system of the community at large. In the evolution of value systems and conventions within the family, an important role can be played by female education, female employment and ultimately, ownership rights; and thus, social features can be very crucial for the economic fortunes of all members of the family. Distributional problems within the family are particularly crucial in determining the general under-nourishment and hunger of different members of the family in situations of persistent poverty. It is the continued inequality in the division of food—and perhaps even more so in that of health care—that gender inequality manifests itself most blatantly and persistently in poor societies with a strong anti-female bias. On the other hand, there is considerable evidence to show that when women can and do earn income outside the household, they stand to enhance their relative position even in the distribution within the household. Thus, the freedom to seek outside jobs can contribute to the reduction of women's relative and absolute deprivation. Freedom in one area seems to help foster freedom in others.21

Professor Sen draws a distinction between what he calls the ‘agency’ aspect of women's movements and its ‘well-being’ aspect. By ‘agency’, he means the combination of all factors which make women the agent of social transformation. He brings out the inter-relationship between these two aspects. He states that agency aspect plays a very important role in removing the inequities that depress the well-being of women. Empirical studies have brought out how the relative respect and regard for women's well-being is strongly influenced by such variables as women's ability to earn an independent income, to find employment outside the home, to have ownership rights, to have literacy, and to be educated participants in decisions within and outside the family.22 Gender inequality does not decline automatically with the progress of economic growth. In fact, in some cases there is an inverse relationship between the two. Secondly, gender inequality is not only a social failure in itself, but it also leads to other social failures.23

An innovation in the UNDP HDR (1995) was the inclusion in it of a gender-related development index (GDI) reflecting gender disparity in basic human capabilities. The variables taken into account for developing the GDI were women's empowerment, literacy rates among women vis-à-vis men, combined enrolment for females, life expectancy and women's earned income. The report reveals the following facts:

  • Poverty has a woman's face—of the 1.3 billion people in poverty, 70 per cent were women. The increasing poverty among women is linked to their unequal situation in the labour market, their treatment under the social welfare systems and their status and power in the family.
  • Women's labour force participation has risen by only 4 percentage points in 20 years, that is, from 36 per cent in 1970 to 40 per cent in 1990.
  • Women receive a disproportionately small share of credit from formal banking institutions.
  • Women normally receive a much lower average wage than men.
  • All regions recorded a higher level of unemployment among women than men.

In addition to the GDI, the 1995 HDR introduced another concept called gender empowerment measure (GEM), which looks at women's representation in parliaments, women's share of positions classified as managerial and professional, women's participation in the active labour force and their share of national income. The report grades the countries of the world according to this measure. The report also points out that a major index of neglect of women is that many of the women's economic contributions are grossly undervalued or not valued at all. The contributions not valued may very well be in the order of 11 trillion dollars a year. Finally, it brings out that the most painful devaluation of women is the physical and psychological violence that stalks them from cradle to grave.

One of the commitments undertaken at the Copenhagen Social Development Summit was on ‘gender equality’. Under this commitment, the participating countries have subscribed to the objective of promoting ‘full respect for human dignity of women, achieving equality between men and women and empowering women. The Summit set the following goals:

  • Full and equal access of women to literacy, education, training, credit and other productive resources.
  • Removal of obstacles to their ability to buy, sell and hold property and land.
  • Equitable access to public goods and services.
  • Enhancement of equality of status, welfare, and opportunity of the girl child.
  • Promoting equal partnership between men and women in family and community life.
  • Combating and eliminating all forms of discrimination, exploitation, abuse and violence against women and girl children.
  • Establishing structures, policies, objectives and goals to ensure gender balance and equity in decision-taking processes at all levels.

