At the UN, a discussion of poverty, employment, and the meaning of work

UNITED NATIONS - The Bahá'í International Community issued two statements, one on poverty and one on employment and work, and helped to organize a panel discussion on youth and employment at the UN Commission on Social Development in February.

The statement on poverty, "Eradicating Poverty: Moving Forward as One," calls for a coherent, principle-based approach to the eradication of global poverty.

It was introduced at a luncheon on 14 February 2008 during the Commission at the BIC offices in New York.

"This year, the Commission is focusing on the themes of promoting full employment and decent work for all," said Tahirih Naylor, a BIC representative to the UN, who also served as one of the coordinators for the Civil Society Forum during the Commission. "These are important aspects of poverty eradication, but we wanted to advocate a more coherent approach, one that looks at the wide range of issues that must be addressed in an integrated way if global poverty is to be eliminated."

The statement, which was published in edited form in the last issue of ONE COUNTRY as a Perspective editorial, calls on institutions and individuals internationally to put essential moral principles, such as unity and justice, first. It recasts the underlying nature of poverty, saying it "can be described as the absence of those ethical, social and material resources needed to develop the moral, intellectual and social capacities of individuals, communities and institutions."

The BIC also issued a shorter, more focused statement on "Full Employment and Decent Work," addressing directly the main theme of this year's Commission meeting.

That statement urged policy makers to recognize that the conception of work should "transcend" economics, encompassing also the "the human and social purpose that employment fulfills."

"Work needs to be seen not only as a means to securing an individual and family's basic needs, but also as a channel to developing one's craft, refining one's character, and contributing to the welfare and progress of society. Work, no matter how humble and simple, when performed with an attitude of service, is a means to contribute to the advancement of our communities, countries and global society," the statement said.

In addition, the BIC helped organize an interactive discussion at the UN on "Full Employment and Decent Work for All: Where are the Youth?"

Co-sponsored by the BIC with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and the Christian Children's Fund, the 8 February event explored the issues relating to youth employment from the perspectives of government, civil society, and the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The panelists included Mario Barbosa of Brazil's Ministry of Work and Employment, Elena Gastaldo of the ILO, Devorah J. Miller of the Christian Children's Fund, and Neissan Alessandro Besharati of the Bahá'í International Community.

Ms. Barbosa of Brazil said the youth were facing the same unemployment problems as everyone else, which is why employment needs to be put at the top of policy-making priorities. She cited the example of Argentina to illustrate the unfortunate fact that a country's economic growth doesn't necessarily support employment growth.

Ms. Gastaldo discussed the difficulties young people face entering the labor market, noting that while employers are often eager to provide opportunities for youth, these jobs are often limited in time and scope, of lower wages, or don't lead to substantive future work. "They do not receive the employment protection they deserve," Ms. Gastaldo said. "They're not really considered full-fledged employees."

She recommended an integrated approach, enlisting not just the ministries of youth, but also ministries of finance, labor, health, and other relevant departments.

Devorah Miller of the Christian Children's Fund stressed the need for young people to complete their education. "Youth need to be trained. They need to be given the skills to do the jobs that are available in the marketplace," she said. After-school work opportunities need to be provided so that they are not forced to choose between getting a job and going to school. This is particularly important for youth heads-of-household, who represent a growing vulnerable population due to the prevalence of AIDS and in areas of armed conflict.

A particular focus of Mr. Besharati's presentation was youth in conflict situations. Employment is important, he said, so youth do not fall prey to warlords, terrorist indoctrination, drugs, crime, or becoming a child soldier. "Unemployment among youth in conflict areas causes instability among adults," he said.

Multiple strategies are needed, said Mr. Besharati, to make sure youth find decent employment. In a rapidly advancing job market, education and skills are essential, he said, as well as early opportunities to participate in the job market even if it is an unpaid position, just to provide an introduction to a particular field or industry. "The private sector could take a larger role in training," he said. "Learning doesn't have to be in the classroom; it could be on the job."

To read the full statement, "Eradicating Poverty: Moving Forward as One," go to: http://bic.org/statements-and-reports/bic-statements/08-0214.htm

To read the full statement, "Full Employment and Decent Work," go to: http://bic.org/statements-and-reports/bic-statements/07-0211.htm