Affordable World Security: Choice points for America and the World

Date : 27 March 2012

Remarks of UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet at the Panel on Affordable Security: Financial and Economic Realities,27 March 2012, Washington, D.C.
[Check against delivery.]

Good morning. It's great to be here with all of you. I'd like to thank our Chair, Francis Finlay of the East West Institute, one of the co-sponsors of this Conference. As he said, this panel is dedicated to affordable security, financial and economic realities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As our world evolves with new technology and more interconnectivity, governments and institutions are having a hard time keeping pace with the fast changing dynamics. Institutions with hierarchical structures, bureaucratic procedures, and fragmented and siloed approaches are hard pressed to respond to current financial and economic realities, which are complex and heavily influenced by non-State actors.

Today I point to four areas where we can enhance security.

There is no security without sustainable development and there is no sustainable development without security.

First, we need to reorient the role of governments and multilateral institutions to respond to today's financial and economic challenges.

I often read or hear commentators speak about the possibility, and even inevitability, of another major economic crisis. I hear that the lessons from the 1998 crisis, which pushed more than 100 million people into poverty, have not been learnt, that the needed regulations have not been put into place, and that the same activities that led to the last economic meltdown are still being carried out today. If this analysis is correct, it does not bode well for world security and the security of individuals.

It is becoming clear that we need to move towards economic models that focus not only on short-term profit but on inclusive and equitable growth that protects the environment. The United Nations Environment Programme defines the green economy as one “that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.

What is clear is that we need to rein in risk-taking behavior, and protect citizens from absolute poverty and depravation. Governments need to make sure that resources are allocated efficiently, that the labour force is well educated, that jobs are created, that consumers are protected, that people enjoy a decent standard of living, and the environment is protected.

Second, and this is related to my first point, we need ethical leadership.

This leadership was demanded last year by protestors around the world—from those camped in tents at Occupy Wall Street to the students and workers marching in the streets of Europe, to the people demanding freedom and democracy in the Arab world.

It's no wonder that Time magazine named the protestor the person of the year. The protestors were calling for ethical leadership—leadership to reduce economic insecurity and inequality, leadership to tackle lack of opportunity and high unemployment, and leadership to uproot greed, corruption, and repression.

Ethical leadership builds political stability and security rooted in peace, opportunity, decent standards of living, and the will of the people. Ethical leadership promotes sustainable development rooted in economic, social and environmental justice. To put it simply, ethical leadership protects the well-being of current and future generations.

With scientists estimating that sea levels could rise by up to 23 inches (IPCC) or more by the turn of the century and with the effects of climate change already having increasingly serious impacts on development and security, ethical leadership is needed to save us from further economic, social and environmental crises.

Third, we need social protection and job creation.

Despite six decades of strong economic growth, and a global GDP that is ten times larger than in 1950 in real terms, access to adequate social protection benefits and services remains a privilege, afforded to relatively few people.

Today about 5.1 billion people, 75 per cent of the world population, are not covered by adequate social security.

1.4 billion people live on less than US$1.25 a day.

Thirty-eight per cent of the global population, 2.6 billion people, do not have access to adequate sanitation.

884 million people lack access to adequate sources of drinking water.

And far too many people, especially young people, are unemployed.

Security needs to be grounded in inclusive government and growth strategies that deliver services and jobs to people.

The persistence of such large numbers of excluded persons represents tremendous squandered human and economic potential and a threat to security. This is particularly important in a context of accelerated demographic ageing in countries with low coverage of pension and health systems. It is particularly important given rising inequality with the majority of poor people today, for the first time in history, living not in poor countries, but in middle income countries.

The extension of social protection, drawing on basic social floors, is a missing piece in a fairer and inclusive globalization.

The notion of a Social Floor is very clear:

First, everyone should be able to access at least basic health services, primary education, housing, water and sanitation and other essential services.

Second, no one should live below a certain income level. This means that everyone should have access to basic income security guarantees, that can be provided in the form of various social transfers (in cash or in kind), such as pensions for the elderly and persons with serious disabilities, child benefits, and/or employment guarantees.

Social protection is not only about providing services it is also about empowering people to work with a decent salary and working conditions.

I can tell you this out of my own experience as head of State. Social protection was at the heart of my government in Chile during 2006 - 2010.

Many reforms were implemented and huge investments were made to enhance access to health, pensions, education, housing, water and sanitation and especially to promote child development and to improve gender equality.

Today through social protection programmes, countries from Argentina to Brazil to India to Rwanda have been able to reduce poverty, hunger and inequality, and advance health and education, protection of the environment and women's empowerment.

And if you think that these programmes are too costly, think again. These programmes are affordable. Studies by the International Labour Organization, in consultation with the International Monetary Fund, show that in countries such as Benin, El Salvador, Mozambique and Viet Nam, major social protection floor programmes would cost between 1 and 2 per cent of the GDP.

In fact, in the long run, social protection floors, are not only affordable, but can pay for themselves—by enhancing the productiveness of the labour force, boosting the aggregate demand and therefore generating further tax revenues.

So the point here is that social protection programmes are part of the equation for affordable world security.

My fourth and final point is that we need to place special focus on women and young people as we pursue peace, development and security.

Wherever we look in today's world, we see that where human rights and human dignity are not respected, where there is growing injustice and inequality, there is rising insecurity.

Nowhere is insecurity more acute than in countries torn by conflict. When you deploy troops and choose military engagement, it costs billions of dollars.

If you can prevent conflict—through negotiations, intelligence gathering and diplomacy, through investments that improve the well-being of people, you save resources and you save lives.

The best assurance for security is to prevent conflict. The best way to build security is by engaging and listening to people to plan the way forward.

Today two groups are rising up that want their voices to be heard. They want to contribute to a more peaceful, just and secure world. I am talking about women and young people.

Half the world is women - and half the world is under 25 years of age.

Nearly 90 percent of youth live in developing countries - nearly one billion live in Asia and Africa.

Yet they are denied equal opportunity and participation.

It is time to empower women and young people.

Around the world, women educate the children … they are the key to healthy families … they are increasingly the entrepreneurs.

Wherever I travel, I urge leaders to put more women in decision making. More women in the Cabinet. More women in legislatures. More women on corporate boards.

The full participation of women strengthens democracy, peace and sustainable development.

By advancing women's rights, and expanding women's participation in peacebuilding, we invest in affordable world security.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The global economic crisis is a global jobs crisis. And youth are hit the hardest.

Unemployment rates for young people are at record levels - two, three, sometimes even six times the rate for adults.

While more youth hold university degrees, their schooling has not equipped them for today's job market. And not enough jobs are being created.

This must change.

The world will need 600 million new jobs over the next decade.

Without urgent measures to stem the rising tide of youth unemployment, we risk creating a “lost generation of wasted opportunities, squandered potential, and increased threats to security.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have a choice.

Young people can be embraced as partners in shaping their societies, or they can be excluded and left to simmer in frustration.

Addressing the needs and hopes of the world's women and young people is no longer an option, it is a necessity.

There are no easy answers, but we do know that peace, inclusive politics, development and security are interconnected and mutually reinforcing.

Just as all of you in this room are devoted to these issues, so are we at the United Nations and UN Women. I look forward to working with you to find a just, peaceful, secure way forward. Thank you.