The Geneva Conference underlined that participation of women in leadership roles in all spheres should be recognized and enhanced. The Copenhagen Summit had recommended the integration of the gender perspective in the design and implementation of all policies of development. The Geneva Conference embraced the same idea but put it somewhat differently, that is, the need for ‘bringing gender considerations into the mainstream at all levels of policy making’. As a follow-up of the Millennium Session of the General Assembly, the Geneva Conference reiterated the targets set at that session. These targets included:

  • Ensuring free, compulsory and universal primary education for both boys and girls by 2015.
  • Achieving 50 per cent improvement in the level of adult literacy by 2015.
  • Closing the gender gap in primary and secondary education by 2005.

The Geneva Conference set the objective of promoting the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all women and girls. Governments should ensure that human rights of women and girls are respected and promoted. Another additional commitment undertaken at the Geneva Conference was to increase the participation of women, and bring about a balanced representation of men and women in all sectors and occupations in the labour market and close the gender gap in earnings.

The HDR (1995) identified a five-point strategy for accelerating progress towards achieving gender equality:

  1. National and international efforts must be mobilized to win legal quality within a definite period, say the next 10 years.
  2. Many economic and institutional arrangements may need revamping to extend more chances to women than men in the work place.
  3. A threshold limit must be fixed as minimum share of women in decision-making at the national level (this could be, say, 30 per cent).
  4. Key programmes should embrace universal family education.
  5. National and international efforts should target programmes that enable women to gain greater access to economic and political opportunities through basic social services and through credit for the poor.

Human Rights

Recently, human rights have emerged as a very important underpinning of the objectives of human development. Human rights have acquired a truly universal character in that they flow from the dignity that is attached to human beings. This essentially modernistic concept has deep religious roots. Rabindranath Tagore in his book Religion of Man has observed that what is most striking is the divinity of the human being and the humanity of the divine. This is what lends dignity to the human being and makes for the unity of humankind.

Looked at from this angle, human rights cannot be culture-specific as has been claimed by some Asian intellectuals and political leaders. They have invoked the distinctive nature of Asian values as a justification for not accepting human rights as a universal value. In this connection, they have particularly referred to the Confucian culture where the focus is on discipline rather than on rights, and on loyalty rather than on entitlement. Professor Amartya Sen does not agree with this ‘cultural critique’ of human rights. He says that generalizations about Asia are not easy, given its size. There are no quintessential values that apply to the immensely large Asian population, which separates them from people in the rest of the world. Besides, Confucianism is not the only tradition in Asia.24

In the last couple of decades, we have witnessed the expanding horizon of human rights. Traditionally, human rights concentrated on the right of the individual. Subsequently, it expanded to cover the rights of communities, ethnic groups, and distinctly marginalized and neglected groups like women, children and the aged. Traditionally, human rights were more or less identical with political rights; now they have been extended to cover social and economic rights.

According to the ‘legitimacy critiques’, there are no inborn human rights—they have to be acquired through legislation. This is a thesis that militates ‘in a rather fundamental way against the basic idea of universal human rights’. It is argued, on the other hand, that human rights can be effectively invoked in the context even where their legal enforcement would appear to be most inappropriate. For example, the moral right of a wife to participate fully as an equal in serious family decisions may be acknowledged by many who nevertheless want this right not to be legalized or imposed. Thus, it is best to see human rights as a ‘set of ethical claims’, which must not be identified with legal rights.25

According to the ‘coherence critique’, one cannot talk about human rights without specifying whose duty it is to guarantee the fulfilment of the rights. In this view, rights can be sensibly formulated only in combination with co-related duties. Professor Sen dismisses this critique on the ground that human rights can be addressed to any one who can help, even though no particular person or agency can be charged to bring about the fulfilment of the rights involved. He says, ‘it is surely possible for us to make a distinction between a right that a person has which has not been fulfilled and the right that a person does not have’. Thus, human rights can be seen as an entitlement, power or immunity that benefits all who have them, even though they may not be legally guaranteed or it may not be possible to assign responsibilities on individuals or agents for guaranteeing them. The very fact of the articulation of these rights can result in the widening of freedom and can help to mobilize support from a great many people.26

Social development or human development on the one hand and human rights on the other share a common vision and a common purpose—that is, to ensure the freedom, well-being and dignity of all people everywhere. They are both about securing basic freedoms, which may include:

  • Freedom from discrimination by gender, race, ethnicity, national origin or religion.
  • Freedom from want—to enjoy a decent standard of living.
  • Freedom to develop and realize one's human potential.
  • Freedom from fear—from physical violence, from threats to personal security, from torture, from arbitrary arrest and other violent act.
  • Freedom from injustice and violation of the rules of law.
  • Freedom of thought and speech and to participate in decision-making and to form associations.
  • Freedom for decent work without exploitation.

If human development focuses on the enhancement of the capabilities and freedoms that the members of the community want to enjoy, human rights represent the claims that individuals have on the conduct of other individuals and collective agents and on the design of social arrangements to facilitate or secure these capabilities and freedoms. Human rights can add value to the agenda of human development. These rights direct legal tools as a means to secure freedom and human development. The rights also lend moral legitimacy and the principle of social justice to the objective of human development. The rights perspectives help shift the priority to the most deprived and excluded, especially to deprivation because of discrimination. It also directs attention to the need for information and a political voice for all people.

The human rights approach may offer an additional and more useful perspective for the analysis of human development. This approach links the human development approach to the idea that others have duties to facilitate and enhance human development. For example, when we assert the right to education, we are not only saying that all are entitled to a free elementary education, but we are also saying that there must be some culpability somewhere in the social system. Thus, the focus on locating accountability for failures within a social system can be a powerful tool for seeking remedies.

Concern with duties enhances the ways of judging the nature and demands of programmes. Since the process of human development often involves great struggle, the empowerment involved in the language of rights can be of great practical importance. Human rights analysis thus involves an assessment of the extent to which institutions and social norms that provide security to human development achievements within a society are in place. The profound concern of the human rights literature with the duties of others in helping each human being live a better and less unfree life is thus quite relevant to considering both the ways and means of promoting human development.

Human development, in turn, brings a dynamic long-term perspective to the fulfilment of rights. It directs attention to the socio-economic context in which rights can be realized. The concepts and tools of human development provide a systematic assessment of the economic and institutional constraints to the realization of rights. Human development thus contributes to building a long-term strategy for the realization of rights.

Gains in human development are not always attended by gains in human rights fulfilment and, therefore, human development accounting may fail to pick up on the vulnerability of individuals and groups within a society. For example, the instability of the market combined with inadequate social security provisions exposed the insecurity of East Asia's human development gains.

By attending to the process of human development, an idea can be gained as to how far it is feasible to achieve human rights, given the resources and the institutional constraints that prevail within a society. All rights cannot be fulfilled simultaneously even though they are all valid and sacrosanct. The fulfilment of several rights depends upon structural changes and on programmes for social and economic transformation to which human developments contribute a great deal.

The idea of human development involves change. Its concern is with progress. The insistence on a dynamic view can be particularly useful in considering human rights over time. For example, when a country is poor, it cannot fulfil all its human rights obligations. In this way, there may be some human rights that receive priority even though all human rights ultimately have value and importance. By adding the perspective of change and progress to human rights, human development can help to deepen the understanding and broaden the usefulness of the human rights approach. It is already recognized that some rights must be only progressively realized, and not overnight. This underlines the need for establishing priorities among human rights.

The HDR (2000) of the UNDP is devoted to human rights and human development. It analyses the relationship between human rights and human development, traces the evolution of human rights since the adoption in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and outlines the challenges of and recommends measures for achieving the universal realization of human rights in the 21st century. The report stipulates that all rights for all people in all countries should be the goal of the 21st century. It recommends the following measures:

  • Every country needs to strengthen its social arrangements for securing human rights consisting of norms, institutions, legal framework and enabling economic environment. Legislation alone is not enough. Human rights education should be used as the most important tool.
  • The fulfilment of human rights requires democracy that is inclusive, that protects the rights of the minorities, that provides separation of powers, and that ensures public accountability. Elections alone are not enough.
  • Poverty eradication is the central challenge for human rights in the 21st century. It should be seen not only as a development goal but also as social justice.
  • Human rights require the state and central model of accountability as well as obligation of non-state actors and states’ obligations beyond national borders.
  • Information and statistics are powerful tools for creating a culture of accountability and for realizing human rights. At the national level, it will be necessary to assess the existing human rights situation and to set priorities for action. National legislation against core international human rights should be reviewed to identify areas where action is needed to deal with gaps and contradictions.
  • Education and media should be used to promote the norms of human rights and an economic environment should be created for enabling people to realize human rights.
  • Human rights and human development cannot be realized universally without stronger international action, especially to support disadvantaged peoples and countries and to offset growing global inequalities and marginalization. For this purpose, the following priorities are set—strengthening a right-based approach to development cooperation, without conditionalities; larger flow of aid; debt relief; access to markets; access to private financial flows and stability in the world economy.

The report suggests that some major shifts in emphasis are required from the earlier Cold War thinking:

  • From the state-centred approach to pluralistic—multi-actors approach.
  • From national to international and global accountability.
  • From the focus on civil and political rights to a broad concern for all rights, giving equal attention to economic, social and cultural rights.
  • From a punitive to a positive ethos in international pressure and assistance.

Social Integration

The promotion of social integration was one of the principal themes of the Copenhagen Social Summit. This was also the theme of one of the commitments undertaken at the summit. The aim of social integration under this commitment is to create ‘a society for all’ in which every individual, each with rights and responsibilities, has an active role to play. Such an inclusive society must be based on respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms, cultural and religious diversity, social justice, democratic participation and rule of law.

The positive factors for integration identified in this part of the summit document are decolonization; elimination of apartheid; spread of democracy; wider recognition of the need to respect human dignity, all human rights and cultural diversity; unacceptability of discrimination; extended opportunities in health, education and economic development; globalization of communications; and greater possibilities of social mobility, choice and autonomy of action.

The negative factors identified are social polarization and fragmentation; widening disparities and inequalities; uncontrolled urban development; degradation of the environment; marginalization of people, families, social groups, communities, and entire countries; strains on individuals, families, communities and institutions as a result of the rapid pace of social change; economic transformation; migration and major dislocations of population.

The document also identifies violence, including domestic violence, especially against women and children and older people and the disabled as a growing threat to the security of individuals and families and communities everywhere. Total social breakdown, organized crime, drug trafficking, arms smuggling, trafficking in women and children, ethnic and religious conflicts, civil war, terrorism and xenophobia and genocide are identified as factors presenting fundamental threats to societies and the global social order.

The document identifies groups which find themselves excluded. Special measures are recommended for each of these groups. These are women, children, the aged, the disabled, the indigenous people and the migrants. Following are some of the major goals for achieving social integration set by the summit:

  • Promoting respect for democracy, the rule of law, pluralism, diversity, tolerance, non-violence and solidarity.
  • Eliminating discrimination and fostering respect for human dignity.
  • Ensuring equality and non-discrimination.
  • Ensuring respect for rights and promoting access to education, information and technology.
  • Addressing the problems of crime, violence and drug trafficking as factors of social disintegration.

Among the means suggested are inter-generational dialogue and strengthening institutions that enhance social integration. Here a very important role is assigned to the family. The summit underlines the importance of the fulfilment of the following conditions for achieving social integration:

  • Transparent, accountable and universally accessible public institutions.
  • Opportunities for all to participate in public life.
  • Strengthening the participation and involvement of the civil society.
  • Right to information.
  • Maintenance of social stability and promotion of social justice and progress.
  • Non-discrimination, tolerance, respect for diversity, equality of opportunities and social mobility.
  • Gender equality and empowerment of women.
  • Mutual support.

Detailed measures are recommended under each of the above headings in the action plan.

In the light of the developments during the five years after the Copenhagen Summit, the Geneva Conference adds some new measures in its recommendations for securing social integration:

  • Encouraging sustained investment in social institutions and social capital and enhancing social network.
  • Ensuring an enabling environment for civil society organizations.
  • Promoting the contribution that volunteerism can make to the creation of caring societies.
  • Encouraging the media to contribute to the promotion of social integration and use of the internet and other forms of information technology for this purpose.
  • Identifying and taking measures to counter the increasing dissemination of child pornography and other obscene materials, intolerance, hatred, racism, xenophobia, incitement to violence, and discrimination based on sex, through the media and information technology.


One of the commitments undertaken by the governments participating at the Copenhagen Summit was to promote full employment as a basic priority of economic and social policies. Under this commitment, productive work and employment were recognized as ‘central elements of development as well as decisive elements of human identity’. Full and adequately remunerative employment is an effective method of eliminating poverty and promoting social integration. If poverty is defined as capability deprivation, then unemployment is a major factor for such deprivation.

Professor Amartya Sen argues that if income loss is all that is involved in unemployment, then that loss could be erased to a great extent by income support. If, however, unemployment has other serious effects on the lives of the individuals, causing deprivation of other kinds, then the amelioration through income support would be limited to that extent. There is plenty of evidence to show that unemployment has many harmful effects other than loss of income, including psychological harm, loss of work motivation, skill and self-confidence, increase in ailment and morbidity, disruption of family relations and social life, hardening of social exclusion, accentuation of racial discrimination, and gender asymmetries.

The summit sets the following goals for promoting full employment:

  • Putting employment at the centre of development strategy.
  • Developing policies to expand work opportunities, particularly through economic growth, investment in human resource development, promotion of employment-generating technologies and encouragement of self-employment.
  • Improving access to land, credit and other assets.
  • Putting special emphasis on education and training and promoting workers’ rights.

The plan of action spells out detailed measures under each of the above headings. Among workers’ rights, emphasis is laid on human rights, healthy and safe working environment, removal of exploitation, abolition of child labour, and full participation of women in the labour market.

Separate recommendations have been made on enhancing employment opportunities for groups with special needs, particularly the disadvantaged, like women, children, the disabled, the indigenous people, the displaced persons and the migrant workers. There is also emphasis on the importance of acknowledging the contribution of the unremunerated work towards the well-being of the society, and bringing respect, dignity and value to such work and to people who do it. For this purpose, it is important to develop a more comprehensive knowledge of such work through research.

Importance of small- and medium-size enterprises and of the informal sector is emphasized as a source of growth in employment in the developing countries. This leads to the recommendation that obstacles to the operation of such enterprises be removed and support be provided for their establishment.

In the Geneva Conference, special emphasis was laid on the prohibition of child labour. Governments were urged to support and participate in the global campaign for the immediate elimination of the worst forms of child labour.


Participants in the Copenhagen Summit undertook a separate commitment on the means for dealing with the problems of social development. Among the means identified are education, health, removing inequalities, respect for culture and people-centred sustainable development. The governments participating at the summit have committed themselves to promoting and attaining the goals of universal and equitable access to quality education; the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health; access of all to primary health care; making particular efforts to rectify inequalities relating to social conditions and without distinction as to race, national origin, gender, age or disability; respecting and promoting common and particular cultures; striving to strengthen the role of culture in development; preserving the essential basis of people-centred sustainable development; and contributing to the full development of human resources. An integrated approach is suggested for achieving these goals. In this regard, special emphasis has been put on partnership, empowerment, international solidarity and recognition of diversity.

The Geneva Conference, under the commitment of the Copenhagen Summit, recognizes the primary responsibility of the governments for providing and ensuring access to basic social services for all; and developing sustainable pro-poor health and education systems by promoting community participation in planning and managing basic social services. It states that there is interdependence between health on the one hand and employment, education, environment, transport, nutrition and food security on the other.

Reference is made to the ‘Dakar Framework of Action for Education for All’ adopted at the World Education Forum in April 2000. It is recalled that the fulfilment of the goals of the Dakar Framework of Action would call for the mobilization of additional resources amounting to 8 billion dollars per annum. The document summarizes the main goals of the framework which include providing access to free and compulsory primary education of good quality to all children by 2015; improving early childhood care and education; achieving 50 per cent improvement in levels of adult literacy; improving the quality of education and removing gender disparity.

The Geneva Conference document deals with the problem of protecting intellectual property rights and at the same time providing access to essential drugs. The document is, however, somewhat ambivalent on this issue. On the one hand, it emphasizes the ‘critical importance of access…at affordable prices’ and for member states to ‘freely exercise…in an unrestricted manner, the options available to them under international agreements to protect and advance access to life-saving essential drugs’. On the other hand, it also recognizes the contributions of intellectual property rights to promoting research, development and distribution of drugs; and qualifies member state's freedom to ensure access to essential drugs by the phrase ‘consistent with national laws and international agreements acceded to’.


Institutions play a very important role in promoting social development. We have already dealt with the role of institutions at the national level, that is, the governments, NGOs and civil society organizations. In addition, the Copenhagen Summit adopted separate commitments under the headings ‘Structural Adjustment Programmes’, ‘Financial Resources for Social Development’ and ‘Improved and Strengthened Framework for International, Regional and Sub-regional Cooperation for Social Development’.

Structural Adjustment Programmes

The Geneva Conference recommended that structural adjustment programmes addressing the economic crisis, including those negotiated between the national governments and IMF, should strive to ensure that they do not lead to a sharp drop in economic activity or sharp cuts in social spending. It was further recommended that the governments and international financial institutions should be encouraged to improve the on-going dialogue on the design, implementation and role of structural adjustment programmes so as to ensure the full integration of social and economic components, and the protection of social policies and programmes.

The Geneva Conference has also recommended that national policies should be so designed as to take into account the concerns of people living in poverty. This can be done by incorporating social development goals in the formulation of structural adjustment programmes, including poverty reduction, in consultation with civil society. In this process, particular emphasis should be put on:

  • More equitable and enhanced access to incomes and resources.
  • Protecting core social development expenditure identified by the individual governments, from expenditure cuts.
  • Ensuring that public services reach people living in poverty, and vulnerable groups as a matter of priority.
  • Preserving and enhancing the social capital and in strengthening the social fabric of society, and ensuring that gender issues are taken into account in the formulation of structural adjustment programmes.

Financial Resources for Social Development

Non-availability of adequate resources constitutes an important constraint to the realization of the goals of social development. The various estimates made for the requirement of additional resources to achieve the multiplicity of goals in the field of social development add to an astronomical sum. The bulk of these resources are expected to come from the efforts of the developing countries themselves. Since the main focus of attention till recently has been on economic development, a reprioritization of development goals in order to shift the emphasis to social development would involve a commensurate shift of resources from economic development to social development. The developing countries now widely recognize their own responsibility for finding resources for social development and the need to divert resources from economic development to social development. At the same time, they went to the summit with the expectation that it would be an occasion to get commitments from developed countries for making additional resources available for social development. The negotiations at the summit focused mainly on three issues:

  1. Eliciting from developed countries a firmer and unambiguous commitment for meeting the UN target of the transfer of 0.7 per cent of GNP as ODA.
  2. Shifting of priority in the allocation of resources by both the developed and developing countries with a view to reaching what was described as a 20:20 pact, that is, developed countries should devote 20 per cent of their ODA for financing social development projects and programmes in a particular developing country with a matching action by that country to devote 20 per cent of resources in the budget for social development purposes.
  3. Reaching agreement on new and innovative ideas for raising funds at the international level which could be earmarked for social development.

The developing countries did not get satisfactory results on any of the above three points. The summit therefore turned out to be a failure from the point of view of meeting the resources expectations of the developing countries. Resources emerged as the major concern at the Geneva Review Conference also. But there also there was no change in the long held status quo.

Both the Copenhagen and the Geneva Conferences reiterated the 0.7 per cent target on a best endeavour basis without setting any deadline. Commitment on this score, therefore, was much weaker than that made as far back as in 1970 in the International Development Strategy for the Decade of the 1970s. Both the conferences adopted identical formulation, that is, a commitment to ‘strive’ for the fulfilment of the 0.7 per cent target ‘as soon as possible’.

The 20:20 formula was suggested by some of the developed countries and international organizations. Developing countries were not very enthusiastic about this formula because it did not carry any promise for additional resources. All that it called for was a shift in the priority for allocating resources. The Copenhagen Summit reached an agreement on ‘a mutual commitment between interested developed and developing countries partners to allocate, on an average, 20 per cent of ODA and 20 per cent of national budget, respectively, to basic social programmes’. As it has turned out, there are very few agreements between individual developed and developing countries to operationalize the 20:20 pact.

The formulation, adopted on new and innovative ideas for raising funds was extremely weak and non-operational in character both in Copenhagen and in Geneva. In Copenhagen, it was recommended that the relevant UN bodies, particularly the Economic and Social Council, ‘should be requested to consider new and innovative ideas for generating funds and for this purpose to offer any useful suggestions’. In Geneva, the idea got even more diluted. The governments were advised to conduct a rigorous analysis of ‘advantages, disadvantages and other implications’ of proposals for developing new and innovative sources of funding, for dedication to social development and poverty alleviation programmes. This recommendation carries the implication that such proposals can even be disadvantageous and have adverse implications for the development of developing countries or for the global economy. Thus the idea of new and innovative measures for raising international resources has been shelved for a long time to come. Evidently, given the tenuous and negative character of the consensus on this point, no follow-up action has so far been taken.

Both at the Copenhagen and Geneva Conferences, appropriate formulations were adopted on providing debt relief to developing countries. These formulations simply summarize the consensus reached in the World Bank, IMF and other forums. Strangely enough, the Geneva Conference has made a recommendation on the stabilization of commodity prices. This has come long after the view imposed by the protagonists of free market forces, particularly the Bretton Woods Institutions, that the earlier effort for stabilizing commodity prices through inter-governmental agreements or arrangements were ill-conceived and should, therefore, be given up and that commodity prices should be left to be determined by the market forces. Reference to the stabilization of commodity prices at the Geneva Conference reflects the plight of developing countries dependent on primary commodities for the bulk of their national income and export earning, brought about by the continuing decline in the prices of these commodities in the world market dominated by multinational corporations.

In keeping with the practice these days, both the Copenhagen and Geneva Conferences were long on recommending measures for the mobilization of domestic resources and short on commitment for providing international resources. The Geneva Conference adopted a very elaborate formulation on the mobilization of domestic resources by developing countries, particularly through good governance, more effective utilization of resources and restructuring the mechanism for the delivery of basic services. Following are some of the specific recommendations:

  • Enhancing the cost-effectiveness of social spending.
  • Attracting private investments so as to free public resources for social development.
  • Encouraging active participation of the civil society in the delivery of social services.
  • Extending access to micro-credits and other modes of financing of that nature, to people living in poverty.
  • Supporting community participation in the planning, provision and maintenance of local infrastructure.
  • Preventing bribery, money laundering, etc.

Improved and Strengthened Framework for International, Regional and Sub-regional Cooperation for Social Development

The measures recommended under this commitment are of a routine procedural nature. These include:

  • Adoption of appropriate measures and mechanisms for implementing and monitoring the outcome of the summit.
  • The role assigned to the UN regional commissions in evaluating at the regional level, the progress made in the implementation of the outcome of the summit.
  • Similar role assigned to the Economic and Social Council at the global level. Strengthening for this purpose the structure, resources and processes of the council and its subsidiary bodies.
  • The UN General Assembly to consider holding a special session in the year 2000 for an overall review and appraisal of the implementation of the outcome of the summit.